Publication - Member State Evaluation |

Village Development Plans: Local governance arrangements and the role of steering groups

The study examines how the village development processes initiated in Hesse, Germany, are implemented and consolidated, and what role steering groups play in the implementation phase.

  • Germany
  • 2014-2022
  • Socio-economic impacts
Historische Gebäude in Volkringhausen, einem Ortsteil der Stadt Balve im Sauerland

With regard to village development – a measure funded by mixed sources, the EU, the federal government and the federal state – Hessen pursues a concept-based approach, in which participatory elements play a major role.

The study examines how the village development processes initiated in Hesse are implemented and consolidated, and what role the steering groups play in the implementation phase.

The study was carried out within the framework of the evaluation of the Rural Development Programme (RDP) of the Federal State of Hesse from 2014 to 2020 with the sub-Measure 7.1 (Village Development Plans). Within this measure, the elaboration of the integrated municipal development concept (in short IKEK, similar to a Local Development strategy) and the supervision/guidance of its implementation are funded in selected municipalities, so-called 'priority areas'.

The study focuses, in particular, on steering groups in the implementation phase of village development. Steering groups are a core element of participatory village development, which are set up by municipalities at the beginning of the concept phase of the IKEK and continued during the implementation phase. The steering group is responsible for the design and implementation of an integrated municipal development concept.

The forms of cooperation in the villages established with the Hessian village development approach can be classified as a local governance arrangement. Similar to LEADER, this is a 'down-up process' with many legal requirements from above and simultaneous generation of ideas from below. For individual municipalities, however, the village development funds have a significantly higher monetary significance compared to LEADER funds.

The study analyses the village development process and the role of the steering groups as a building block in the implementation of village development as part of the RDP.

For the analysis, the approach of actor-centred institutionalism, which is often used in governance contexts, is chosen. A standardised online survey of the members of steering groups with voting rights was conducted in March 2021. At that time, 74 priority areas (municipalities) were in the implementation phase. For three quarters (n=56) of these priority areas, the survey made it possible to obtain a picture of the opinions with regard to the process so far and to derive possible factors for successful village development procedures. A total of 236 voting members gave their personal assessments.

The study is mainly based on the stock-taking of literature and one primary data source: the survey as its subject is the analysis of the process. The results of projects funded (which are implemented within measure 7.4) are not part of this study.

With regard to the composition of the steering groups in village development, two stakeholder groups were identified in the steering groups: a) politics and administration and b) other local stakeholders, which include representatives of associations, citizens' initiatives and private individuals as well as, to a lesser extent, private companies. The group 'politics and administration' dominates with more than half of all members with voting rights. In terms of the representativeness of the steering group for the citizens of the municipalities, the results are comparable with similar arrangements such as the Local Action Groups (LAG) in LEADER or the Hessian municipal councils. Women and young people, in particular, are underrepresented in most steering groups.

The establishment of a group that accompanies the implementation of the IKEK as a municipal guideline for action and in which the various stakeholder groups come together is to be supported. However, the establishment of such a group must not be an end in itself, but its task and role must be clearly defined. It must be made transparent, to which extent changes of proposals are possible and that according to the democratic system in Germany the final decision on public projects remains with the municipal council. Nevertheless, the council should take into account the statements prepared by the steering group.

In view of the strong role of the municipality in the village development process and the advisory function of the accompanying body, the term 'advisory board' would be more appropriate than 'steering group'. In general, the basic rules of participation, such as naming the purpose and objective, room for manoeuvre and decision-making powers, must be observed. Otherwise, participation procedures can lead to frustration and demotivation.

On the state side, there is an area of tension when it comes to setting the framework for participatory approaches in village development. If the specifications are too detailed and strict, the municipalities feel constrained. Without specifications, some municipalities could adopt a very broad view of citizen participation, which would miss the state's goal of village development, namely the involvement of citizens in the process.

The development idea initiated as part of the subsidised village development process is to be incorporated into further work in the villages under the aspect of 'perpetuation'.

The idea of development should be maintained in further village work to continue the village development process beyond funding. The focus here is on the villages' own initiative to organise activities and projects themselves within the scope of their possibilities.

This can be, for example, the continuation or foundation of a (village) association that takes care of local issues. The extent to which this can be achieved in the implementation phase and how the stakeholders can be better supported needs to be considered further. Training people to become 'village caretakers' is one way of supporting voluntary activities in the villages (already being implemented in Hesse).

The village development programme will continue in the new funding period starting 2023. A substantial change in the new funding period is that the municipality has to provide a municipal concept already with its application for the programme. However, the concept does not have to cover the whole thematic spectrum covered by the IKEK. After approval as a priority area, the municipality could immediately enter the phase of investment support. With this change, the federal state responds to the often-criticised long time lag between the development of project ideas and subsequent implementation. This can help to maintain the motivation of the voluntary stakeholders. Another positive change is the planned establishment of a small project fund for civic engagement. It allows municipalities to support associations and other initiatives rapidly and with low thresholds.

Looking at the participation procedures during the implementation phase, further research should focus on the attitude and motivation of municipalities and their administration. Guiding questions are: To what extent is the participation of stakeholders taken seriously, or is it just an annoying duty to get access to investment funding? To what extent does participation lead to better projects or better use of funding subsidies, respectively? And which forms of participation?


Thünen-Institut, Braunschweig


German language

Village Development Plans: Local governance arrangements and the role of steering groups

(PDF – 3.68 MB – 84 pages)