Rural development practice in Northern Ireland; process or product driven? : a case study of the LEADER II programme

  • Mark James Scott

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Community-led rural development is enjoying an unprecedented high profile within both the European Union and Northern Ireland. The 1990s have witnessed the establishment of rural development as a policy concern, and a review of recent literature suggests there is an increasing convergence of approaches occurring, at the level of the European Commission and in the promotion of Member States' individual national policies.

At the vanguard of these developments has been the LEADER programme, the European Commission's initiative to promote integrated 'bottom-up', participatory rural development. This thesis aims to reflect on rural development practice in Northern Ireland and to challenge the current emphasis on the end-products of development, by providing a detailed assessment of the process that LEADER II local action groups have been developing.

The initial stage of a local action group's development cycle was often characterised by a weak conceptualisation of rural development. This led to, in many cases, inadequate levels of local consultation and participation, poorly informed analyses of the local context, a lack of understanding in relation to strategic planning, and an overemphasis on individual projects rather than attempting integrated programmes. The compressed timetable for preparing plans was a key factor in this approach.

However, as the programme progressed, positive dimensions have emerged in relation to the interactive, discursive process encouraged by the partnership approach central to the LEADER ethos. From the assessment, it appeared that LEADER groups have been able to create resources for future development and managing change, in terms of social, intellectual and political capital. An important aspect of this approach has been mutual learning through cross-community and cross-sectoral discussion. Building relationships on a multi-level basis can be identified as key feature of LEADER in Northern Ireland, enabling local action groups to develop horizontal networks and partnerships central in creating institutional capacity to collaborate and co-ordinate. The next stage of the LEADER initiative (LEADER+) provides an opportunity to augment and build upon this model.
Date of AwardJul 2000
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorJohn Greer (Supervisor)

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