Since the 1990s the LEADER approach has very powerfully addressed the spirit of mobilising actors in the countryside through focusing on endogenous potential and activating local stakeholders across all sectors. Given the long-term experience and wealth of diverse development initiatives across the European Union (EU), the diversity of implementation is huge. Considering the limited fi nancial support as a Community Initiative (until 2006), a signifi cant extension and ‘upgrading’ of LEADER was intended by integrating it into the EU Rural Development Programmes (RDPs) since 2007. The shift from the character of a ‘pilot’ instrument at the start of LEADER to its ‘mainstreaming’ into the RDPs involved radical administrative changes and high expectations of increased impacts. The interest in LEADER practice and effectiveness led to many studies that in general apply a limited perspective of self-evaluation and refl ection on LEADER activities. Its main impact is seen in providing learning processes in rural regions and the effects on changes in local governance through extended involvement of local stakeholders and institutions. This paper provides a synthesis of European experiences and analyses of core changes, in particular by referring to the example of implementation in the Austrian context. The main lessons are based on the refl ection of obstacles and promoting factors of implementation during the last 25 years against the LEADER principles. The limitations in the assessment of LEADER call for a systemic approach that includes interrelations to a much wider degree. LEADER’s legacy is seen well beyond a quantitative measurement, but has to be found in its infl uence on actors’ perspectives, new pathways and strategies
for rural development.
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