Rural areas are supported by politics in different ways – for example with funding programmes. The most important funding schemes are the rural development programmes. The “Bundesländer” (the federal states), the national government and the EU contribute to its objectives, the design and the financing. But pilot schemes also help to explore new instruments for local and regional development.
The Rural Development Programmes and the pilot schemes cover a broad range of issues and aim primarily at improving the economic power and quality of life in rural areas. According to the rules for EU co-financed programmes, the rural development programmes in particular have to be evaluated – and that by independent institutions. The Thünen-Institute has taken a leading role in the evaluation of Rural Development Programmes in Germany for many years. In the Funding period 2007 to 2013 we evaluate the Rural Development Programmes of the „Länder“ Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Lower Saxony and Bremen, North-Rhine Westphalia, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Hesse.
What impacts do the funding programmes have?
An evaluation assesses whether public funds are used effectively and efficiently. We start with the objectives laid down for the programme and the measures. First we check if these objectives have been met and analyse if there would have been other ways, perhaps with less funds, to meet the objectives. Part of this exercise is to question again and again the objectives and the rationale of public intervention: What are the problems to be addressed? Are the selected measures able to contribute to the problem’s solution? What other funding schemes exist in the area of this intervention? Beyond that, evaluation should help to improve the measures of Rural Development Programmes. With our knowledge about the context and impact of Rural Development Programmes we can derive science-based recommendations for the design of policy measures.
The funding of village renewal, for example, aims at a comprehensive development of villages. In the evaluation we could show that in implementation the problems linked to demographic change received too little attention. The elaborated village development plans hardly consider demographics. In the meantime the requirements at national level have been changed so that an analysis and discussion of the consequences of demographic change is obligatory.
From the particular case to general implementation
The pilot schemes aim to try out innovative funding instruments and assess their suitability for mainstream funding. Therefore the Thünen-Institute is assigned the scientific accompanying research of pilot schemes like LandZukunft (rural future). The accompanying research aims at identifying the factors which are crucial for the success or failure of rural development processes. It seeks to better understand the mode of action of funding approaches and to assess the prerequisites for the transfer of successful new approaches to other regions.