Rural Networking – does it get any more exciting?

Here at Highclere Consulting we consider ourselves to be seasoned and experienced ‘rural networkers’.  In addition to our day-to-day intuitive grassroots networking, we’ve worked a lot with formal policy networks.  These are the networks which are created or constructed by public authorities to engage people, businesses and special interest groups etc. in the formulation and implementation of specific policies in specific sectors or fields.

Policy networks are increasingly important in rural development where it is recognized that the success of any rural development policy is not only based upon the delivery of adequate funding through well-designed and targeted programmes and measures, but also depends upon the fostering of good ideas and the sharing of experiences.  As a previous European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development once said, “…policy runs on ideas and experience. Ideas have the advantage that, if you share them around, their total value increases. They also tend to multiply. Experience helps us to grow ideas into success stories”.

Highclere has been around these types of network for many years.  We’ve provided extensive technical assistance at EU level to both the European Network for Rural Development (ENRD) and the EIP-AGRI Network.  We’ve sweated in the white heat of the National Rural Network in Romania and we’ve shared our networking experiences from Malta to Macedonia to Latvia.

And to be honest, we’re now rather excited by the fact that a single European CAP Network will be replacing the ENRD and EIP-AGRI Network in 2021-2027. 

Moving from two networks towards a single European CAP network is a hugely exciting opportunity to build upon the demonstrable benefits of EU-level networking in the 2007-2013 and 2014-2020 programming periods – and of course the valuable lessons learnt initially from networking under LEADER II and LEADER+.

The kaleidoscope of interactions – and associated added value and impact – that are likely be facilitated by a single CAP network spanning, connecting and cross-fertilising all dimensions and ambitions of the new CAP together with relevant knowledge and experiences generated under the Horizon Europe research and innovation programme will be unprecedented amongst EU policy networks. 

In the context where Member States will have much more flexibility and subsidiarity on the design of their CAP interventions, a single EU-level network will be a key tool to help drive and steer policy and to ensure better coordination between networking activities at the EU and national and regional levels.  It will also help to overcome some of the bottlenecks and weaknesses of the ENRD and EIP-AGRI Network during 2014-2020, especially the sub-optimal interaction between contracted network support units, overlapping competences and related tasks, and missed opportunities for synergy / complementarity.

A single, unified CAP network has the potential to clarify and simplify greatly future network governance; to reduce stakeholder confusion on ‘who is doing what’; to streamline decision-making processes on network activities and tasks, and; to provide an effective vehicle for addressing the differential institutional capacity of Member States on different issues of relevance to their CAP Strategic Plans.

The proposed European CAP Network clearly has the potential to be a powerful and influential new policy instrument.  Of course, creating this network will not be without its challenges and the benefits outlined above will only be realised with the right approach and model for the new network – and we are very keen to be involved!

Mark Redman, Highclere Consulting