Towards a new model for regional co-operation (B)

Project partners Streekplatform+ Meetjesland

Contact data
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+32 93734654

Key words development strategy, cooperation, defragmentation, public-private partnership, network, participative approach

Main problems to be solved (analysis) In the region many organisations, founded over the past 2 decades, are active: Tourism, Culture, Landscape, Economy, Youth, ... Every theme/sector has its own organisation structure and staff, sometimes very small (1 staff member, up to 15). The boards consists of representatives of municipalities and of private organisations. Over the last 10-15 years these regional organisations have built up a broad and comprehensive contact network that is partially public (municipalities, province) and partially private (sector organisations, entrepreneurs, societies, ...). Financing is merely public (from the local level, province and national level). In Belgium municipalities are rather small (Meetjesland: between 5.000 and 30.000 inhabitants). These supralocal structures are often set up to offer support to municipalities, and to set up cooperation with stakeholders.

Due to this fragmentation in many separate regional structures, local policymakers started denouncing the lack of transparency, the lack of coordination, the lack of transparanty in ‘who does what?’. Moreover the local mayors started doubting the matching of their local needs with the divers (sectoral) regional programs. The policy priorities of local governments are not always the same as the programs offered by these regional organisations. A mismatch in vision, and miscommunication between the local and regional level caused lots of negative energy in the past 5 years and caused many missed chances in making progress in profiling as a strong, coherent and active region.

The 13 municipalities (via the Mayors) assigned Streekplatform+ to coordinate this intensive process of reorganising the regional network, taking into account local needs, provincial and Flemish policy targets. A new regional structure (called SNM) is prepared in a process approach with all stakeholders. This centralised structure is thought to have more powerful regards inside and outside the region.

Policy frameworks to be dealt with/fitting in The Flemish Government is working on the ‘Whitebook of Internal State Reform’, where one of the issues is to diminish the number of regional structures (between the local level and the provinces).

Aim of the project More transparency, efficiency and clout are the keywords for a new regional model (a new structure) to be established. The development of a unified and focussed communication strategy will be one of the primary priorities. As such it will contribute to a positive and dynamic image of the region.

(Expected) Results -A clout regional structure (SNM) which is implemented through involvement of all stakeholders. This structure replaces about 10 separate structures. One board will control the regional policy lines. -A strong, positive image, that is well known inside and outside the region (see format n°1 of Meetjesland on branding and profiling). -A bundled, integrated strategy for the region, including an effective and smart communication strategy based on the regional brand ‘Meetjesland, maak het mee!’. (See format n°1 of Meetjesland on branding and profiling)

(Expected) outcome for the region as a whole (impact of the project) effects may be written in terms of the sustainability triangle = 3 P approach (people, planet, profit), i.e. benefits on the social, economical and physical part)

-People: bundling of human capacity and competences, in order to achieve better and more results, and to work in an integrated way. -People: more engagement and involvement of stakeholders, and a balanced equilibrium between the involvement of local governments and private partners (economical, cultural, tourism, ...)

-Profit: integration of separate organisations into one central structure should in the long run lead to a higher cost-profit-ratio. A higher proportion of the collected governmental funds should be spend on projects and actions.

-Planet: not relevant (yet)

Planning -start up of the process under impulse of the local Mayors in January 2011 -intense process with all stakeholders in 2011 -decision process on the chosen regional model in 2012 -preparation of the new structure end of 2012 and 2013



Implementation of the project (cf. CAA) which stakeholders were involved? what process did you run through to fit the project into local conditions? how did you sustainably implement the project (locally, regionally)?

28 stakeholders have been involved in the period 2011-2012: 13 local governments, the province and 14 regional organisations. These organisations each represent their sector or field (tourism, culture, economics, landscape, housing, ...).

The process is coordinated by Streekplatform+. In total about 60 meetings focussed on the re-organisation issue. -A steering group contained the mentioned 28 takeholders. -A range of workshops was organised on certain thematic issues. -13 bilateral, informal talks were held between Streekplatform+ and each of the regional organisations -In this period, the project was regularly put on the agenda of all existing consultation tables in the region: the Commission of Mayors, the City Managers, the boards, the Council of the province and of all municipalities, ... -The Flemish Government was involved: a Workgroup was installed with employees of the Flemish Administration, the Office of the Minister of Internal Affairs and a delegation of the Meetjesland (Streekplatform+).

Implementation of the project: -In December 2011 a brochure ‘Eindrapport Ontwikkelingsgroep SNM’ was published. It contained the results of all discussions mentioned above. This the plan for a new organisation is thus supported by all involved partners. -The brochure was subsequently presented and discussed on many occasions. It was approved on all city councils. -The Flemish Government advised the region in April 2012 to implement the new structure ‘SNM’ in ‘irreversible and certain steps’. Therefore Streekplatform+ is now working on a regional model that bundles the intermunicipality organisations in a first step, and the public-private organs in a second step. Again, support of all stakeholders is a continuous point of worry.


1 Which successes were achieved so far in the pilot project?

A success is with no doubt the support of all stakeholders, since begin 2011, for the ‘quest’ towards a new regional model that is effective and efficient (in stead of fragmentation).

- what is the background / main reason for these successes? A turning point on several levels: a. Local governments putting pressure on regional organisations to bundle and integrate. b.The Flemish Government published its White Book on Internal State Reform, that focuses on stronger regional level, to strengthen local governments. c.The need for a stronger profiling of the region, to be able to cope with future challenges.

- what set-backs or problems did you face and what were the reasons for this? -The Flemish Government did not support the initial model presented: a public-private model. A lack of political consensus between Flemish political parties, pushed us into the direction of a step-by-step-approach, starting with the integration of the ‘pure’ intermunicipality organisations. Public-private organisations will be the subject of integration in a later phase. -The constant high pressure on Streekplatform+ in such a large and important project. The on and off fighting against ignorance and negative energy of certain partners and individuals, wanting to stay independent, instead of integration. -The shortness in budget to successfully coordinate this change management.

- are there any break-down patterns to be recognized in the project? / - are these set-backs, problems or break-down patterns easy to solve? How? / - what are the DO’s and the DON’Ts of the project? DO’s: -Do things step by step: big ambitions that want to take 5 steps in a time, will not succeed if you are working in a consultation model with many stakeholders -Compare with other regions and learn some important lessons. E.g. the Region of Kortrijk (Vital Rural Area partner) has been working on the same problem. Although this region is differently organised and has a different historical growth pattern, different kinds of stakeholders, ... we can learn from their approach. The integration of public initiatives (from and for the municipalities) into 1 structure is for instance a common goal.

- what are critical success factors in this project? -continuous consultation and support of all partners. Since there are so many involved (more than 100 policy makers to start with), this is a constant worry, and asks a lot of time and energy. Many policy makers are engaged in one of these separate structures, and strive for its ongoing independency, instead of cooperating to the integration process. -continuation of the project after the elections of city councils end of 2012 (many new policy makers!). -continuation of financial support to the regional level. Due to the financial crisis, municipalities implement budget cut programs. The support and contributions to the regional level are possibly cut down or at least subject of discussions -successful bundling of human capacity on the regional level. Competent politicians and their intensive involvement. -a strong strategy for regional development, that reflects the needs of the local level.

2 What are the expected boundary conditions for the project to be implemented? - in terms of policy frameworks Support of the Flemish Government in terms of approval of the new regional structure(s). Support of the Province of East-Flanders. The regional structure has to been seen as complementary, and not threatening. Support of all local governments in the region. A high(er) involvement in the new regional structure(s), that is embedded in their Policy Plans. An optimal internal organisation of the SNM.

- in terms of physical circumstances

- in terms of involvement of people / partnerships / entrepreneurs / public bodies See above: extreme importance of support and involvement of a wide range of partners. The whole project is based on this. This concerns more than 100 policy makers, and many others, spread over 13 different municipalities. - in terms of budget and financial support Sufficient financing for regular tasks, extra financing for new ambitions.

3 Which related projects can be studied or consulted (other innovative best practice examples) before starting to think on implementation? Looking at regional organisation models in other regions, as well in Flanders as in other countries.

*Rural Alliances (Interreg North West)

4 What is the applicability / transferability of the project? a) as derived from the project results - in terms of critical mass (physical, social, budget) - in terms of the needs of the region or location Many regions struggle with the same problems: fragmentation in too many separate structures, lack of clout structures to take larger steps forward in regional development. This was discussed on a ‘Vital Rural Area’ Partner Meetings and every region confirmed the problem. In some countries municipalities have been subjected to merger operations in the past decades (e.g. Denmark, the Netherlands). The need for supralocal structures is therefore less high than in Belgium, where municipalities are small (Meetjesland: between 5.000 and 30.000 inhabitants). Especially in rural regions governance or administrative power is rather low compared to cities. - in terms of the starting point for implementation - in terms of participation and organization The intensive consultation process with many partners, the necessary staff deployment - in terms of time needed for implementation

- in terms of expected outcome (spin off for other fields: physical, social, economical)

b) as derived from testing or implementation the project or the project results elsewhere. What were the results there? -A strong regional structure is part of the success of regions. It helps to deploy more drive and ambitions, to score better results. But it is not the absolute guarantee to success. Human capacity is the other indispensable success factor.

5 Which tools does the project bring in to alleviate / help starting up implementation elsewhere? ‘Mental tools’: Recognition of the problem. This is often seen by those who have a helicopter view on the region (e.g. by Mayors, by administrative managers), and is often not recognised by aldermen, who are involved in one specific sector. Demonstrating the problem can be tackled as long as there is an initiator and political support.

Structural tools: several regions in Flanders are working in the same way to cope the problem of fragmentation. Public organs are integrated together in a first phase. This is because the Flemish legislation support this kind of juridical structure. Although many regions would profit from a public-private organ, this is not (yet) possible. Our region is involved in supraregional discussion organs, where this problem is discussed. Official representatives of municipalities approach to ministers cabinets to try to put these issues on the political agenda of the national government.

6 Sustainability a) How is/can the project be sustainably implemented? What is needed to reach this? - in terms of organization The effective foundation of the new regional model and its structures. - in terms of regional / local networks/partnerships / people Membership of the municipalities in the new structure. Cooperation agreements with shared responsibility of all partners - in terms of budget The membership of municipalities includes long term financial support. Apart from that: support from higher governments. Finding ways for alternative funding (non-governmental).

b) what are the benefits of the project seen from the Profit, Planet, and People side? See above