The Balaton Uplands LEADER LAG
This case study explores the implementation and achievements of the Balaton Upland LEADER Programme which can undoubtedly be seen as an example of best practice for local development, civic engagement, empowerment and participation in the Hungarian context. The Local Action Group (LAG) was established in 2007 building on previous experiences and networks gained through the previous iteration of LEADER and other forms of civic engagement across the LAG area. The Balaton Uplands territory consists of three sub-regions and a few mosaic-like smaller areas with rather sharp differences between the endogenous (natural, economic and human) resources of these sub-territories. The LEADER Programme achieved significant results in addressing spatial inequalities, both in terms of mitigating urban-rural differences in the LAG area as a whole, and in terms of connecting the more developed sub-regions with the less vibrant, or even lagging small villages of its periphery. This was achieved through locally forged and organically linked development measures, which connected individual investments, guided by the participatory local development strategy, and supported by the institutional and human resources of the local development agency of the LAG.
The founders of the LAG took classic LEADER principles seriously: they activated volunteers, experts, academics, and generated a truly place-tailored local development strategy through participatory processes. They consciously turned the diversity of the region into a resource for development; and kept the local governance of the action territorially balanced through careful social engineering; these are the foundations of their success.
The case study touches upon the problem areas as well, such as the bureaucratic overload of the LAG management, inflexible and highly centralised governance beyond the level of the LAG. The far too long transition periods between two iterations of the LEADER Programme at national level have repeatedly hampered knowledge transfer and resulted in significant losses of human capital at all levels of governance.
Example of spatial engineering of the LAG management: distribution of projects supported by the Balaton Uplands LEADER LAG