The practice of local partnership in rural development : the cases of Newent (UK) and Sault (France)
This research is concerned with the practice of local partnerships in the promotion of rural development with particular reference to two case study areas, Newent in the UK and Sault in France. In recent years, local partnership working has become increasingly common in the promotion of rural development. It is presented by academics, politicians, policy makers and practitioners as 'inherent' and 'imperative' to the preparation and implementation of rural development programmes today. However, there still exists limited understanding and knowledge about local partnership working in practice and the validity and importance of such statements. To advance this understanding the present research had four main objectives organised around the identification and the exploration of four main issues: the reasons, the processes, the outcomes and the implications of the local partnership practice in rural development. The author has sought to elucidate the subject by means of a detailed exploratory study involving the longitudinal observation of two particular examples of local partnerships. Two case study areas were selected, both with an active history of rural development initiatives and partnership working at parish or commune level. Newent is a small town in the Forest of Dean, which has sought to address growing socio-economic decline in recent years by preparing and implementing a regeneration strategy through local partnership working. Sault is a village in Provence, which has had to respond to depopulation and various economic difficulties as well as the closure in 1996-98 of the military base of Albion. Qualitative data on local partnership evolution and operation, collected in both areas between 1998 and 2001, was assembled from documentary research, semi structured interviews and direct observation at meetings. This investigation has allowed the identification of various explanations for the recent increase in the practice of local partnership in rural development, explanations which are mainly associated with the underlying context of the rural development process today and with the meaning of the partnership concept itself. From this investigation local partnership working in rural development has emerged as a long-term, progressive, comprehensive and pragmatic process that is organised over time. Its existence and longevity depend primarily on the local context, the existence of opportunities, the issues to be addressed, a broad mobilisation of local/rural actors, a flexible local space, some local re-organisation as well as regular and concrete achievements. In this respect, the most commonly reported outcomes of local partnership working pertain to the process of partnership working more than to the tangible outputs that may have resulted from it. These meet the initial expected benefits from such a practice as for example broader participation, greater reciprocity between rural development actors and territories, and an increase in local capacity for development action.