Everyday tales and stories from the border regions of Europe and beyond, with the aim of explaining why we border-crossers are as obsessed as we are about this subject, why it is important to all of us, and why the co-operation community needs a little bit more visibility than it normally gets.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Measuring cross-border success

One of the great challenges facing cross-border co-operation is proving that it actually works. This is sometimes a difficult problem to explain, as anyone involved in such co-operation is usually pretty convinced that it is a good thing. After all, how can it not be positive to bring people together and improve the living conditions on each side of the border?

Well, of course, that is positive, and the Border Crosser is not going to disagree. But there is a specific difference between knowing in your gut that co-operation works and proving that it does. The INTERREG programmes frequently come under pressure to demonstrate that they are delivering "added value" (such a great phrase - as opposed to subtracted value, I suppose?)

The EU's traditional approach to this question has been to throw indicators at programmes and hope that some stick in a positive manner. The problem with this approach is that successful indicators for regional programmes do not often help in a cross-border context. Numbers of jobs created, improvement in GDP, or increase in tourist numbers, for example, do not really address the issue of whether the co-operation as a whole is working.

There are some ideas out there which have some potential: some of the Nordic programmes have been counting the number of cross-border networks created; this could be combined with the number of such networks which outlast the funding from the programme perhaps. There must be more project level measurements that could be developed along these lines.

Another direction that should be explored is measuring the mechanics of the programmes themselves: number of split decisions in programme committees; length of committee meetings; number of projects which are delayed by more than x months; number of projects with changed partnerships. These are all factors which could be used in measuring the overall success of the cross-border programmes. Any results would probably have to be calculated into a single weighted score, whch would allow comparisons from programme to programme. Such a comparative aspect could be the best way to assess co-operation as a whole.

It's unlikely that there is a perfect system out there. If a programme scored very highly on co-operation, someone would claim that they are so good that they would not any more funding. However, indicators are here to stay and programmes need to start looking at them as an opportunity to demonstrate success, rather than seeing them as an adminstrative burden.

Well, that's far too serious and long a post for a Friday afternoon! Let me know what you think.


Nicky Gardner hidden europe magazine said...

Hi Border-Crosser

You so very kindly drew attention to the magazine (hidden europe) of which I am co-editor a day or two back.

Might I return the compliment and say how excellent this blog is – a really good opportunity to start unpicking some knotty issues about borders regions in Europe. Of course, the small team at hidden europe would be very happy to collaborate further with you. We’re always looking for like-minded souls.

Meanwhile, might I comment on your posting yesterday on evaluation and performance indicators? I have lived and worked in several border regions in Europe, and I am sometimes surprised at the way in which initiatives funded under programmes such as TACIS and INTERREG are evaluated. Sometimes there is too much emphasis on project inputs (number of times we met, how long we met for, how much co-funding was raised) rather than on outputs.

You mention some potential evaluation metrics in your thoughtful posting, bit I just wonder if the search for quantifiable indicators might somehow miss the point. Let us say that I live in some far-flung corner of the EU – let’s say for the sake of argument on the Estonian / Russia border, as that happens to be an area that we feature in the September issue of hidden europe, when we report on the Narva River Water Route (NRWR) project funded by both TACIS and INTERREG.

The project is pursuing a very imaginative agenda, and, let’s face it, in a difficult border region where many issues of politics and ethnicity remain unresolved.

Of course the NRWR project could measure the number of cross border committee meetings, and how long they lasted or how much coffee was drunk, but how does that impact upon my life as a hypothetical widow living on the west bank of the river in Kuningaküla?

The project might be creating wireless internet access points along the proposed NRWR, but how does that ameliorate my personal problems of communication in this border region. I have no computer, nor do I see any need to access the Internet.

My real wish are to visit my parent’s grave on the opposite bank of the river – and to be able to do so easily. Travelling by a circuitous route for two days to get to somewhere 600 metres away is no fun, and not helped by giving me wireless internet access. My needs are much more simple: a simplified visa regime, a cross local border bus service, or, better still, a ferry across the river.

I would hope that as projects search for appropriate evaluation instruments and metrics, they will not overlook the very human aspects of border life. A task for human geographers and ethnologists perhaps, rather than for accountants and statisticians.

Allowing one elderly woman to visit her parents’ grave on the other bank of the river might be worth more than a dozen committee meetings or a promise of substantial co-funding.

Nicky Gardner
editor / hidden europe magazine
Berlin, Germany

The Border-Crosser said...

Dear Nicky,

Thank you for the kind words and thank you for contribution on the evaluation and performance issues I raised.

Your comments are very valid indeed, and the visa regime issue in particular is something that you can hear complaints about when travelling all down the EU's eastern border: it stops people meeting to prepare projects, and it stops people meeting to run projects.

I suppose the problem is that these cross-border programmes are created to deal with such political issues. They are essentially economic and social development programmes targeted at the local and regional level. What could be more social than helping a widow to visit her parents' graves? True, but the local and regional level are not in charge of issues like border crossings and visas. These are national issues.

I sympathise with your comments on indicators, but there is huge pressure on the programmes to demonstrate economic success - showing that 50 people are now able to visit family graves much more easily should be a valid indicator, but it does not seem sufficient for Member States or the European Parliament, when funding debates occur. The Commission asked for EUR 14 million for co-operation for 2007-2013 and got EUR 8 million.

Maybe the answer is two sets of indicators - some for reporting "upwards" and some for reporting to the local population?