The bottom-up approach means that local actors participate in decision-making about the strategy and in the selection of the priorities to be pursued in their local area. Experience has shown that the bottom-up approach should not be considered as alternative or opposed to topdown approaches from national and/or regional authorities, but rather as combining and interacting with them, in order to achieve better overall results.
Of the eight features of LEADER the most distinctive one is the bottom-up approach. Rural policies following this approach should be designed and implemented in the way best adapted to the needs of the communities they serve. One way to ensure this is to invite local stakeholders to take the lead and participate. This holds true in both the EU of 15 and of 27 Member States, but is equally important in countries aspiring to EU membership where there are structural problems in agriculture and many opportunities to improve the quality of rural life.
The involvement of local actors includes the population at large, economic and social interest groups and representative public and private institutions. Capacity building is an essential component of the bottom-up approach, involving:
Participation should not be limited to the initial phase but should extend throughout the implementation process, contributing to the strategy, the accomplishment of the selected projects and in stocktaking and learning for the future. There are also important issues of transparency which need to be addressed in the mobilisation and consultation procedures in order to reach consensus through dialogue and negotiation among participating actors.
Many would recognise the Bottom-up approach of LEADER as its anchor tenet. By involving local communities in rural development planning and implementation LEADER has breathed new life into communities facing unprecedented challenges.