Evaluation of regional structural funds programmes
Regional structural funds initiatives are intended to lead to more growing and competitive companies that can generate jobs in the programme areas. The results show that while there has been an increase in the number of competitive companies in the programme areas, the number of fast-growing companies has not increased substantially. A conclusion from earlier evaluations is that expectations with regards to the grade of participation of trade and industry in the programmes were not fulfilled. Growth Analysis shares this view and recommends that a number of measures be taken to improve participation during the next programme period.
Considerable resources have been invested in large, strategic projects that have focused on strengthening the programme areas’ innovation systems. Growth Analysis’s study shows that these projects did achieve the objectives of knowledge building and developing new models of collaboration. It is, however, questionable whether the projects will ultimately lead to regional development in trade and industry. There is a considerable degree of variation in the different projects’ potential to have a positive effect on trade and industry.
Growth Analysis would also like to draw attention to the fact that gender differences appear to be greatest within clusters and incubator initiatives. There is a need for a stronger focus on such sustainability issues during the current ongoing programme period. Growth Analysis has, however, not analysed why these sustainability problems still exist within the cluster initiatives that were implemented during the 2007-2013 programme period.
One of the difficulties of evaluating the initiatives is that not enough is known about which companies have participated and how they have developed over a longer period of time. Better documentation of results is necessary to enable an evaluation of the programmes’ effects on the participating companies’ growth rates and survival-ability. Growth Analysis has attempted to overcome this problem by investigating selected issues in more detail. The in-depth study shows that many established companies participate in the structural funds projects. Within the research and trade and industry cluster projects as well as the entrepreneurship projects, the average age of the companies participating was ten years with an average of 10-25 employees.
In collaboration with Kontigo, Growth Analysis has attempted to identify the participating companies in a selected number of strategic projects and to investigate their development as compared with a control group. However, Growth Analysis can see problems with the results’ validity. It has been difficult to gain information on the participating companies’ corporate registration numbers. Access to data has been very limited and data quality has been poor. As a result we have not been able to draw any definite conclusions about how the companies may have developed through their participation in these strategic projects.
One important area that can be improved is the issue of how to strengthen the programmes’ potential to generate better results with regards to trade and industry. Here, Growth Analysis can see a number of areas for improvement during the ongoing programme period.
Another important area for development is creating a cohesive system for learning. Lessons learned from both this and earlier evaluations point to a number of deficiencies, such as problems identifying the participating companies, lack of access to project evaluations and the varying quality of evaluations. In particular, there is a need to build knowledge within the organisations responsible for preparing and administering grants by drawing on lessons learned from programme implementation. That is to say, a cohesive system must be created that makes it possible to draw conclusions from earlier initiatives so as to ensure continual improvements in programme implementation. In order to create an efficient and cohesive system for learning, a number of different measures and improvements are therefore needed within the entire administrative chain.
Nevertheless, there are also lessons learned from the programme period that are worth continuing with, for example:
- Initiatives aimed at existing companies and other existing operations that have been shown to work well. Growth Analysis believes it is better to continue to build on something that already works instead of trying to be overly innovative and unique at regional level.
- The investment of resources should be concentrated on the programmes’ areas of strength. It may be necessary to do more detailed analyses of the areas of strength and how these can be developed in conjunction with other programme areas.
- Continued development of learning as part of the development of regional growth policy. In many of these areas, there is a need for more knowledge about specific measures as well as improved access to such knowledge.
Finally, Growth Analysis has the following recommendations for the 2014-2020 programme period:
- It should be ensured that the projects are clearly linked to trade and industry and that private companies are involved at an early stage in the planning and development of the projects.
- Efforts to work in a more results-orientated way during the ongoing programme period should continue to focus on strengthening learning.
- The core indicators used during this programme period must be reliable.
- The projects’ final evaluations and other evaluations must be more accessible and easily available on the internet. In addition, different types of measures must be categorised more clearly to facilitate knowledge building.
The evaluation strategies and indicator systems within the cross-border programmes need to be reviewed in order to improve the comparability of these programmes. The lessons learned from the 2007–2013 programme period are that it has been difficult to evaluate the results and determine whether objectives have been met as the goals of the programmes have been far too imprecise.