Relying on LEADER? A place-based policy approach to the rural development of Finnish municipalities


  • Ella Mustakangas Tampere University


In Finnish rural development, the role of municipalities has proven to be modest, even though the place-based policy approach in principle gives them an important position. The main part of municipal rural development involves cooperation with LEADER groups, to which municipalities give priority. In this study I ask: What explains the current status of municipalities in place-based rural development, that is, the dominance of LEADER and the small scale of the municipalities' own rural development? The methodology is based on critical realism, and the analysis draws from semi-structured interviews conducted in three municipalities. The aforementioned state of local rural development is called demi-regularity, which is the starting point of the research. Using a thematic analysis developed by Tom Fryer for critical realist research, the study proposes three causal explanations for this observation, namely the idea of responsible local communities, the development policy of the shrinking municipality, and the challenges of projectification. According to the findings, the increased role of villages in rural development does not necessarily support the involvement of municipalities, but rather the opposite. The study also shows that when municipalities are primarily looking for (economic) growth, they have difficulties in trusting the potential of rural areas, let alone exploiting it. On the other hand, the challenges of projectification do not characterise LEADER projects in the same way as other municipal project work, making it tempting to rely on LEADER in municipal rural development. Overall, the study shows how strongly and differently LEADER is rooted in place-based rural development in Finland. In order to bring municipalities back into the scene, a broader discussion on the actual preconditions of municipalities in place-based rural development is needed.

Research Papers



How to Cite

Mustakangas, E. (2024). Relying on LEADER? A place-based policy approach to the rural development of Finnish municipalities. Fennia - International Journal of Geography.