The diversity of impact of CBC programmes

The ESPON CBC TIA project has applied a newly developed ex-post TIA methodology tailored to CBC programmes to five CBC programmes within the framework of its case studies. Comparison of the results of case studies suggests a number of interesting conclusions regarding the investigated programmes.

The five CBC programmes, Germany – The Netherlands, Sweden – Norway, Romania – Bulgaria, Spain – Portugal (POCTEP), United Kingdom – Ireland (Ireland – Northern Ireland, Ireland – Scotland) are very diverse in terms of geographical and thematic coverage. However, there is a number of overlapping thematic objectives (innovation, labour mobility, cros-border governance and administrative capacity, cross-border transport and mobility) which allows examining the similarities in the strength of the impact of the CBC programmes.

Case studies revealed that some CBC programmes experience higher impacts in areas in which other programmes register a rather lower or average impact. For example, Romania – Bulgaria and POCTEP programmes noted higher impact in the area of cultural and natural heritage while the Sweden – Norway programme observed a rather weak impact.

Similarities can be found in CBC programmes’ positive impact on cross-border cohesion and governance which has been the case for Germany – The Netherlands and POCTEP, as well as in impact on innovation which was qualitatively assessed as positive in case of four programmes (Sweden – Norway, United Kingdom – Ireland, Germany – The Netherlands and POCTEP).

Moreover, in terms of impact on different territories within the CBC programmes, no similarities were identified. Some case studies could not produce a territorial differentiation either for the whole programme area or some part of it or noted a differentiated territorial impact (Germany – The Netherlands and POCTEP), either due to lacking data or due to the fact that such differentiation was not sensible given the impact of the programme. Other programmes identified slightly higher impact in more economically developed areas (Romania – Bulgaria), others noted higher impact in urban areas (Sweden – Norway) or in rural areas (United Kingdom – Ireland).

These findings suggest that the impact of CBC programmes cannot be taken for granted. Despite modest funding, CBC programmes can significantly contribute to important areas such as cross-border innovation by creating links between actors. On the other hand, despite the obvious cooperative nature of these programmes, they may also find difficulties in creating impact in areas which would seem easy to address.

The variety of thematic priorities addressed as well as differing results regarding the strength of impact in case of similar thematic areas confirm the diversity in structure and type impact of CBC programmes. Given the fact that CBC programmes registered a different magnitude of impact in case of similar thematic areas suggests that there are many factors that contribute to the strength of the impact of CBC programmes and go beyond the inherent nature of these programmes. Next to the programme performance, likely significant factors should be sought in the socio-economic background as well as the current context of the programme area.

The importance of an ex-ante intervention logic

The intervention logic is a necessary tool for programming not only INTERREG programmes but any ESIF programme. Programming along the intervention logic helps select appropriate indicators that are most suitable for measuring the effects envisaged. For this reason, the application of this tool in an ex-ante setting is essential. A well established causal chain linking programme area needs with the programme's measures and its effects is a prerequisite for targeting programme impacts.

In the ESPON CBC TIA project, the concept of intervention logic was used in an ex-post manner. While the initial set-up of intervention logics is essential for targeting measures to bring about desired effects (based on identified needs), revisiting and reconstructing them in any later evaluation or assessment is key to identifying unintended effects and actual – not desired – programme impacts.

Nevertheless, in the pilot tests of the ex-post TIA methodology, it became obvious that there are several shortcomings in the application of the intervention logic during the programming phase.

The lack of intervention logic as guidance in programming and implementation was mostly manifested in the inappropriateness of selected indicators. One step of the ESPON CBC TIA project was the selection of appropriate indicators for measurement of programme impacts. The pool of available indicators included programme result indicators; however, experts were forced to drop several such indicators. The reconstructed intervention logics showed that some key effects were not covered by any result indicators selected by programmes and result indicators often could not deliver any meaningful or relevant information on programme impact. These judgements were verified not only by programme stakeholders themselves but also by thematic and regional experts.

Such inappropriateness of indicators can be mitigated by programming along the intervention logic. Setting up an intervention logic following a needs – measures – effects – indicators logical chain is a key recommendation for improvement of programme design as it helps to target the needed effects and impacts. In addition, it shall result in the identification of appropriate indicators which will allow more accurate monitoring. In such a scenario necessary arrangements in the monitoring system can be made, which subsequently enable any impact assessment or evaluation to work with data geared specifically to the programme.

More information and results for our TIA-CBC project