The administrative capacity of public authorities is crucial to the success of contemporary regional policy. This includes capacity of public authorities to design quality strategies and programmes; to recruit and retain staff to implement measures in compliance with technical requirements; and to pursue evidence based policy-making through analysis and iterative learning.
These capacities are conditioned by staffing, organisational structures and cultures, and management systems in regional policy units. They are also influenced by broader legal, regulatory and institutional environments.
The decentralisation of regional policy competences, underway in several European countries, has underlined the asymmetric distribution of administrative capacities with particular gaps in less developed territories and smaller administrations in peripheral areas.
In response, countries are undertaking a range of capacity-building actions. In some cases, support of regional policy capacity is part of broader public administration reforms or revisions to the regulatory and legal environment.
Capacity-building efforts in some countries are focusing on strengthening capacity to design and deliver quality strategies in targeted sub-national administrations through the provision of financial support and expert advice.
Reviews of structural relationships within and between regional policy units are addressing capacity gaps. This includes strengthening the supporting role of government agencies, merging local administrative units, collaboration mechanisms and the use of new management systems and tools.
Dedicated civil servant recruitment drives or staff relocations are seeking to attract and retain people in places with underrepresented skill-sets and competences. Beyond this, there is growing awareness of capacity needs that address non-material, cultural behaviour, relating to leadership, individual and organisational learning and innovation.
These are ongoing initiatives that raise questions for discussion: (a) what are the most important administrative gaps and how can they be addressed? (b) How does capacity-building address crucial but nonmaterial components? (c) How to address asymmetries in capacities at sub-national levels? (d) How can the value of investment in capacity-building be demonstrated? (e) Are there lessons from COVID-19 responses for capacity-building in the longer term?