(2015-2018) Leadership and Urban and Regional Development (Research network)


Joyce Liddle, Aix-Marseille Université, France
John Diamond, Edge Hill University Business School, UK
John Shutt, CURDS, University of Newcastle, UK
Oto Potluka, Center for Philanthropy Studies, University of Basel, Switzerland
John Gibney, University of Birmingham, UK
Markku Sotarauta, Tampere University, Finland
Andrew Beer, UniSA Business School , Australia
Ina Horlings, University of Wageningen, the Netherlands


The purpose of this research network will be to build on existing contacts between earlier RSA Networks leadership (Place Leadership, Sotaurata et al, Citizen driven and collective leadership, Liddle et al, Leadership in Euro peripheries, Sirak et al, Networked leadership and innovation, Sotaurata et al) to create greater understanding, develop further joint publications, and build future research potential. In sharing understanding of leadership in numerous global settings we can develop common theoretical, conceptual and methodological frameworks. This is especially pertinent in a field that has been largely dominated by Anglo-American business and management approaches, and we anticipate that seminars will enable established and early career researchers to better understand theories, concepts and methodological developments that are shaping new approaches to leadership in urban and regional contexts. Global economic downturns and increased citizen demands are forcing governments to seek new understandings on the importance of developing urban and regional ‘places’. Though numerous experiments in governance involving citizens are illuminating some of the strengths and weaknesses of current approaches, it is essential that scholars are equipped with state of the art knowledge of current theories and methodologies on ‘how’ leadership approaches aid or frustrate development and transformation. New perspectives on leadership will support academics, policy makers and practitioners at a crucial point as global public resources are shrinking and public finance are ever more constrained.

Contemporary opinion suggests that there is a crisis in leadership across Europe and that accountability and legitimacy for actions are now clearly under the microscope, but we lack clear conceptual, empirical, theoretical or methodological knowledge on why and how leadership might be a crucial element in enhancing local, urban and regional performance. We need ways of uncovering the essential micro and macro aspects of leadership that play a crucial role in reinventing localities and regions.

Leadership is not a solo activity but is multi-agency and multi-level, and is shaped differently according to various institutional and cultural contexts. Regions face the issue of leadership more urgently than ever, as they are increasingly, and simultaneously, confronted with ecological, social and economic difficulties. Important drivers of change are climate change, economic and demographic challenges, unrestrained urbanization, and over-exploitation of natural resources. It is now widely recognized that regions should in future anticipate a more balanced and sustainable development in order to address these problems (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005; OECD, 2006). Yet, sustainable regional development is difficult to achieve in practice because of constraining rules and procedures, a short-term perspective, and conflicts of interests. State interventions are often insufficient because regional development is a collective process involving networks of public and private actors in which no organization has a primacy in governance (Padt, 2007). To overcome these, and many other potential bottlenecks, the ‛human factor’ needs to be taken into account better than has been the case so far. In the end it is people who make the difference to sustainable development.

All governments need to ensure that policies are producing results and adding value, as they introduce stringent austerity measures and budgetary constraints as mechanisms for measuring the results of public policy interventions. In the recent past, the demands for evidence on value for money and creating social value led to the creation of inputs, outputs, outcomes and impact metrics such as indicators, targets, dashboards or other means of confirming that policies produce the desired effects. This is becoming ever more difficult, given the on-going financial crisis and the importance of ‘softer’ metrics of measurement. This network seeks to uncover some of these ‘softer’ elements of local and regional development, such as leadership.

Despite different legal and constitutional arrangements, in many states, public and political leaders need to rethink all operations and seek collaborative relationships with non-state and civic actors to develop innovative ways of driving local, urban and regional change. Leadership varies between situations and contexts, but is still seen as central to good governance, and includes individuals who will promote institutional adaptations in the public interest, as well as those who can help to build social capital and drive transformation. 

No two states are the same, as public services and leadership are products of particular socio-political and historical/cultural legacies. Similarly no two countries or regions are facing exactly the same leadership challenges, but the on-going context of financial constraints means that leadership is now a significant factor in how states seek to reduce public deficits, find innovative ways of providing public services, enhance local and regional performance and make best use of limited resources.

Most studies on leadership of place have been done in a Western European context and do not consider the specificities of the Central or Eastern European context and their institutions. Moreover, the often institutionally thin environments of peripheral regions, combined with centralization tendencies of national governments, create a very different environment for the role of leaders than in the more institutional thick and decentralized countries of Europe. 



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