The role of social capital, leadership and policy arrangements in rural regional development

Social capital and the role of leadership therein can play an important role in rural regional development and can be stimulated by specific policy arrangements. This conclusion was drawn from an analysis of in-depth case studies of 12 European regions. The empirical material was gathered in the context of a large European research project on regional development, ETUDE, carried out by RSO and other research groups in six European countries.

Leadership is the heart of social capital and -like a stone in the water- it creates rings of waves. Social capital is a segment of a wider circle of what is called ‘the rural web’. The rural web captures the interrelations between different domains of rural development: endogeneity, novelty, production, social capital, market governance, new institutional arrangements and sustainability Social capital and nested forms of leadership can play a role as initiator, lubricant and outcome in rural development.

Leadership helps to raise awareness, to mobilize actors, to generate innovations, and to bridge and bond public and private actors. Leaders bridge the distance between their own innovative network and the existing institutions, and constantly switch between networks and related cultures, logics and languages.

Regional competitiveness and quality of life are enhanced in those situations where there is an effective interplay between leadership, social capital and policy arrangements. Policy arrangements can play a constraining role towards social capital but also function as a lubricant. In order to play this last role under the following conditions: a) purposive local government; b) the use of European funds and programmes; c) cooperation, cohesion and coordination at the regional level (public-public as well as public-private). Factors such as ‘localism’ and lack of social capital can seriously undermine regional cooperation. An underlying shared regional storyline can foster regional coherence.

The cases show that the way to achieve sustainable development is highly context-dependant – however, this should not discourage us from developing a more robust theory of social capital and leadership, in its central and dynamic role as a motor for rural regional development. For more information the full paper can be downloaded:, or send a mail to

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