LEADERSHIP MATTERS! Seminar on ‘Leadership in Urban and Regional Development: Debates and New Directions’, 5-6 February 2014, University of Birmingham

This seminar was organised by the ‘Research network on Leadership in Urban and Regional Development, of the Regional Studies Organisation. I have included a summary of the most interesting presentations here, written by Alistair Bowden, Teesside University Business School. For more information, the full report and power-point presentations, please send a mail to lummina.horlings@wur.nl. If you are interested in doing a master thesis on leadership, please contact me as well.

Thirty five enthusiastic academics converged on Park House on the wooded outskirts of the Birmingham University campus on a rainy British morning, but the weather could not dampen spirits. The speakers and discussants were from diverse academic backgrounds (from politics to palaeontology, and from planning to psychology), had varied careers (from a physicist to a field geologist, and from a curator to councillor) and had travelled from disparate locations round the globe (from Auckland to Bishop Auckland, and from Babeş-Bolyai to Birmingham). But we all shared a passion for leadership of place: cities, conurbations, rural areas and regions. Discussing the seminar with a more experienced conference goer on the way back to the station, this mix of disciplines, careers and nationalities, held together by a shared interest in this emerging subfield, was highlighted as the reason for its success: diverse actors and a strange attractor!

John Gibney kicked us off with a brief, considered introduction. This wasn’t going to be an easy conference. We weren’t given the answer at the start. We were going to have to work out ‘what it was all about’ for ourselves.

Our first speaker was Lummina Horlings, who gave a paper on an entrepreneurial rural area just west of Groningen, Netherlands. She was interested in how to enhance collaboration, institutional reform and joint learning to help make a place more resilient. From informal foundations with a small group of visionaries engaging in a pilot project, collective agency emerged through ‘spiral development’ of bottom up initiatives, supporting policy schemes and joint learning by doing. The conclusion was that collaborative leadership played a critical role in enabling success. The discussion explored the motivation(s) to collaborate, the catalytic role of a key actor, the supporting role played by local politicians, the role of the research team and their relationship to the local people.

This was followed Andrew Beer, President of the RSA. Andrew has taken upon himself to try to make sense of leadership of place; to answer the question ‘how do we get beyond case studies?’ But he wasn’t being driven my some esoteric desire for theoretical purity, rather he came across as having a great streak of pragmatism, wanting to do something practical with the growing research on leadership of place.

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Well-working operational interfaces – PhD-thesis Wiebke Wellbrock

December 4 Wiebke Wellbrock succesfully defended her thesis (can be viewed at wurtv.wur.nl):

Well-working operational interfaces: A key to more collaborative modes of governance

This thesis comprises five chapters that are independent scientific publications. In the first chapter, I show how the ‘learning region concept’ and ‘triple helix thesis’ can be reframed to address support for collaboration in rural areas. In the second chapter, I reflect on the experiences of using the conceptual lens as a research tool for studying the operational features of arrangements supporting joint learning and innovation in the case study area of Westerkwartier, the Netherlands. In the third and fourth chapters, I deal with the question of how to best arrange support for collaboration by comparing the operational features of arrangements across the German and European case study areas. This thesis concludes with a discussion of the lessons learnt concerning: 1) wellworking operational features of arrangements supporting collaborative modes of governance, 2) the development and refinement of the conceptual lens, based on experiences of using it as a heuristic research tool, and 3) the potential of the refined framework to effectuate more collaborative modes of governance.

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