BSc Thesis opportunity: The Human Factor in Place-shaping

We are looking for motivated BSc students that are interested in writing a thesis with the Rural Sociology Group on the topic of place-shaping. The student will engage in a literature-based study, starting literature will be provided by the supervisor. The report will preferably be written in English.

  1. The (re-)appreciation of places; paying attention to socio-cultural practices; people’s sense of place; regional identities, narratives and story-lines, and branding of places[1];
  2. Individual values and collective culture as the ‘inner’ dimension of sustainability; addressing questions such as: why would people get engaged in sustainability initiatives and self-organization; how and why do people value places but also oppose to the spatial planning of new projects, such as wind-energy parks; how are citizens initiatives and place-shaping influenced by awareness, culture, identities and values; Which ‘policy scripts’ can be identified addressing the role of culture in places?
  3. Collective agency, emerging grassroots initiatives, alliances and coalitions; addressing the questions: how can spatial development enable the ‘energetic society’? How do people on the local and regional administrative level reflect on and negotiate the conditions of their engagement in place-shaping, how do they express agency and create a countervailing power in rural and urban development; how can effective (public-private) alliances and coalitions be build?
  4. Leadership of place; which acknowledges the role of shared, collaborative (knowledge) leadership in building collective agency, in attuning the institutional setting to the specificities of place, thus enabling a place-based approach.
  5. Methodology; Qualitative case-study research; Participatory approaches; Action-research; Value-oriented approach, Appreciative Inquiry.

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Request for a MSc student on leadership of place

Picture leadershipThe Rural Sociology Group is looking for a MSc student who is willing to do his/her master thesis research on leadership in 2 Dutch regions in the context of an international comparative research in the spring of 2016.
The central question is how leadership plays a role in rural and metropolitan regional development. Continue reading

The course Sustainability Leadership starts soon!

The course sustainability leadership: new concepts and practices PAP-52806 will start in Period 1. If you are interested, please register soon.

Profile of the course
The governance of sustainability issues in their environmental, social and economic dimensions requires leadership that goes beyond many of the leadership models and practices. Potentially relevant forms of leadership include collaborative, visionary, complexity, adaptive, value-based or eco-leadership. Yet these emerging leadership concepts are elusive just as the concept of sustainability. This course approaches this challenging field by asking some key questions: How does sustainability leadership differ from other types of leadership? How can the contribution of actors (individual and collective) as sustainability leaders be analysed and evaluated? Who are the most successful sustainability leaders and what makes them effective?

Course themes
1) Traditional (hierarchical, positional) versus new (emergent) forms of leadership
2) Leadership to achieve what? Sustainability and sustainability related goals
3) Different types of leaders (individual v.s collective, private vs. public etc)
4) Leadership at different scales and governance levels: from local networks to global negotiations
5) The means of leadership: knowledge, values, power and legitimacy
6) Evaluating successful leadership: functional and ethical dimensions

The course consists of a mixture of lectures, tutorials and individual feedback sessions with students. The students grade will be based on tutorial assignments, an exam paper and the presentation of this paper.

For who?
This is a master course, open for students in different disciplines. Courses in social science are a helpful background but not obligatory. Students with no social science background can receive extra support in the form of individual feedback on their exam paper.
If you need more information, please contact the lecturers: S.Karlsson-Vinkhuysen or L.G.Horlings.

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 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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Leadership and regions: unlocking the potential of communities

Every year the European Commission organizes Open days in Brussels, where EU Members of Parliament, national, regional and local policy/decision makers, Academics, students and researchers, can inform themselves on a variety of subjects. These Open Days host workshops and debates, and exhibition route, presentation of RegioStars -the most innovative projects co-financed by EU Structural and Investment Funds – and “Open Days University and Master Class”. See the programme.

open days 1The Regional Studies Association (RSA)  and the European Commission (DG Regio) organized 4 Master Classes, including a session for more than 100 participants on Oct. 9th 2013, on the topic of ‘Leadership and Regions: Unlocking the Development Potential of communities’, chaired by Prof. Dr. Andrew Beer. Besides Prof. Beer, Dr. Terry Clower (Texas), Dr. Henrik Halkier and myself were the speakers.  This report is based on the their presentations and the discussion with the audience.

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Human Values and Place-based Development – WASS seminar by dr Marilyn Hamilton

WASS Seminar Human Values and Place-based Development by dr Marilyn Hamilton: Tuesday August 30th, 13.30-15.30, Venue: Room C75, Leeuwenborch

How can human values be the starting point for community and regional development? How can capacities be built, leadership developed and community learning in multi-cultural places be enhanced? How can we create an integral framework for place-making and place-caring?

This seminar is a unique opportunity to hear about Dr. Hamilton’s work in cities and eco-regions and how she sees that sustainability for both are interlinked as a complex adaptive system. Marilyn Hamilton ‘meshworks’ or weaves people, purpose, priorities, profits, programs and processes to develop strategies for resilience. She facilitates sustainable development programs, develops practical tools and supports multi-stakeholder groups in transforming cities and eco-regions into a glocally resilient ‘meshwork’. She states that we need to balance subjective/ intersubjective capacities of people (‘the inner dimensions’) with objective/interobjective capacities (‘the outer dimensions’).

An example is Abbotsford, which had been headlined by the media as the ‘murder capital of Canada’. Here the youth perceived that community didn’t value them as a resource for community. Community workers wanted Abbotsford’s food-based agricultural sector to “cook up cultural harmony” by renewing opportunities for the youth linked to the food chain. The research project used an integral framework and meta-mapping (based on the theory of ‘spiral dynamics integral’) to identify differences and opportunities for the city and develop a monitor (the vital signs monitor) for strategic planning.

Dr. Marilyn Hamilton is Professor of Sustainable Community Development and Leadership Studies at Royal Roads University in Canada. She is a leader, coach, teacher, researcher and Founder of “Integral City Meshworks Inc”, and Jury Member of Globe Sustainable City Awards. She wrote the book, “Integral City: Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive”.

More information: Ina Horlings, Rural Sociology Group ( or Anouk Brack, Education and Competence Studies (

Conference on leadership, 23-24th of November 2010, Birmingham.

This conference was organised by the Regional Studies international research network on leadershp, at the University of Birmingham. This is an overview of the highlights. For more information, please contact

Prof. Joyce Liddle of the University of Nottingam described the recent policy shift in the UK. The New Coalition advocates ‘The Big Society and social enterprise’. The Regional Architecture has completely changed, which resulted in the demise of Regional Development Agencies. The Coalition’s vision is expressed in three values: freedom (frameworks with support social responsibility and civil liberties), fairness (those we cannot we always help) and responsibility (those we can, do). The means are e.g. Public Service Reform and A Smaller State. This is expressed in the slogan ‘A Big Society matched by Big Citizens’. New Local Enterpreneurs Partnerships (LEP’s) have now been launched. Prof. Liddle analyses the role of leadership in these LEP’s, based on the concept of auxiliary leadership. Liddle argues that only by having a clearer understanding of the role of auxiliary leadership in the dynamics of local and regional governance, we can better understand how collaborating state and non-state articulate and foster the necessary change processes.

Andrew Johnston of the University of Sheffield talked about Public Sector Entrepreneurship and leadership of the urban and regional development process in the UK. He distinguishes two notions of public entrepreneurship 1) Occupational role of leadership 2) Behavioural role of entrepreneurship.

Conditions for public sector entrepreneurship are according to Boyett: a  devaluation of power to a lower level; a re-allocation of resources to a lower level and an uncertain environment. Characteristics of Public sector entrepreneurship are: a) innovation b) Promoting change c) making decisions d) taking responsibility e) identify opportunities f) influencing stakeholders g) shifting resources h) influencing localities, form and use of goods, resources and institutes. Several conflicts between public entrepreneurship & democracy can be identified: 1) Autonomy versus accountability 2) Vision versus participation 3) Secrecy versus openness 4) Risk taking versus public stewardship.

Prof. Andrew Beer, University of Adelaide in Australia described the case of Waikerie District. The scale of policy arrangements in Australia is much smaller than those evident in the UK and Europe. Compared to Europe leadership is small scale, community based (community building); has a private sector orientation (short term success possible, but long term?), independent of government processes, a characteristic of individuals instead of an achievement of groups, and has a weak relationship with politics and governance. The case of Waikerie showed that: 1) formal government/governance processes can impede leadership in Australia’s regions 2) leadership carries costs that may not be paid easily by communities that have neither large scale institutions (eg universities) or large businesses 3) leadership roles can have adverse impacts on the lives of leaders 5) lack of knowledge on regional development processes and governance processes make it difficult to establish a ‘leadership relay’. 6) sustaining leadership is the most significant hurdle, not the identification or formation of leadership 7) failure in leadership may have compounding impacts.

Dr. Basilio Verduzco from Mexico uses game theory to analyse coalitions in urban development. He sees leadership as negotiating.  Interesting is his description of tensions in leadership which leads to three roles: being a partner, promotional leader and mediator. He uses Sharpf’s strategies from altruism till hostillity. Traditional roles of leadership in Mexico are 1) corporatism 2) caudillism and corrupt clientism. Based on the case in Mexico he distinguishes three types of leadership: solid, hollow and contested/ustable.

Juha Kostainen from the University of Tampere in Finland described the Tampere knowledge society program which object was to make Tampere the spearhead city of information society development. Kostainen described Radical Development Initiatives, not included in the official strategies. In the design stage there are various challenges such as established organizations which tend to be less radical. He identifies a new ‘Leadership-Community (Mintzberg, 2009): 1)  between leadership and citizenship 2) not a heroic type of leadership 3) engaged and distributed management 4) neither micromanaging nor ‘macroleading’ 5) “a community leader is personally engaged in order to engage others, so that anyone and everyone can exercise initiative”.

Prof. John Goddard from the New Castle University, presented about the role of the civic university and the leadership of place. He looked at this theme based on policy and academic discourses. The argument is that universities can create the divide between these discourses, this is a leadership challenge. He models universities and leadership of place as overlapping circles: political, managerial and community leadership, with in the middle intellectual leadership.

Prof. Markku Satorauta, University of Tampere in Finland, described why and how to study institutional entrepreneurship, see also his website.  How to create change? An important role can be played by institutional entrepreneurship. Institutional entrepreneurship is a relay in time, multi-scalar and multi-actor. Institutions are more often than not seen as sources of stability and not as sources of change and innovation (Scott). But there is a need for change. Leadership is about creating a way for people to contribute to making something different happen. The champions of regional development are however constrained by the very same institutions they aim to change (embedded agency). The case study of stem cell research shows how breakthrough treatments developed and that leadership is about connecting interpretive power, network power and institutional & resource power in the different phases of the process. You need different types of knowledge as well: substance knowledge, policy knowledge, process knowledge. The case shows that institutional entrepreneurship is a multi-scalar and multi-actor process. It is a relay in time. Different actors surface in different phases of development. It is a constellation of different skills, competences, knowledge and power.