Cultures of leading and organising

At BLCC we support leaders and organisations in developing a deeper understanding of their own context.

What makes for effective leadership is a significant question, but what works in one country or community may not be the same as in another. Our research explores how place, space, culture, language, identity and time, influence perceptions and experiences of leadership and their impact on management processes and organisational outcomes.

Mainstream work on leadership largely seeks generalities and universal truths, but at BLCC we support leaders and organisations in developing a deeper understanding of their own context. We use tools such as critical thinking and reflection to help tease out the concepts behind processes and interventions. We then use this insight to enable leaders to consider alternative approaches that facilitate greater diversity, inclusion and engagement.

Themes of context, culture and identity come together in the typical scenario of global, cross-cultural management in which expats, equipped with Western frameworks and theories, are sent out to lead in different regions or countries. We are interested in a more ‘worldly’ approach that considers alternative, qualitative and anthropological accounts of leadership and organising, and the lessons and insights they reveal.

Recent projects include supporting the implementation of malaria elimination strategies in south-east Asia and southern Africa; an ethnographic analysis of how people in the Mexico-US border region engage in processes of organising; and an investigation of leadership paradoxes in Singapore public services.

A toolkit for living in a new building: A visual post-occupancy evaluation of Bristol Business School

A large scale qualitative visual study conducted by Dr Harriet Shortt and other BLCC colleagues, Dr Hugo Gaggiotti and Dr Svetlana Cicmil, evaluates how users feel about the Bristol Business/Law School building and whether the building is being used as it was intended. This research project was funded by Stride Treglown (the architects and principal designers of the building) and ISG (International Building Contractors).

The aim of this cutting-edge study was to re-think how organisations approach post-occupancy evaluations and to explore the personal, emotional and sensory user experiences of the building through the use of visual methods in order to gain a richer, more detailed picture of how users feel about the new space. The rich narrative and visual data gathered from this research, from over 250 participants who took part in the study, goes beyond more usual ‘technical-functional’ analyses of how new buildings operate.

The project report provides an in-depth, user-centred account of how the transparent, collaborative, flexible and open university building affects working and studying practices. It ends with a practical set of future-focused recommendations and value propositions for all stakeholders involved in commissioning new university accommodation.

To find out more, please contact Dr Harriett Shortt.

Wandering about Bristol

The Wandering about Bristol project is a series of three urban wanders from 2015 to 2018 to re-imagine a "green" city. We attempted to create thinking spaces and drew upon the thinking of Henri Lefebvre’s triad of space (perceived, conceived, lived). We did not expect everyone to agree with each other and were respectful of questioning each other’s practices and ideas about health, nature, urban gardening, skate parks, to name just a few. The films produced reveal tensions between how Bristol is conceived in the official “green” narrative from how Bristol is lived and experienced to inform social change. Perceived spaces are the physical places where buildings, train stations and roads are located and practices of how they are used.

In 2015, Bristol was the European Green Capital. The wanders offered a way of moving in between official utopian notions of Bristol as a "green’" city with Bristolians’ everyday lives, including their understanding and practices of greenness. This approach proved challenging in that we were moving from one narrative of the effects of climate change and reducing CO2 emissions towards working with multiple narratives of what becoming a "green" city means.

To capture differing views, participants held four video cameras to film as they wandered. Each wander was an event to support practice-based activities, collaboration and transformation (Big Green Week, Love the Future; M32 Space; Festival of Nature). We took the decision to adopt visual methods, in particular video, for capturing conversations outside and on the move, as visible and hearable (social) interactions between people, objects and spaces.

We then hosted a workshop to highlight and question ideas that had come up in the wanders. This workshop brought together those whose practice is of social and environmental change  in local arts organisations, local government and health agencies, partnership organisations and academics and led to discussions, interactions and potential collaborations. We were looking at how novel approaches such as wandering and participant video might move current practice beyond environmental ways of looking at a “green” city.

To give a brief sketch of "stuff" that happened with the participants:

  • Pre-meetings and discussing what would happen, questions we would ask, where we would host wanders and some false starts;
  • Three participants filmed urban walks - wanders;
  • One workshop showing a film of the wanders and feeding back key issues to participants to facilitate a discussion; this was captured by local artist with animated Sketchnotes;
  • Various events, including Bristol Bright Night where the public is invited to hear about research;
  • Bristol Leaders and Change Centre (BLCC) blogs and social media;
  • Four conference presentations;
  • Two (almost three) submissions to peer-reviewed journals, one though was politely rejected which helped to inform a challenge of this project of working between differing boundaries;
  • A map of insights from 'Wandering about Bristol'; and
  • The project website to keep alive the conversation.

In writing up, I am drawn to Steyaert’s (2011) thoughts of ‘movement and being moved’, as I too feel the moving and moving images, raised questions and reveal varied perspectives of spaces. On the one hand, the official imagination of Bristol as a ‘European Green Capital’ city and, on the other, the availability of alternatives to it became compelling conversation with practitioners in the city. From these experiences, we posed the following two questions:

  1. What implications does space, wandering and capturing movement (bodies, sounds, objects, etcetera) have for our understanding of learning and for the broader appreciation of the importance of everyday practices in the context of learning?
  2. How might such visual approaches lead to interventions and alternative ways of organising?

Though we said in the bid that our aim was "to reveal tensions between how Bristol is conceived by dominant groups versus how Bristol gets experienced every day to inform social change", one of the intentions of the project was to develop a network to make critical research more accessible and to engage practitioners (and policy makers).

Three key areas arose during this project:

  1. Collaboration
    We feel the main contribution has been taking conversation out of office spaces and of the potential for collaboration and sharing differing ideas and practices between practitioners and academics.
    Collaboration across boundaries between academics and practitioners is key (and a challenge).
  2. Participation and being experimental with a novel methodology
    We feel that participant-led video and wandering opens up opportunities for using research to actively participate in, and render visible, spaces. In this project, we sought to question some of the official narrative introduced by the Green Capital 2015 initiative. In the wanders and workshop, to build upon what we highlighted above, representatives included those from the Bristol 2015 Co, who created the imagery and those who delivered projects as part of Bristol 2015 European Green capital initiative, local government, Sustrans, consultants, architects, landscape architects, artists, representatives of local housing associations and those creating/using the local skate park.
  3. Movement and how to listen when in unexpected situations
    By this, we mean how to create circumstances that leave room for sharing differing ideas, differing stories and practices of becoming "green" to step outside the dominant "green" city narrative and to take a critical approach to re-image what a "green" city means - not just as one thing - and of how to interpret these potential insights and to speak back to organisations.

Wandering about Bristol is a Small Research Grant for the project ‘Thinking urban spaces differently: Articulating and contesting “green” imageries of Bristol as an enterprising city’ and is supported by the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust.

Finally, I give thanks to the wanderers who contributed to the orientation of each event. If you’re interested in how we engaged in collective wanders, including the materials created, visit Wandering About Bristol or email Pam Seanor at

Building leadership for inclusion

In 2017, we were appointed as independent evaluator and academic partner for the NHS Leadership Academy’s ‘Building Leadership for Inclusion’ initiative. This is a national project to update approaches to equality, diversity and inclusion, build leadership capability to enable significant progress on inclusion and to address under representation at all levels in the NHS and partner agencies.

To find out more, please contact Professor Richard Bolden or Stella Warren.

Early-career academics and the neoliberal University

Dr Olivier Ratle and his collaborators from the University of Glasgow and the University of Surrey study the predicament of early-career academics within the neoliberal University. In a context where governments seek to erode the professional power of academics through the use of a range of disciplinary technologies (e.g. journal rankings, university league tables), starting a career as an academic is not easy. Studying the different ways in which early-career academics resist those disciplinary technologies has enabled the team to account for resistance as a multifaceted, pervasive and contradictory phenomenon. Through resistance and compliance, early-career academics try to make a positive difference in their department, universities and communities. As such, they are not only resisting neoliberalism, they are also actively contributing to re-constituting their complex field.

To find out more, please contact: Dr Olivier Ratle.

Language and leadership

Another example is the collaborative work between Professor Doris Schedlitzki (London Metropolitan University), Dr Gareth Edwards (UWE Bristol), Professor Peter Case (UWE Bristol) and Dr Hugo Gaggiotti (UWE Bristol) on leadership and language. They have for some time now been exploring how leadership is described and enacted in different national languages, such as English, Welsh and German. They have published key articles on the subject: Working with language and Leadership, management and the Welsh language. In 2017, they had a special issue in the Leadership journal on Ways of Leading in non-Anglophone contexts. They continue to develop research links in this area.

To find out more, please contact: Dr Gareth Edwards.

Making projects critical

Co-founded by Dr Svetlana Cicmil (UWE Bristol Business School) and Damian Hodgson (University of Manchester Business School), 'Making Projects Critical' (MPC) is an academic-practitioner collaborative project which started in 2003 as a series of international academic workshops, providing a unique forum for a critical examination of the lived experience with all aspects of projects including the 'projectification' of society. Its distinctive focus has been on project as a significant social phenomenon, above and beyond traditional instrumental-rational approaches to project management as a techno-scientific methodology. MPC has, over the years and with the involvement of the academics from Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm (Monica Lindgren and Johann Packendorff), developed into an inclusive, practice-oriented international movement, fostering a dialogue and collaboration between project practitioners, professional bodies, educators and researchers with diverse disciplinary backgrounds.

An extensive and growing body of published work stemming from MPC, has identified, analysed and evaluated a range of significant implications of the widespread adoption of project-based work and the professionalisation of project management for individuals, organisations and global society. Ethical, political, existential and economic aspects of projects have been highlighted, resulting in recommendations for: alternative leadership practices in project settings; minimising project-overload related vulnerabilities; creatively handling tensions between standardisation and creativity in project organisations; recognising the limits to projectification and the dysfunctions of project rationality. The MPC research finds inspiration in, and draws on labour process theory, critical theory, existential phenomenology, ANT, environmentalism, feminism and gender studies, post-modernism and other traditions broadly related to critical management studies.

The MPC project has been supported, since its inception, by a number of research councils, universities and professional associations, and was recently crowned by a prestigious international recognition from the USA-based Project Management Institute (PMI) for its sustained contribution to advancing the concepts, knowledge and practice of project management. View MPC related publications.


To find out more, please contact: Dr Svetlana Cicmil.

Management systems, institutional change and food security in Laos

This is a series of rural development projects in Lao People’s Democratic Republic led by Professor Peter Case and aimed at improving the institutional support offered by Government to the agriculture sector. The overall aims of these projects is to improve smallholder productivity and assist the government of Lao meet Millennium Development Goals with respect to food security and poverty reduction. 

Organisation Development and Participatory Action Research interventions are used to engage stakeholders from villages, districts, provinces and relevant government agencies in the co-creation and implementation of mechanisms that match government support to local needs and opportunities; and improved management systems to assist government staff plan and monitor services. 

Peter’s research teams have also been researching ways of improving smallholder farmer adoption of agricultural technologies and innovations. 

To find out more, please contact Professor Peter Case.

Organisational ethnography in the Mexican borderlands

In 2015, Dr Hugo Gaggiotti was awarded a one-year British Academy Award under the Newton Mobility Grants Scheme for his research applying organisational ethnography to study business and organising in the American-Mexican borderlands. 

In 2016, Hugo was awarded a new project from the same founders, now for two years, to help the professionalisation of the management of organisations who support families, children and youngsters in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico through applied research with institutionalised children, indigenous people of Ciudad Juarez and their relationships with urban institutions and youngsters and the organised work of the “maquilas”.

The aim of this project is to consolidate research capacity in Mexico borderlands and to lead the development of a formal education programme, but the ultimately the primary objective is to contribute to the promotion of socio-economic welfare in Chihuahua by transferring this knowledge as professional organisational practices that ultimately help to solve social and economic needs of families, children and young people in Ciudad Juarez.

To find out more, please contact: Dr Hugo Gaggiotti.

Research into leadership culture and language

Dr Doris Schedlitzki, Associate Professor of Organisational Leadership and member of the Bristol Leadership and Change Centre, talks about her research into leadership culture and language.

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