Leadership and followership in a complex and changing world

At the BLCC, we take a fresh approach to leadership, looking at the relationships between leading, following and other social and organisational processes.

We live in turbulent times, with growing pressure on groups and organisations to collaborate across boundaries to address shared challenges. Hierarchical models of leadership that focus predominantly on the skills and abilities of senior level leaders are inadequate to explain or develop the capacity of individuals, organisations and/or networks to adapt, innovate and thrive in the 21st century.

At the BLCC, we take a fresh approach to leadership, looking at the relationships between leading, following and other social and organisational processes. We regard leadership as a process of social influence through which a sense of shared direction, alignment and commitment is developed. Our expertise in this area includes work on distributed, shared and systems leadership; paradox and ambiguity; the psychodynamics of leadership; and leadership ethics and sustainability.

Developing more inclusive and effective organisations and partnerships is one of the most pressing needs of our time. We collaborate with partners in sectors including health and social care, local government, education and business to deliver applied research, education and engagement initiatives with regional, national and international impact.

Intelligent technologies, sustainability, and organising in digital environments

This suite of research projects examines lived experience of organisational members with ethical, existential and technical aspects of changes driven by the two major transitions of our time: the digital and the ecological. Inevitably interdisciplinary, these studies are positioned at the intersection between several areas of enquiry:

  • a complex nature of the global sustainability agenda;
  • socially responsible design and adoption of new technologies (e.g. digitisation, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, automation);
  • practitioners' lived experience and professional identity; and
  • responsible management education.

By combining applied and critical conceptual approaches, the ultimate aim is to contribute to the practice of organising and leadership in virtual and /or automated environments, to the development of scholarship-informed industry standards, and to more effective forms of (social) advocacy required to mobilise multi-professional collaboration and partnership in addressing both the sustainability imperative and the technological transition.

For further information, please contact Associate Professor Svetlana Cicmil.

Current project

A multidisciplinary research proposal, titled “Automating MMC housing environmental performance design- an artificial intelligence approach” was one of the winners in the last round of the UWE Bristol Vice Chancellor’s Challenge Fund (2020-21). A collaborative enquiry with two colleagues from the Faculty of Environment and Technology (now known as College of Arts, Technology and Environment), this project addresses the problematic around delivering sustainable affordable housing in the UK, at scale and speed where modern methods of construction (MMC), specifically prefabricated high-spec modular units, are used (HM Government 2019).

Key to optimising the dwellings’ environmental performance is addressing daylighting and overheating implications through selection of combinations of units (e,g, walls with different window placement and size), appropriate to individual spatial and temporal conditions (HLSTC 2018). This is a complex design optimisation problem, and despite continued advances in fabrication methods, there is a lack of tools capable of rapid environmental assessment supporting this aspect of the design process. In current practice, the design process is driven by often short lead times, and poorly informed due to unknown designers’ assumptions on environmental performance. Consequently, insufficient environmental analysis is often carried out, resulting in poorly performing and unhealthy housing.

The aim of this research project is to examine and develop novel automated approaches to environmental performance optimisation of housing modules that enhance rather than conflict with architectural design practices. Previous research has shown that a less-than-enthusiastic use of such digital autonomous support tools by architects and their willingness to integrate them in their practice, stems from a perceived clash with the nature of architects’ thinking and ways of knowing. One of our key objectives is to study the complex interaction (division of work and integration) between the technology (automated systems/AI) and the architects' way of thinking-in-practice, and how it is negotiated and balanced in the early design stages. 

In light of that and by harnessing advances in AI, we hope to develop a prototype-tool capable of automating the detection of spatial and environmental design interdependencies that influence module daylighting and overheating which can support design-related decision making in a more effective and integrated way.

Previous related project

Horizon2020 funded Doctoral training programme ‘SOCRATES (SOcial Cognitive Robotics in The European Society)’ 2017-2020 for 15 young researchers, created to develop the field of Social Robotics with an application focus on Robotics in Eldercare. 

Bristol Golden Key local evaluation

In 2014, BLCC was commissioned as local evaluator for Bristol Golden Key - an eight-year programme (running until 2021), funded through the Big Lottery Fulfilling Lives initiative, that aims to unlock access to services for people with complex multiple needs, including homelessness, mental health problems, drug/alcohol dependency and criminal offending behaviour.

Golden Key is a partnership of statutory and not-for-profit agencies across Bristol (including the NHS, police, probation, City Council, Second Step, Bristol Drugs Project, St Mungos and 1625ip) who are piloting new approaches to service delivery and mobilising systems change to ensure a lasting legacy for the city and its most vulnerable residents. 

To find out more, please contact Professor Richard Bolden or Amy Beardmore.

Collaborative and creative decision making in times of uncertainty

Nadine Tchelbi ran workshops for the Environment Agency to develop ‘negative capability’ in order to facilitate collaborative and creative decision making in times of uncertainty.

To find out more, please contact: Dr Nadine Tchelbi.

Evaluation of Systems Leadership: Local vision

In 2014-15, BLCC was commissioned to evaluaete the Systems Leadership: Local Vision initiative, where partner agencies in health, local government, police, voluntary sector and others worked together to address issues, such as intergenerational obesity, dementia, and the integration of health and social care services. The project was commissioned by a consortium of organisations including the NHS, Public Health England and the Leadership Centre for Local Government, and has informed the recent NHS framework for action on improvement and leadership development. View and download the final report.

To find out more, contact: Professor Richard Bolden.

Leadership and engagement in the construction industry

This research project was a collaborative partnership between the BLCC, the Leadership and Engagement Thought and Action Group (TAG) (part of Engage for Success) and Henley Business School, and was conducted on behalf of the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB).

The research investigated links leadership with engagement in two large firms within the construction industry and highlights practical steps that can be taken in further developing engagement within these organisations and others in the industry. Key factors associated with high levels of engagement were shared/distributed leadership; the ability of manager’s to maintain team direction; and the ability to manage team boundaries.

The research has led to a ‘Leadership and Engagement’ day hosted at the Bristol Business School in June 2019 and the subsequent formation of the ‘Transforming Construction Working Group’ (TCWG) which meets at the Bristol Business School once a month and looks to work collaboratively in developing leadership and management across the construction industry. At present, we have particular interest in Digital Leadership.

To find out more, contact: Dr Gareth Edwards.

Leadership paradoxes in Singapore public services

This project, commissioned by the Singapore Civil Service College in 2016, explored the paradoxes and tensions experienced by public sector leaders/managers in Singapore, their thoughts on potential causes, and coping strategies they have developed to deal with them. The work has resulted in the development of a framework for conceptualising paradox and continues to inform leadership and organisation development programmes within the Singapore Public Service.

To find out more, please contact: Professor Richard Bolden.

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