Public sector innovation and local leadership

Innovation and local leadership in the UK and the Netherlands.

Project details

Full project title: Public sector innovation and local leadership in the UK and the Netherlands

Duration: April 2011–June 2012

Sponsor: Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Project leader for SPE: Professor Robin Hambleton

Other UWE Bristol researcher: Joanna Howard

Research partners and collaborators:

  • University of Twente, The Netherlands
  • Bristol City Council, UK
  • Enschede City Council, The Netherlands
  • Swindon Borough Council, UK

Special thanks to Professor Bas Denters, Pieter-Jan Klok and Mirjan Oude Vrielink of the University of Twente for writing Chapter 4 of this report.

Project summary

How can civic leadership contribute to social inclusion? How can public authorities move beyond cutback management to deliver radical change in public services? These questions are addressed in this Anglo-Dutch tri-city study of place-based leadership to tackle social exclusion.

This action-research project drew directly on the experience of three innovative cities; Bristol and Swindon in the UK, and Enschede in the Netherlands, to generate a range of new insights relating to civic leadership. It contains three practical innovation stories explaining how bold innovation was brought about in each city:

  • The Digital+Green Initiative, Bristol - This is a key part of Bristol’s effort to position the city as a leading European example of a low-carbon, digitally connected city.
  • The Social GP Experiment, Enschede - This experimental programme in the Velve-Lindenhof area of the city aims to improve the life chances of over 600 residents of one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in The Netherlands.
  • The Swindon Family LIFE Programme - Swindon Borough Council and other local agencies are working with 'Participle' (a public service consultancy) to develop a new approach to intervention in families with severe difficulties by multiple public agencies, a social enterprise and families themselves.

The findings from the research call into question the current drive in public services to ‘do more with less’. Imaginative place-based leadership can develop a much more sophisticated approach bringing together the energies of both the state and civil society to enhance the local quality of life.

Key outputs

The research findings were presented at the Local Government Association (LGA) Annual Conference in Birmingham in June 2012. The published report is:

Hambleton R. and Howard J. (2012) 'Public Sector Innovation and Local Leadership in the UK and the Netherlands' - York, Joseph Rowntree Foundation (PDF).

The Guardian published a short article about the research – 'How to achieve place-based leadership and social inclusion’ on their Local Government Network blog.

Other outputs stemming from the research include:

  • Hambleton R. (2011) 'Place-based leadership in a global era' - Commonwealth Journal of Local Governance, Issue 8/9 May-November.
  • Hambleton R. and Howard J. (2011) 'Driving innovation through place-based leadership – a tri-city analysis' - Paper to the European Urban Research Association (EURA) Conference, Copenhagen, Denmark.
  • Hambleton R. (2012) ‘Urban leadership in a globalising world’ - Paper to the Urban Affairs Association (UAA) Conference, Pittsburgh, USA.
  • Hambleton R. and Howard J. (2013) ‘Place-based Leadership and Public Service Innovation’ - Local Government Studies, Vol 39, Issue 1

Project contact

For further information on the project, please contact Professor Robin Hambleton (

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