• The partnership of KNOW-HUB welcomes you to its knowlegde base.


Linked in

Leadership and Management in Regional Innovation Policy

Leadership understood as the capacity to give rise to new realities, in the case of regional innovation policy, adopting specific characteristics, different from those of the corporate world, as it must respond to a focus that combines shared leadership with different levels and roles and is oriented at overcoming not so-called market failures, but system failures.

Written by Alberto Alberdi Larizgoitia


The concept

How to implement it?

Step in the RIS process

What can be expected?

A quote



The concept

Leadership is defined as the activity and ability to influence the people in an organization or in a group of organizations, of a region or a country so that they voluntarily get involved in achieving certain objectives, building a shared vision and providing information, knowledge and methods to make them reality. While Management means the organization and coordination of people and resources in order to achieve the objectives determined through planning and operative management activities.

This traditional vision of leadership and management has a fundamental problem: it tends to confuse leadership with top management, by which leadership is transformed into a unipersonal affair in such a way that a passive role corresponds to the rest of the organization. Leadership rests completely on the mythical figure of the leader-hero equipped with exceptional abilities: vision, strategic perspective, innovative character and capable of surpassing organizational limits, charisma, practical wisdom to balance that which is worth doing with that which can be done, commitment, the capacity to communicate and influence others. Based on the above, any transformation project would pass through the search for this exceptional person whose abilities are, to a large extent, innate, although they may in part be learnt in practice and not in management schools.

However, although there is no doubt that activities such as a corporate or institutional reorganization or the formulation of a strategy depend without doubt on top management and may be necessary in a process of change, this does not mean that change can be directed from above, because these activities in themselves do not change the capacity of organizations to adapt to the environment, if they do not empower people, if they do not facilitate the acquisition de new capacities, if their fear or distrust is not reduced nor their creativity or imagination is liberated to generate knowledge and facilitate innovation.

Therefore, Peter Senge’s [1] definition of leadership rests on a collective vision: “the capacity of a human community—people living and working together—to bring forth new realities” and therefore the generation of a growth process that feeds itself and involves the creation of pilot groups and practice communities which conjugate the different types of leadership relative to the executive functions, to the production line or to the generation of internal networks.

It is therefore necessary for a transition from the hierarchical idea and the mechanical metaphor towards an idea of shared leadership and co-evolution within organizations. A transition that illuminates a new paradigm that becomes totally relevant when it is a case of the task of promoting sustainable development and innovation on a regional level.

Firstly, because the dimension and interrelation of the demographic, environmental, social and economic challenges which regions face together with the complexity of governance, with the multiplicity of public and private actors and organizations which meet on a regional scale, make this space a privileged area for the deployment of this new concept of leadership. This serves both to build consensus on the strategic priorities of innovation policy and to implement it and favour processes of entrepreneurial discovery and permanent learning. Secondly, because intervention policies have to go beyond the objective of overcoming market failures in order to tackle system failures, i.e. problems of transition and lock in, the existence of hidden costs, inertia, frameworks and incentives which make collaboration [2] difficult. All in all, because it is the systemic character of regional innovation policy that demands a new shared leadership paradigm and the co-evolution of all the actors to overcome the silos which organizations and even the departments of an institution often turn into.


How to implement it?

The existence of leadership is considered on three levels: political, executive and networks, which boost mobilization among all agents within organizations and collaboration between them beyond their limits on the basis of the integration of their capacities to solve challenges created and to develop the vertical and horizontal priorities of the strategy.

This triple leadership has to be capable of piloting, with variable predominance according to the level, all the critical phases through which a regional innovation policy will invariably pass: 1) mobilization and social awareness, 2) construction of the vision and launching of the strategy, 3) process feedback through achievements and results and 4) keeping up the momentum in the face of difficulties due to failed projects or disillusionment with the running of the networks.   

The first level must correspond to the maximum authority for policy in the region, the President, who will also preside over a high level Council in representation of the main stakeholders (see governance) but with a membership which should not exceed 15 members in order to be operative.

At the second level, a Top Executive who answers directly to the President and is present on the Council. This is the person who deploys executive leadership for the development of the vision, information collection, monitoring and management of interactions in order to channel conflicts and improve the capacity of the networks to learn and spread new ways of thinking and acting [3]. In order to carry out this task there will also be an executive Committee with a flexible composition so as to make room for the main stakeholders and different institutional levels including those outside the region.

At the third level we find coordination Groups for each of the areas of specialization identified in the intelligent specialization strategy. These groups must have a composition that guarantees the presence of the different roles required for efficient leadership [4]:

  • Entrepreneur: directly involved in the activity to be developed.
  • Mentor: Personality from the business or scientific world who will provide moral and material support, but who will not belong to the reference organizations. 
  • Institutional Leader: Connects the Group with the other levels of leadership and with the main tools of public policies.
  • Critic: Expert who holds a critical vision that helps detect weaknesses and anticipate difficulties in the process of entrepreneurial discovery.

The creation and running of the Groups will be facilitated and complemented by the existence of a global organization which is a Network of networks, to promote interactions throughout the innovation system that helps in their identification and constitution, but also helps the generalized momentum of innovation beyond the specific areas of the Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3 strategy).

In the cases of regions without political power and/or with weak decentralization, or also in rural or local areas, these organizations that correspond to the third level and link leadership with social capital will acquire the greatest leading role given the inexistence of a political power as such that deploys regional innovation policy from within [5].


Step in the RIS process

Leadership and management are required for all RIS3 steps:

  • Step 1: Analysis of the regional context and potential for innovation (Competitive advantages and support environment
  • Step 2: Set up of sound and inclusive governance structure with regards to the policy development process (towards Collaborative leadership)
  • Step 3: Production of a shared vision about the future of the region (Mobilizing stakeholders)
  • Step 4: Selection of a limited number of priorities for regional development (Smart Choices and Critical mass)
  • Step 5: Definition of coherent policy-mix roadmaps and action plans
  • Step 6: Integration of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms (Smart Specialisation as continuous process)


What can be expected?

  • Social mobilization, stability and continuity of innovation policy beyond the political cycle.
  • Unique vision and strategies that reflect structural capacities, characteristics and values of the region.
  • Greater capacity to absorb knowledge and adapt policies following a learning process.
  • Strengthening of capacities and effectiveness in processes of entrepreneurial discovery.
  • Overcoming the difficulties which every regional innovation policy will pass.


A quote

“The cause of our collective failure is that we are blind to the deeper dimension of leadership and transformational change. This “blind spot” exists not only in our collective leadership but also in our everyday social interactions. We are blind to the source dimension from which effective leadership and social action come into being. We know a great deal about what leaders do and how they do it. But we know very little about the inner place, the source from which they operate. Successful leadership depends on the quality of attention and intention that the leader brings to any situation. Two leaders in the same circumstances doing the same thing can bring about completely different outcomes, depending on the inner place from which each operates.” by C. Otto Sharmer [6]



[1] Peter Senge. The Leadership of Profound Change. http://www.spcpress.com/pdf/other/Senge.pdf

[2] Phillip McCann and Raquel Ortega- Argilés. Modern regional innovation policy; Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 2013, 6. http://cjres.oxfordjournals.org/content/6/2/187

[3] Markku Sotarauta and Kimmio Viljamaa (2002). Leadership and Management in the development of Regional Innovation Environments. ERSA Conference.   http://www-sre.wu-wien.ac.at/ersa/ersaconfs/ersa02/cd-rom/papers/071.pdf

[4] Paul Benneworth, David Charles, Catherine Hofgson and Lynne Humphrey (2007). Leadership and the `regional innovation journey´ in ordinary regions. A review of the literature. Institute for Policy and Practice. University of Newcastle Upon Tyne http://people.uta.fi/~atmaso/verkkokirjasto/lead.pdf

[5] Markku Sotarauta , Lummina Horlings and Joyce Liddle (ed.)2012. Leadership and Change in Sustainable Regional Development. Routledge.

[6] C. Otto Sharmer. “Uncovering the blind spot of leadership” http://www.rqgenesis.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Otto-Scharmer-Theory-U.pdf