Social capital, leadership and policy arrangements in generating sustainable European rural regions

L.G. Horlings, T. Marsden

Research output: Working paperAcademic


In European regions, an increasingly complex arena of actors is involved in today’s development agendas. They range from private firms and labour organisations to government and non-government institutions. The complexity of issues and actors is difficult to manage for current policy institutions. How can they create capacity to act on the regional level and get sustainable innovation off the ground? Our hypothesis is that social capital and the role of leadership therein can play an important role in rural regional development. This brings us to the central question of this paper: What is the role of social capital and leadership in the transition of rural European regions, and how is this influenced by policy arrangements? Social capital is conceptualised by combining an individualistic and collective perspective. It is nested in the wider domains of rural development: endogeneity; sustainability; governance of markets; novelty and institutional arrangements. We furthermore introduce a model for regional leadership along the axes of an inner-outer dimension and an individualcollective dimension. The empirical analysis is based on 12 European regional in-depth case studies. This material was gathered in the context of a large European research project on regional development, ETUDE, carried out by research institutes in six European countries.. The results show that social capital can function as a lubricant in rural regional development. Factors underlying the emergence of social capital are leadership, institutional arrangements and endogeneity. Endogeneity refers to cultural traditions, regionally specific environmental production conditions, or landscape quality and identity. Leadership can be anchored to different domains of rural development and plays a role in social networks in the form of initiating rural change, in stimulating multi-functionality or in starting up new businesses. Leaders can also work as ‘boundary spanners’ in public-private cooperation. Social capital in the form of public-private networks is embedded in three types of policy arrangements in the case study areas: Firstly in institutional cooperation. Secondly in the form of a ‘triple helix’ situation, characterised by close cooperation between public authorities, private actors and research institutes. The final form is in that of a regional regime. Regional competitiveness and quality of life are enhanced in those situations where there is an effective interplay between leadership, social capital and policy
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCardiff, UK
Number of pages49
ISBN (Print)9781906644321
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Publication series

NameWorking paper series

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