This think-piece explores three related themes:

• Innovation in public service reform needs better leadership

Top-down approaches to the improvement of public service performance – ‘target models’ – are of limited effectiveness when enhanced performance requires innovation. The promotion of innovation requires forms of leadership that are not commonplace in the UK. Improved leadership is needed at local, regional and national levels

• Place-based (or civic) leadership is weak in the UK

The government’s ‘Total Place’ reform efforts (of 2009) are a step in the right direction as they focus on the needs of a ‘place’, not the needs of an organisation. But, when compared with other countries, local government in the UK lacks ‘clout’. New thinking is needed regarding the nature of place-based leadership – what it involves, how to encourage it and how to underpin it. In particular, the UK needs to develop approaches to civic leadership that promote local innovation in dealing with societal problems.

• Universities can help develop local innovative capacity

Universities, provided they see themselves as ‘civic’ or ‘engaged’ universities, can make a significant contribution not just to the promotion of innovation (defined broadly) in their area, but also in assisting with the development of place-based leadership. Universities in other countries, notably the USA, make a much more significant contribution to local leadership than is the case in the UK. Some leaders in UK higher education understand this argument, and recent moves to advance the cause of university ‘public engagement’ need to be supported and expanded.

Place-based leadership and public service innovation

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