In recent years there have been calls for an increasing emphasis on the development of place-based leadership to tackle ‘wicked’ issues, improve resilience and meet the needs of local citizens (Budd and Sancino 2016; Grint and Holt 2011; Hambleton 2015). Whilst traditional leader and leadership development focuses on the development of individual and organisational capacity (Day 2000) there is growing awareness of the need to collaborate across boundaries in order to deliver public value (Bryson et al. 2017; Crosby and Bryson 2010). Across the NHS and other areas of public service the concept of ‘system(s) leadership’ (Ghate et al. 2013; Timmins 2015) is being been used to facilitate a shift in focus from leadership in and of organisations, to leadership in and of the wider system.
In this paper we will explore the initiation, design, delivery and outcomes of a place-based systems leadership development initiative in Bristol. The programme was commissioned by a cross-sector steering group in order to build systems leadership capacity within the City, and was designed and delivered by UWE, Bristol and the Leadership Centre. An initial cohort of 25 participants from 18 different organisations was recruited, working together on applied projects to support and develop capacity to address complex systemic mental health issues, whilst also developing the wider capacity of themselves, their organisations and partnerships to think and work collaboratively to tackle shared challenges (Huxham and Vangen 2005).
Evidence for this case study includes both the authors’ own experiences of developing and delivering the intervention, as well as findings from an independent evaluation of programme impacts and experiences for participants, sponsors and other key stakeholders. Overall the paper provides insights into creative and innovative methods for developing place-based leadership capacity and reflections on the practical challenges of developing and enacting a systems leadership approach.