Distributed academic leadership in emergent research organisations

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis - Research UT, graduation UT

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The thesis “distributed academic leadership in emergent research organizations" that Ben Kokkeler on October 29th 2014 successfully defended at the University of Twente, shows that a specific type of academic leadership developes, deep in the heart of the university, in emerging research institutes. In this thesis, the distributed nature of leadership practices is central: divided between academics and distributed over time and across professional spaces. The complexity of transformations is visible in the European higher education landscape and universities "in transition" since the sixties, including greater autonomy (in the Dutch higher education system) and differentiation of universities. At the same time, there are transformational developments in scientific fields, particularly in emerging areas that lead to multidisciplinary 'fusion' areas of research and innovation. In tandem, there is a new kind of research organisation, originated inside or outside universities, which combines excellence and relevance of research - as it were a new species in the research ecosystem. In this kind of new research organisations challenges are addressed by distributed academic leadership as formal leadership structures are insufficient. In this perspective of major changes the thesis is a long-term study (fifteen years, about 1990 to 2005) in the recent history of transformations in the research landscape, based on three case studies of emergent research organisations in the fields of nanotechnology, ICT and Open Systems, related to the University of Twente. The focus of the thesis is not the top executives and their strategic decisions, but the practice of everyday academic leadership. The case studies are based on interviews with actors, archival research in the research institutes involved and the University, and personal observations as a participant observer in research organisations in the past thirty years. In the period Ben Kokkeler describes, changes in international research landscape were seized as an opportunity by entrepreneurial scientists to establish new kinds of research organisations at the University of Twente, the Dutch university that in the eighties became known internationally as an "entrepreneurial" and "innovative" university, in the forefront of the "entrepreneurial universities" in Europe. The thesis shows that academic leadership develops in practice and is influenced by the overall transformations, while leading academics themselves help shape transformation paths. In a new process layer of distributed academic leadership activities in the university organisation: an intermediate level between research institutes, Faculties and the Central Board, stabilising in spaces and arrangements linked to leadership practice. Showing as constellations of distributed leadership activities that are to some extent orchestrated: explicitly and top down managed, delegated or collegiate orchestration. Orchestrated constellations that seem to be a pattern in the development of the learning organisation; three phases are visible in the case studies, each covering three to five years. The co-evolution of arrangements and leadership learning occurs, often quite practical and thematic, as in more or less structured communities around multi-year multi-partner research programs, which emerge as alliances and evolve into "Schicksalgemeinschaften". Topical is Kokkeler’s conclusion that academic leaders succeed in collaboration and realisation of new arrangements, thus creating common futures, while at the same time they must meet high individual performance requirements and expectations. For them, understanding the processes of co-evolution of organisational change and distributed leadership practice is important in order to overcome an exclusive focus on immediate and short-term problems.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Twente
  • Kuhlmann, Stefan, Supervisor
  • Fisscher, Olaf, Supervisor
  • Rip, Arie, Advisor
  • Kuhlmann, Stefan, Supervisor
  • Fisscher, Olaf, Supervisor
  • Rip, Arie, Advisor
Award date29 Oct 2014
Place of PublicationEnschede
Print ISBNs978-90-365-3585-4
Publication statusPublished - 29 Oct 2014


  • IR-92329
  • METIS-306135


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