Kevin is Professor of Governance and Development in the School and his research interests are in the areas of:
- Innovation / Spatial Development
- Food / Sustainability
- Devolution / Governance/ Territorial Politics
- Regeneration / Social Enterprise / Mutualism / Co-operation
My research has been supported by 9 ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) awards to date as well as by research grants from a wide array of other funding bodies, including: the British Academy; European Commission; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation/World Food Programme; Joseph Rowntree Foundation; OECD; Plunkett Foundation, and through government and development agencies in and beyond the UK. Currently, I am the Principal Investigator of a consortium of ten EU universities and two regional networks that won the FP7 award for Smart Specialisation (which began in July 2013).
Our most recent ESRC award (Delivering Sustainability: The Creative Procurement of School Food in Italy, the UK and the US) was rated “outstanding” and in 2013 it won the first ever ESRC award for outstanding impact on public policy in the UK.
Kevin teaches on 2 undergraduate courses and 3 MSc courses.
- Special Advisor to the EU Commissioner for Regional and Urban Policy (Corina Cretu) (2015-)
- Advisor to the Board of the Cardiff Capital Region (2013 -)
- Advisor to the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, Welsh Government (2012-)
- Member of the European Commission’s Advisory Group on Smart Specialisation (2011-)
- Member of the UK Food Ethics Council (2008-2014)
- Chair of the Bristol Food Policy Council (2011-2015)
- DPhil, University of Sussex, (1982)
- MA, McMaster University, Ontario, (1977)
- BA Hons, University of Leicester, (1975)
- Professor, School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University, (1994 - Present)
- Senior Lecturer, Department of City and Regional Planning, Cardiff University, (1993 - 1994)
- Lecturer, Department of City and Regional Planning, Cardiff University, (1989 - 1993)
- Research Fellow, Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex, (1986 - 1989)
- Research Fellow, School of Urban and Regional Studies, University of Sussex, (1982 - 1986)
Public Engagement - Continued from homepage
- Chair of the Welsh Government’s Innovation Strategy Task and Finish Group (2012)
- Member of the Welsh Government’s City Regions Task and Finish Group (2011-12)
- Member of the Welsh Government’s Food and Farming Sector Panel (2011-13)
- Chair of the Centre for Regeneration Excellence in Wales (2010-2013)
- Advisor to the House of Commons Select Committee Inquiry on Regional Disparities in Prosperity (2006)
- Advisor to the UK Government (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills) on Regional Innovation Strategy (2012)
- Founder and Convenor of the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP) Sustainable Food Planning Group (2009-2013)
1. Innovation / Spatial Development
My interest in innovation studies began when I was a research fellow at Sussex University in the 1980s: initially in the School of Social Sciences, where I worked with Andrew Sayer and Alan Cawson, and later at the Science Policy Research Unit, where I worked with Robin Mansell and Ian Miles and where we were all inspired by the ideas and integrity of Chris Freeman, SPRU's founding director. But it wasn’t until I came to Cardiff, in 1989, that I got the opportunity to explore the spatial dimensions of innovation. Most of my early research in this field was pursued jointly with Phil Cooke, and the main output of this work appeared in 1998 as The Associational Economy: Firms, Regions and Innovation (Oxford University Press, reprinted in paperback in 2000). At the heart of this book was our firmly held belief that innovation - in firms, regions or countries - is a collective social endeavour rather than a product of heroic individuals.
Drawing on the insights of evolutionary political economy (which stresses the significance of uncertainty, bounded rationality, habits and routines and social capital) we sought to show that the regional level was assuming more importance for the design and delivery of innovation policy in the European Union. But we also argued that unilateral action at the regional level was not sufficient because less favoured regions needed the support of national and supra-national authorities to complement regional action.
With the proliferation of regional innovation strategies throughout the EU – from the STRIDE programme in the 1990s to Smart Specialisation more recently - I've become particularly interested in two specific questions. First, why do some regions find it easier than others to craft the institutional networks which are essential to the success of these regional innovation exercises? Second, what constitutes success? That is to say, what indicators should we use to judge whether these regional innovation strategies are yielding any tangible benefits?
These questions were explored in depth in the book I edited with Claire Nauwelaers (Regional Innovation Strategies: The Challenge for Less Favoured Regions, Routledge, 1999), a book we very consciously addressed to the policy and practice communities because regional innovation policy was such a novelty at the time.
One of my abiding theoretical interests in this field concerns the spatial implications of globalization and digitalization, trends that spell the “death of geography” for some people, especially journalists. I explored this question in The Exaggerated Death of Geography (published in the Journal of Economic Geography in 2004), a paper that was originally commissioned by the Centre for Innovation Studies for a conference on The Future of Innovation Studies at the Technical University of Eindhoven in 2001. Among other things, this paper explores the relative claims of physical and virtual proximity in a digital world and concludes by arguing that reports of the 'death of geography' are greatly exaggerated. I returned to the “death of geography” theme in Spaces of Innovation: learning, proximity and the ecological turn (an article co-authored with Adrian Healy and published in Regional Studies in 2012).
The role of cities and city-regions in innovation is also of great interest and here I have benefited enormously from being attached (as one of the international advisors) to the ISRN research programme in Canada, a programme led by Meric Gertler and David Wolfe of the University of Toronto, two excellent colleagues and friends. Over the past ten years the ISRN programme has produced some of the most compelling research on clusters, cities and city-regions, research that is a model of its kind in being empirically grounded but theoretically informed (www.utoronto.ca/isrn).
The spatial dimension of innovation has received a welcome boost in recent years by the advent of evolutionary economic geography, an exciting new sub-discipline that seeks to integrate the twin fields of innovation studies and economic geography (a convergence I explored in The Learning Region, which was published in Regional Studies in 1997 and reprinted in the 40th Anniversary Classic Papers Supplement of Regional Studies in 2007). One of the criticisms sometimes leveled at EEG is that it pays too little attention to macro-level institutions like the state. To try to overcome this shortcoming, I used an evolutionary perspective to explore the role(s) of the state in Wales, one of the most state-centric countries in Europe. The results of this exercise appeared as Path Dependence and the State: the politics of novelty in old industrial regions, a chapter in a book edited by Phil Cooke called Re-framing Regional Development: evolution, innovation, transition (Routledge, 2012).
These theoretical interests complement my work in the worlds of policy and practice. Recently I have been working with the Regional Policy Directorate of the European Commission on the design and development of Smart Specialisation, the new generation of regional innovation policy for the period 2014-2020. As part of the Mirror Group, which advises the Commission on its new regional innovation policy, I co-authored the new Guide to Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation (http://s3platform.jrc.ec.europa.eu/s3pguide). Smart specialization draws on some of the key concepts from evolutionary economic geography – concepts like related variety and path dependence for example – and therefore this experience affords a rare opportunity to explore the links between theory, policy and practice.
2. Food / Sustainability
My interest in sustainable agri-food chains developed from two very different sources: first, from family concerns about the safety and nutritional value of industrialised food and, second, from the stimulating work of my departmental colleagues, principally Terry Marsden, Mara Miele and Jonathan Murdoch (who tragically died at the height of his intellectual career in 2006). Through these personal and professional influences I belatedly began to understand that food - like water and waste - inadvertently reveals a lot about a society. The ways in which food is produced, processed, distributed, consumed and disposed of, have moved centre-stage in the inter-connected debates about democracy, development and wellbeing in the world today: the right to know what chemicals we are consuming with our food requires more robust food labelling regulations; shorter and more localised food chains could offer new development opportunities to crisis-ridden rural areas; and the link between food quality and human well-being needs to be better understood, especially in areas like the South Wales Valleys and Greater Glasgow, where we see some of the worst health records in the European Union.
My academic involvement in agri-food studies began in the mid-1990s when my departmental colleagues and I organised an international conference in Cardiff around the theme of Sustainable Food Chains and Regional Development, an event which attracted a great deal of interest from policy-makers, practitioners and academics. Following this event we secured funds (from a consortium which included the Welsh Office and the Welsh Development Agency) for a project called Organic Food Chains in Wales, an exploratory study of the organic food chain from farm to fork. This formed the basis of our ESRC project on Quality Issues in the Food Chain.
Animated by a concern for sustainable regional development we began to explore the potential for shorter, more localised agri-food chains. For example, we were particularly interested in the fate of the Powys Food Links project, one of the aims of which was to get wholesome local food into local hospitals. This unpretentious aim was blocked by a whole series of regulatory hurdles - including EU directives, so-called Best Value regulations on local authorities and the narrow auditing conventions in health authorities to name but three. This seems a perverse outcome when the powers that be (in Brussels, London and Cardiff) all claim to be actively committed to sustainable development.
Over the past ten years the study of sustainable food systems has absorbed the vast bulk of my research time as a result of two ESRC research projects. The first project (Going Local? Regional innovation strategies and the new agri-food paradigm) ran from 2003-2005 and explored the scope and limits local food networks in England and Wales. The second project (Delivering Sustainability: the creative procurement of school food) ran from 2005-2008 and examined the local procurement of school food in Italy, the UK and the US. Our public procurement research attracted further funding from the UN’s World Food Programme, which commissioned us to prepare a report on Home Grown School Feeding, and this eventually appeared as Home Grown: The New Era of School Feeding in 2007. The WFP funding enabled us to extend our creative public procurement research to the world stage by allowing us to conduct case studies of school food systems in Brazil, India, Ghana, Thailand and South Africa. This research led to what (to our knowledge) was the first independent assessment of the potential for Home Grown School Feeding, which signals a radical departure from traditional school feeding models because, while the latter rely on imported food aid, the new models seek to deliver a double dividend by producing nutritious food for children and creating new markets for local producers.
Our school food research had a greater resonance – with politicians, professions and the general public – than any research I’ve done before or since, a phenomenon I attribute to the zeitgeist and the moral panic about burgeoning rates of childhood obesity. The research results were disseminated in many ways, but principally in The School Food Revolution, which was published by Earthscan and co-authored with Roberta Sonnino. The high point of our school food research was undoubtedly the invite to present the findings in New York to two sessions of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development in 2009, a truly memorable occasion because it proved that school food reform was an issue that resonated all over the world.
In addition to public food provisioning I am exploring three other food systems, namely: (i) supermarket systems (ii) community food systems and (iii) urban food systems. The supermarket study was part of a BRASS Centre project called Greening the Grocers, which I am doing with Pam Robinson of Birmingham University. The community food system study was funded by the Plunkett Foundation under its Making Local Food Work programme, a project that also involves Tim Crabtree and Roberta Sonnino. Finally, the urban food research is currently a labour of love as I have not yet sought research funding because I decided to invest my time in engaging with urban food pioneers – like Bristol, Brighton, Manchester and Plymouth – who have led the way in the design of urban food strategies in the UK. I was very fortunate to be invited to speak at the conference to launch the Sustainable Food Cities Network in October 2011, an initiative organized by the Soil Association and hosted by Bristol City Council.
The urban food focus builds on and complements the Sustainable Food Planning Group, the thematic group that I coordinate under the auspices of the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP). Three very successful annual conferences have been held thus far – in Almere, Brighton and Cardiff. The main output of this work to date is Sustainable Food Planning: evolving theory and practice, a book edited by Andre Viljoen and Han Wiskerke and published in 2012 by Wageningen University Press. I hope and believe that this AESOP network can help academic and professional planners to re-imagine their roles and responsibilities in the food system, a system with which they have signally failed to engage until recently.
To complement my academic work on sustainable food systems I am actively involved in the world of food policy in my capacity as a member of: (i) the Food Ethics Council (ii) the Food and Farming Advisory Panel of the Welsh Government and (iii) the Bristol Food Policy Council.
3. Devolution / Governance/ Territorial Politics
My interest in democratic devolution (as opposed to the more restrictive form of administrative devolution) grew out of my work on regional development in the EU. As we explored the vast array of institutional arrangements which made up 'the regional milieu' in Europe, it became clear that the capacity to design and deliver one's own strategy, and the ability to act on locally acquired knowledge without having to secure permission from remote and often indifferent central government departments, was a potential institutional asset for regional economic development. Devolution, in this view, could have a democratising as well as developmental impact: politically, it can help to broaden and deepen democratic structures by creating new democratic spaces in otherwise centralised states; and it has the potential to make a positive contribution to development to the extent that it genuinely empowers local knowledge. For all these reasons I take a particular interest in the principle of subsidiarity (that is, the decentralisation of power to the lowest level that can deploy it effectively).
I have sought to address these issues through public campaigns and through my publications. On the campaign front, I was the chairperson of YES FOR WALES, the pro-devolution campaign in the 1997 Welsh referendum. On the publications front, the most direct exploration of the promise and the practice of democratic devolution is the book Redesigning Democracy: The Making of the Welsh Assembly, which I co-authored with the late Geoff Mungham, one of the funniest guys I’ve ever known.
Throughout this work I have tried to explore the tensions between subsidiarity and solidarity (the age-old tension between democracy and equality) because devolution creates threats as well as opportunities. Without solidarity societies would degenerate into an autarchy of the rich. Without subsidiarity they would mutate into centralised, remote and impervious bureaucracies. In my view these two principles - solidarity and subsidiarity - are equally essential for a civilised and sustainable society. Hence the dilemma is not to choose between them but, rather, to design robust governance mechanisms which allow us to resolve the tensions which are inevitably generated when they enjoy parity of esteem.
These tensions are especially acute in the context of a multi-level polity like the European Union, where there are at least four levels of governance: local, regional, national and supra-national. As I argued in a Wilton Park report (A Europe of the Regions? The Multi-Level Polity and Subsidiarity in the EU), a multi-level polity raises pressing questions about how one secures social and spatial justice and about how one resolves inter-jurisdictional disputes because it seems tailor-made for passing the buck: each level is keen to claim the credit for success and each is equally keen to absolve itself of failure. The old adage captures it perfectly: success has many parents, but failure is an orphan.
The UK is generally thought to be a stable territorial entity (which is no mean feat given its multi-national character and its southern-centric English bias), but territorial political tensions are never far from the surface. While Scottish nationalism garners most of the media attention, because it could trigger the “Break-up of Britain”, there are other territorial narratives competing for political attention – like localism, regionalism and city-regionalism for example. I explored these different territorial narratives in The Polycentric State, which was published in Regional Studies in 2007.
Territorial affiliations and identities were supposed to disappear according to early versions of modernization theory, where they were seen as cultural residues destined to be dissolved in the gastric juices of capitalist modernity and liberal democracy, supposedly its natural bedfellow. Far from disappearing, territorial politics is alive and well in the global north and the global south. What is equally disconcerting for modernization theory is the fact liberal democracy has not been the natural political analogue of capitalist development. The (apparent) success of authoritarian state capitalism in China and Russia suggests that the link between capitalism and democracy is more tenuous than we care to imagine and the variants of capitalism are more numerous than the Varieties of Capitalism literature implies.
I have been trying to understand these complex issues of comparative political economy in the context of a study of Skolkovo, ostensibly Russia’s answer to Silicon Valley on the outskirts of Moscow. The outcome of this study is Development by Decree: The Limits of Authoritarian Modernisation in the Russian Federation, a paper co-authored with Nadir Kinossian.
The territorial tensions in the Russian Federation, and I would suggest in China too, will not be resolved until the regions and stateless nations are empowered to choose their own political system. In both countries, an enormous effort is being made by the central state to maintain the territorial integrity of the system as it is presently constituted, which means these countries are less stable than they might appear.
4. Regeneration / Social Enterprise / Mutualism/ Cooperation
Ever since I arrived back in Wales in 1989 I have been consistently struck by the stubbornly high levels of social and economic deprivation in the South Wales Valleys (not that Brighton or Cardiff are without their chronically deprived areas). But coming from Rhigos in the Cynon Valley, I have a strong personal interest in the fate of these communities. The noxious cocktail of deprivation, and what is to be done about it, ebbs and flows in Welsh politics. One of the biggest debates held on the subject was held in Neath in 1992, organised by Peter Hain, the local MP, in association with the social democratic Friedrich Ebert Foundation of Germany. To stimulate the debate Peter Hain asked me to prepare a report, which subsequently appeared as Rebuilding Our Communities: A New Agenda For The Valleys (Friedrich Ebert Foundation, 1992), a report I co-authored with Adam Price.
The problems we identified over twenty years ago - social, economic, environmental, political, cultural and cognitive - appear as bad today as they were then. If anything the problems are getting worse because the continuing economic decline of West Wales and the Valleys is now sufficiently serious for us to speak of a developmental crisis in this region.
In recent years politicians and policy-makers have begun to accept that past policies have not worked. Part of the reason for past failures - aside from lack of resources - is that the design and delivery of regeneration policy rarely acknowledged or tapped local knowledge in the targeted communities, hence community involvement was marginal at best. Today's regeneration policies certainly contain all the right rhetoric - partnership working, bottom-up strategy, capacity-building, local ownership etc - but this rhetoric often conceals as much as it reveals and robust evidence-based policy evaluation can shed light on this issue.
For my own part I am particularly interested in the 'citizen's science' approach to regeneration, where local people are directly involved in selecting the indicators and in collecting the data which will ascertain whether a project has enhanced the sense of well-being in a community. This approach, pioneered by the New Economics Foundation, helps to break down the debilitating barriers between regeneration professionals and the communities which are the 'targets' of regeneration programmes. This is an important part of the process which interests me most of all - namely the learning-by-doing process through which communities learn to become self-managing communities. Arguably, this could be conceived as the ultimate form of devolution, a form of civic devolution, in which communities assume more responsibility for governing themselves. I believe that mutualism offers solutions that we have barely begun to explore in a serious way.
Of course the danger here is that governments might be tempted to view this process as a means of abdicating responsibility for the plight of problematical or deprived communities. All the more reason, then, for communities which wish to explore the self-managing road to ensure that their powers and resources are equal to their newly devolved responsibilities. Self-managing communities will need access to funds, training and a wide array of expertise and I like to think that universities can begin to play a more benign role in supporting such communities than they have in the past.
Having been failed by the market and the state, our most deprived communities need to build up their own assets through community-based social enterprises. I sought to make the case for community enterprise in The Collective Entrepreneur, a report commissioned by the Charity Bank and Community Housing Cymru and co-authored with Adam Price. We argued that social enterprises needed a smart state not a shrunken state to realize their potential, an argument that runs completely counter to the conventional political wisdom in Britain today, where a pre-Keynesian mantra would have us believe that austerity budgets are the best route to sustainable economic growth. Our report sought to demonstrate, on empirical and theoretical grounds, that this mantra, while it may serve other purposes, does not serve the cause of our most deprived communities, all of which have an above-average dependence on the public sector.
My public engagement work in this field has covered international and local assignments. I have worked for the European Commission and the OECD and, in 2002-2003, I acted as the advisor to the House of Commons select committee inquiry on regional disparities in the UK (the outcome of which was the select committee report Reducing Regional Disparities in Prosperity). As Dean of Engagement for Cardiff University many of my engagement activities concern the University's Flagship Engagement Projects which cover Community Journalism, City-Regions, Wales for Africa and Community Engagement in Cardiff and Merthyr.
- Making Local Food Work. Forecast for the Future: Scaling Up the Community Food Sector. Research by Cardiff University for the Making Local Food Work Programme
- Delivering Sustainability: The Creative Procurement of School Food in Italy and the UK (ESRC)
- Home Grown: The New Era of School Feeding (World Food Programme)
- Local Food in a Global Context (ESRC Research Seminar Series)
- Going Local? Regional innovation strategies and the new agri-food paradigm (ESRC)
- Social Innovation, Governance and Community Building (European Commission)
- Territorial Impact of EU R & D Policy (European Commission)
- Steel Communities Study: Implications for Employment, Learning and Regeneration (Welsh Assembly Government)
- The Welsh Assembly and the Governance of Economic Development (ESRC)
- Innovation and Quality in the Food Chain: Strengthening the Regional Dimension (ESRC)
Kevin teaches on 2 undergraduate courses:
- Political Geography
- Evolutionary Economic Geography
And 3 MSc courses:
- Urban and Regional Dynamics
- Sustainable Food Systems
- Researching Urban and Regional Development (on which he covers the role of ethics and values in the social sciences)
Kevin is currently the Principal Investigator on the EU-funded FP7 project, SmartSpec, which involves teams from ten universities and two regional networks (ERRIN and EURADA) in the studying the scope for/barriers to research and innovation strategies for mart specialisation in Europe.
On the food studies front, he is writing a book on sustainable public foodscapes.