Negotiating regional futures : the successes and failures of the West Midlands Regional Development Agency Network
The introduction of Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) in the English regions in 1999 presented a new set of collaborative challenges to existing local institutions. The key objectives of the new policy impetus emphasise increased joined-up thinking and holistic regional governance. Partners were enjoined to promote cross-sector collaboration and present a coherent regional voice. This study aims to evaluate the impact of an RDA on the partnership infrastructure of the West Midlands. The RDA network incorporates a wide spectrum of interest and organisations with diverse collaborative histories, competencies and capacities. The study has followed partners through the process over an eighteen-month period and has sought to explore the complexities and tensions of partnership working 'on the ground'. A strong qualitative methodology has been employed in generating 'thick descriptions' of the policy domain. The research has probed beyond the 'rhetoric' of partnerships and explores the sensitivities of the collaboration process. A number of theoretical frameworks have been employed, including policy network theory; partnership and collaboration theory; organisational learning; and trust and social capital. The structural components of the West Midlands RDA network are explored, including the structural configuration of the network and stocks of human and social capital assets. These combine to form the asset base of the network. Three sets of network behaviours are then explored, namely, strategy, the management of perceptions, and learning. The thesis explores how the combination of assets and behaviours affect, and in turn are affected by, each other. The findings contribute to the growing body of knowledge and understanding surrounding policy networks and collaborative governance.