Regional Inclusive Growth Research Network: priorities, challenges and objectives

Policy Scotland and the Scottish Centre for Regional Inclusive Growth (SCRIG) held the first meeting of the Regional Inclusive Growth Research Network (RIGRN) at the University of Glasgow, to support the development of a  regional inclusive growth (IG) related research agenda in Scotland over the next year.

The meeting was chaired by Professor Duncan MacLennan, supported by Dr Linda Christie and was well attended with representation from the Scottish Government and from across the academic community, including Glasgow, Glasgow Caledonian, Edinburgh, Dundee and Heriot Watt universities.

IG in the Scottish context

Professor Duncan MacLennan opened the meeting with an introduction to the IG concept, suggesting that issues of growth and distribution are not new and historically, been a key concern of the political economy and welfare economics. The Scottish policy context requires an integrated approach to economic development, which has also been well recognised since the mid 1990s. A bottom-up approach to the IG policy agenda in Scotland was however, thought lacking, and the need to better understand the role of regional governance in supporting policy integration. The group acknowledged the need to ‘not reinvent the wheel’, instead aiming to build on the learning and academic and empirical research that has gone before, attempting to do things better or differently and identify any gaps in research.

There followed an update from Scottish Government representatives on the work of the SCRIG team to support city and growth deals and new regional economic partnerships across Scotland. SCRIG is still in its early stages, focussed mainly on supporting collaboration, knowledge exchange, the further development and use of the evidence base and informing best practice in inclusive growth viewed through a spatial policy lens. So far this has focussed on development of: a) Inclusive Growth Diagnostic and Asset Register; b) the EDAS inclusive growth Community of Practice (CoP); and c) the RIGRN to develop evidence base and engage the academic community to extract what we know and that is meaningful for practitioners. 

An update on the recent (SFT commissioned) research currently underway by Oxford Economics was highlighted, which is focussed on understanding functioning regional economic geographies  and implications for regional governance mechanisms and partnerships in supporting the delivery of IG.

A key ambition is to use the RIGRN to help better connect the outputs from recent research with public policy practitioners and policy and delivery teams working to deliver IG across Scotland.

RIGRN objectives

Dr Linda Christie continued the discussion by inviting the group to agree a set of objectives for subsequent meetings, to help identify a set of IG research domains, priorities, and challenges.  The discussion raised a set of questions concerning the development of an IG research agenda in Scotland, including:

  • What policy domains help to focus the IG agenda in Scotland: quality of life, health, jobs, environment and community?
  • What is the evidence base on the appropriate policy mix to make growth inclusive?
  • What spatial scale should we focus on – within (cities, regions) or between places (regional)?
  • How can the concept be operationalised – growth policy or inclusion policy (implies no trade-off)?
  • What is the capacity of local government/public agencies to support the IG agenda and shape distribution of growth, and what is the trade-off for this focus?

These questions highlight the challenges in developing a research agenda on IG at the outset in that there is no magic wand to delivering an equitable distribution of growth.  Therefore, the research agenda is potentially wide in scope, relating to a range of sometimes conflicting approaches to delivery.

The group agreed to focus on a number of high-level objectives, to:

  • Facilitate a collaborative process of research exchange and discussion.
  • Develop new research and longer-term projects.
  • Identify funding opportunities.
  • Produce end-of-year report summarising key outputs from the themed discussions.
  • Consider the potential for a Book or special Article Series focussed on IG.

Finally, the group discussed potential areas of research focus for further consideration at a second meeting of the RIGRN, including the need for:

  • A ‘lessons learned’ review of some of the empirical work already done on place-based interventions in Scotland.
  • Consideration of the role and nature of key constraints in developing new ways of working and governance arrangements supporting the delivery of IG across the public sector, including: agency culture/resources/capacity/ capability.

The need to move beyond discussion of the conceptual challenges associated with IG was raised, towards supporting a more focussed discussion of the potential trade-offs facing policy implementation and encouraging ‘doing policy differently’.

It was agreed that the RIGRN would therefore, aim to support and inform the work of the SCRIG and particularly its work to support emerging regional economic partnerships, by helping to better connect the most relevant research insights on where IG policy delivery has greatest impact.

If you are researching IG and are interested in being part of the Regional Inclusive Growth Research Network, please contact Policy Scotland.