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PhD Research

On this page you can find information about some of the ongoing research that the PhD students connected to CVSL are undertaking. These projects are all at different stages and give a flavour of both the breadth of CVSL’s focus and the different aspects of carrying out PhD research.

As some of these contributions were gathered during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the researchers reflect on what this disruption has meant for their research.

The information below represents a snapshot of the research at the time it was produced, for more up to date information about each of the individual projects please get in touch with us.

Lindsay Wilson-Jones – Power Sharing in the Boardroom.

How do we go about power sharing in the boardroom? Particularly when board literature questions whether individual board members can work as a team and few executives make teamwork a reality in their organisations, despite talking up its value. Like Conger and Lawler (2009) I argue that shared leadership expressed as ‘a dynamic interactive influence process among individuals in groups for which the objective is to lead one another to the achievement of group or organizational goals’ is a model for the boardroom.

Find out more about Lindsay’s research in this blog post.

In the following audio recording Lindsay discusses her research with Daniel Haslam from CVSL.

Lindsey Elliott - Enabling Collaboration in Conservation

My research explores practical ways to enable collaboration in the context of nature conservation. It is an interdisciplinary action research project that draws on the management literature, in particular the Theory of Collaborative Advantage, to explore the practice of collaboration in the science-based context of conservation. The research has been inductive and emergent and has combined different methods and forms of data. 

Conservation is a mission-driven, applied science which aims to maintain and improve good relations with nature. Conservation challenges are interconnected across scales, lacking in central control, often irreversible and constantly changing. It is impossible for any single person, organisation or country to tackle these complex issues alone. Collaboration across organisations, disciplines, approaches, sectors and jurisdictions is therefore required, but it is challenging in practice. I am investigating the key forms of difference that conservationists are collaborating across, things like bridging research, policy and practice, accommodating diverse organisational funding models and working across different levels of seniority, and am exploring how collaboration across these forms of difference can be further enabled through adapted governance and innovative incentives.

Another emerging focus of my research is to find ways to collaborate most effectively within rapidly changing contexts and to bring about change. How can collaborative processes accommodate flexibility and agility to maximise their impact and influence? 

By approaching my research in an emergent and iterative way as an active participant, I have been able to focus on the challenges of greatest relevance to participants in my research settings, and to adapt my project to make the most of opportunities that have arisen. I am now analysing the data I collected through this process and am considering the entire experience. I hope that my findings will be of use in conservation while contributing to the management literature, and that their relevance may extend to other contexts that require diverse collaboration to address complexity.   

You can see Lindsey chatting to Daniel about the research in this video.

Sally Vivyan - Leadership practice in new Asylum Seeker and Refugee Charities

My thesis explores leadership practice in new asylum seeker and refugee charities which have been established in the context of mandatory dispersal of asylum seekers by the UK government. This policy, in place since 1999, has raised questions about how to settle, support and integrate new arrivals (Griffiths et al., 2006). The voluntary sector has been active in trying to find answers (MacKenzie et al., 2012; Wren, 2007). My study will contribute to two literatures; that of the UK voluntary sector and Leadership- as- Practice (L-A-P).

In this study I adopt an L-A-P lens; rather than paying attention to the individuals in leadership positions, as is the focus of traditional heroic leadership theories, I am concerned with the relationships between people and the context in which they work (Raelin, 2016a). L-A-P sees leadership as an assemblage of activities that combine and interact to make meaning, and which set or change the flow of work. It takes account of the mundane, the everyday and materiality i.e. seeing material things as having a role to play in how things get done (Raelin, 2016b).

In keeping with L-A-P scholarship, my philosophical stance is constructionist and my approach to learning is inductive. To operationalise this approach, I am working through a mixed (qualitative) methods case study process which involves observation, document review and semi structured interviews. At the point the UK Covid-19 lockdown began I was eight weeks into fieldwork with a charity. Based on early data analysis, four themes relating to leadership practice had begun to emerge:

  1. Leadership as collective but contracting over time. Collective and representative leadership is embedded in the charity’s structure, history and culture but over time these principles have been diluted by the need for quicker decision making.
  2. The invaluable but fallible contribution of volunteers. Volunteers and the way they relate to the charity can be hugely productive and beneficial, but over reliance on them can also create inconsistency in its operations.
  3. The inverted swan. The charity can feel chaotic both in the physical spaces in which it works, and because activity is constantly interrupted and redirected. However, responsiveness is central to its mission and there is always an undertow of directional logic.
  4. The importance of place. The charity is both committed to and defined by the place in which it operates. It’s deeply integrated with all relevant services and authorities. It directly plugs gaps in services or more often facilitates others to do so.

I am now approaching a crossroads in my fieldwork with a choice to make about whether to continue with the original plan, which was to conduct three separate case studies, or switch to a single place-based case study. The first option may allow for meaningful comparison between organisations and a clear contribution to the emerging voluntary sector literature on leadership (Terry, et al., 2019). The second approach may be a more Covid proof approach, focusing as it does on one city with the launch base of a charity I am already embedded with. With its in depth consideration of how context intertwines with practice, it may also help to develop the L-A-P literature which has been criticised for apparent neglect of the influence of wider social and political influences on practice (Collinson, 2018; Jackson, 2019).


  • Collinson, 2018. What’s new about Leadership-as-Practice? Leadership 14, 363–370.
  • Griffiths, D., Sigona, N., Zetter, R., 2006. Integrative Paradigms, Marginal Reality: Refugee Community Organisations and Dispersal in Britain. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 32, 881–898.
  • Jackson, 2019. The power of place in public leadership research and development.
  • MacKenzie, R., Forde, C., Ciupijus, Z., 2012. Networks of Support for New Migrant Communities: Institutional Goals versus Substantive Goals? Urban Studies 49, 631–647.
  • Raelin, J.A., 2016a. It’s not about the leaders: It’s about the practice of leadership. Organizational Dynamics 45.
  • Raelin, J.A. (Ed.), 2016b. Leadership-as-practice: theory and application, Routledge studies in leadership research. Routledge, New York.
  • Terry, Rees, Jacklin Jarvis, 2019. The Difference Leadership Makes: Debating and Conceptualising leadership in the UK voluntary sector. Voluntary Sector review.
  • Wren, K., 2007. Supporting Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Glasgow: The Role of Multi-agency Networks. Journal of Refugee Studies 20, 391–413.

Find out more from Sally, including how Covid has impacted her research by watching this video.

Akash Puranik - The human work of collaboration: Towards an understanding of informal unstructured collaborative projects

Watch Akash discuss his research in the following video:

You can also read a more detailed description of the academic focus of Akash’s research here.

Daniel Haslam – The Role of the Voluntary Sector in Cross-Sector Collaborations: An NHS Multispecialty Community Provider

You can watch Daniel talking about his research in the following video:

Daniel has also blogged about his research throughout the PhD process, including: