Funded PhD Opportunity Exploring the value of Social Capital for Innovation within Agri-Food Business Support Networks

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Business and Management Studies


The importance of social capital to the success of small, rural firms has been highlighted in both research and policy. Social capital is considered a valuable organisational asset emerging from social networking and is deemed to be extremely important for knowledge exchange and the development of innovation in rural areas. While informal networks have been deemed to be stronger and more important in rural than urban areas, the development of innovation in rural areas may be constrained due to an over-reliance on local, informal networks and personal relationships at the expense of more formalised knowledge and  knowledge from outside the local region.

It has been argued that business support networks/programmes (via public and private providers) may help to extend small firms’ knowledge capabilities and overcome size-related and locational disadvantages that typically constrain the development of innovation capabilities in rural areas. In the growing body of literature on rural advisory services, to date studies have tended to focus on one-to-one advice between advisers and their clients.  As such, the role of advisers in developing social capital and the exchange of knowledge between small rural businesses, which consequently can enhance innovation capabilities, is not clear.

The sectoral context for this project is the agri-food sector. Business support for agriculture and the rural economy have undergone much change since the 1990s.  Business advice for rural and agricultural clients takes various forms and is now offered via a range of bodies and agencies, with programmes such as LEADER, and specific measures of the Rural Development Programme designed to solve joint problems and grow the social capital of agri-food businesses which in turn can generate knowledge exchange and innovation.  Prior research has found that there are challenges in convincing the agricultural community of the value of external expert knowledge.

The project will examine how social capital is built in business support programmes for agri-food, and identify the resulting impact it has on knowledge exchange, and innovation outputs from such programmes.

The project will provide new insights into the factors promoting and constraining the development of social capital in business support programmes more generally. It will further knowledge on how locational factors may influence innovation activities and identify a framework to enhance the capabilities of rural agri-food firms.  The project will take a qualitative, multiple case study approach including methods such as in-depth interviews with support programme participants and advisers, observations of meetings/events and documentary analysis.

Essential Criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement
  • Research proposal of 2000 words detailing aims, objectives, milestones and methodology of the project

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • Masters at 65%


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £15,009 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

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Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 18 February 2019
Interview Date
week commencing 11 March 2019

Contact Supervisor

Professor Barry Quinn

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #344926 when applying for this PhD opportunity