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Funded PhD Opportunity

Exploring the role of social capital for innovation within agri-food business support networks

This project is funded by: Teagasc Walsh Fellowship

Subject: Business and Management Studies


Social capital is considered to be important for multi-actor knowledge exchange and the development of innovation in rural areas (Peredo and Chrisman, 2006).  However, innovation in rural areas may be constrained due to an over-reliance on localised forms of social capital at the expense of more formalised knowledge and social capital from outside the region (Eklinder-Frick et al., 2011).

It has been argued that business support networks may help to extend knowledge capabilities and overcome locational disadvantages that typically constrain innovation in rural areas (Nettle et al., 2018). In the literature on rural advisory services, studies have tended to focus on one-to-one advice between advisers and their clients.  As such, the role of advisers/innovation brokers in developing social capital and the exchange of knowledge between agri-food businesses, which consequently can enhance innovation capabilities, is not clear. 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 EIP-Agri and specific measures of the Rural Development Programme designed to take a multi-actor approach to solving joint problems. This can grow the social capital of agri-food businesses which is critical for generating further knowledge exchange and innovation.

This PhD will examine how social capital is built in business support network programmes for agri-food, and will identify resulting impacts it has on multi-actor knowledge exchange for innovation.  It will provide new insights into the factors promoting and constraining the development of social capital. It will add to knowledge on how locational factors may influence innovation activities and will provide a framework to enhance the capabilities of rural agri-food firms.  It will take an all-island qualitative, multiple case study approach, using Social Network Analysis to identify case-studies with most learning potential across the Irish Agriculture Knowledge and Innovation System (AKIS).

Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
  • 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%
  • Research project completion within taught Masters degree or MRES


This project is funded by: Teagasc Walsh Fellowship

Teagasc Walsh Fellowship 2020 This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £15,009 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). UK and EU applicants are eligible to apply.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

Key dates

Submission deadline
Friday 7 February 2020

Interview Date
9, 10, 19 March 2020


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Contact supervisor

Professor Barry Quinn

Other supervisors

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