We are looking for highly motivated candidates from any disciplinary background who have strong quantitative skills (or would be able and willing to develop them) and/or strong qualitative skills to undertake research exploring the role of digital skills and new working spaces in supporting regional growth. Digitalisation, technological change, precarious self-employment, along with the COVID-19 pandemic, has meant working is becoming less dependent on distance, location and time. Increasingly, people work irregular hours - outside the traditional office (often their homes), where new technologies/digital skillsets are used extensively. Yet, while workers in ICT prefer a high flexibility and hybridisation of workplaces, self-employed and freelance workers still need social and professional interaction in order to reduce risks of isolation (particularly high in-home working) and to increase networking opportunities. These factors have fostered the creation and diffusion of new workspaces such as neighbourhood coworking spaces, maker spaces - including Fab Labs, hackerspaces, makerspaces, co-working spaces, living labs and creative and innovation hubs - which facilitate the ‘making of things’. Engaging in these open-innovation environments can facilitate the ‘bottom-up’ development of technologies, services and applications that address the real needs of consumers (Merkel, 2018). During the pandemic, there was a shift in work patterns, from urban settings to more remote working in peripheral environments (raising demand for coworking spaces in the latter). Current studies have largely ignored the socio-economic impact of new working spaces on regional growth paths. This is a live policy issue in ‘lagging’ regions, which typically lack digital skills, knowledge bases, technologies and network capabilities, but are currently receiving rising attention within policy debates; especially the discourse on ‘levelling up’ and promoting more inclusive and balanced regional growth. In terms of makerspaces, there is also limited evidence of social inclusivity in their membership and programming (Vinodrai et al. (2021)); this can exacerbate inter and intra-regional ‘digital divides’. For policy, the challenge then is to work with makerspaces, so as to engineer a more inclusive approach to local and regional development. Within this context, regional public incentives and appropriate policy tools/measures to develop digital skills, support entrepreneurship and employment creation via the establishment of new working spaces may be critical to reduce the disadvantages of peripheral regions to raise their economic performance.
The following are indicative of the types of projects we would be interested in supporting:
· Proposals seeking to analyse industrial policy design and evaluation covering different theoretical and empirical perspectives on digital skills, new working spaces, such as coworking and maker spaces, especially in ‘lagging’ regions.
· Proposals exploring socio-economic ecosystems in peripheral areas located in advanced economies in order to evaluate how the presence of new working spaces may sustain inclusive development and competitiveness in ‘lagging’ regions
· Proposals investigating the role played by new working spaces during the pandemic and how new working spaces may foster inclusive urban and regional (re)generation, and/or encourage the migration process of knowledge workers in lagging regions, particularly in the context of post Covid policy agendas (e.g., ‘levelling up’).
· Proposals exploring the impact of ‘digital divides’, and the barriers to participation in new working spaces, their impact upon the potential and productivity of new working spaces and exploring the policy options to overcome these barriers (especially in ‘lagging regions’).
Other proposals on the theme Digital Skills, New working spaces and regional growth are encouraged.
Informal applications should be directed to Dr Mariachiara Barzotto ([Email Address Removed]), Dr Felicia Fai ([Email Address Removed]) and/or Professor Phil Tomlinson ([Email Address Removed]). This should include an outline of your proposed research (approximately 2,500 to 3,000 words/up to six pages), which must include:
Proposed programme of study
Tentative title of thesis
Aims and objectives