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The Strategic State: linking public sector performance to systems approaches (Advert Reference: RDF22/BL/LHRM/ELLIOTT)

   Faculty of Business and Law

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  Dr I Elliott  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The Strategic State has been described as a “whole-of-government approach to the design and delivery of public services which links a shared long-term vision with the collective capacity, capability and conviction to make it happen” (Elliott, forthcoming).

There is a burgeoning literature on policy failure (McConnell, 2015), government blunders (King & Crewe, 2013) and administrative burden (Herd & Moynihan, 2018). Questions over how and why governments make mistakes are of course not new. At the same time there is growing recognition, both within the literature and in practice, that wicked problems require joined-up solutions (Bryson et al., 2006; Carey & Crammond, 2015). Others have drawn on complexity theory to illustrate how the level of analysis needs to be at the system, or macro-, level and that public organizations work within complex open systems (Lowe, French, & Hawkins, 2020; Roberts, 2018). At the same time the OECD have provided impetus to calls for more strategic forms of government (Drumaux & Joyce, 2018). Through public governance reviews the OECD have explored moves towards a strategic state in countries across Europe (OECD, 2010, 2012, 2013). The implementation of a strategic state has been seen to take place following devolution in Scotland (Elliott, 2020). But there remains uncertainty over how to develop a strategic state, and the nature of a strategic state, and how to maintain a strategic focus within government over time.

This research will explore the nature, antecedents, and consequences of the strategic state. In doing so the research will highlight how strategic approaches to government can help meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (Florini 2018) and address related Global Challenges. The following are just some suggestions for a focus for the research:

  • Comparison between models of leadership across devolved UK nations.
  • Comparison of leadership across different countries that have adopted a wellbeing perspective such as New Zealand, Scotland and / or Wales.
  • Comparison of strategic approaches to government across similar countries such as Belgium, Finland, Iceland, Republic of Ireland and Estonia.
  • The relationship between different forms of leadership and the strategic state
  • The understanding and use of collective leadership across public service organisations.

Engagement in strategic forms of government within particular public service contexts such as education, local government, policing or health service.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. : RDF22/BL/LHRM/ELLIOTT) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Principal Supervisor – Dr Ian C Elliott

Funding Notes

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees. UK and international (including EU) candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,365 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please also read the full funding notes which include advice for international and part-time applicants.


Elliott, I.C. (Forthcoming) “The Strategic State: A case study of devolved government in Scotland”, in Greve, C. and Ysa, T. (eds) Handbook on Strategic Public Management. Edward Elgar.
Harris, J. and Elliott, I.C. (2020) “Improving employee engagement and distributed leadership through lean systems process mapping”, British Journal of Healthcare Management, 26:12, 1-9:
Elliott, I.C., Sinclair, C. & Hesselgreaves, H. (2020) ‘Leadership of Integrated Health and Social Care Services’, Scottish Affairs, vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 198-222.
Gibb, S., Ishaq, M., Elliott, I.C. & Hussain, A.M. (2020) Fair and decent work in Scotland’s local authorities: evidence and challenges, Public Money & Management, DOI:
Elliott, I.C. (2020) “The implementation of a strategic state in a small country setting—the case of the ‘Scottish Approach’”, Public Money and Management, 40 (4): 285-293
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