Enabling educational innovation through complexity leadership? Perspectives from four Dutch universities

Martine Schophuizen*, Aodhán Kelly, Caitlin Utama, Marcus Specht, Marco Kalz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
95 Downloads (Pure)


Leadership in higher can influence the structurally embedding of educational technologies in higher education institutions. However, HEIs are complex pluralistic organizational environments with loosely coupled systems, diffused power and goal ambiguity which makes governance of educational innovations a wicked problem in which they have to balance dynamic complex interactions while also setting out a clear vision and enacting this vision towards organizational goals. This paper analyses four qualitative case studies with a focus on the choices made by leaders in four Dutch universities that aim to contribute to organisational educational innovation. We investigated the data through the lens of complexity leadership theory in which three types of leadership play an important role: administrative leadership (i.e. top-down oriented), adaptive leadership (i.e. bottom-up oriented) and enabling leadership that emerges as a leadership type between administrative and adaptive leadership and contributes to governing innovation in complex environments. This study sheds light on how, in the case of HEIs as complex environments, leaders made strategic choices and followed up on them to enable the innovative potential of the organisation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)471-490
Number of pages20
JournalTertiary Education and Management
Volume29 (2023)
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2022


There are many enabling leadership initiatives that are following from this administrative direction. First, the support for the design, creation and execution or open educational courses and initiatives is centrally organised and professionally reinforced by a specialized team that acts university wide (i.e. extension school). Also, didactical support, organised by the teaching and learning centre is available university-wide and also is a place for facilitating peer learning among teaching staff and exposure for educational innovation initiatives within the university across faculties. Another aspect that is related to the nature of open online education (i.e. MOOCs) is that it enables outside-in innovation through experimenting with teaching to wide and non-campus based students, and generates global visibility for teachers, which is also an indirect incentive to accelerate educational innovation (i.e. exposure). By spotlighting and creating visibility for new ways of teaching the rector aims to enable a culture change towards education (opposed to an emphasis on research) and opening up the minds of teachers to new concepts, methods and educational technologies that, in the end, benefit the campus students. Additionally, the teaching fellowship program, a formal program that incentivises teachers for innovative teaching initiatives by naming them ambassadors and supporting them with additional funds. It is explicitly mentioned by the rector that the campus is seen as the driving force of educational innovation. The benefits that come along with open online educational innovation in the end are all creating more value for campus students and university staff. It creates a different value proposition to the campus: it creates added value complementary to online and digital learning opportunities and enables blended and flipped classroom learning opportunities.


  • Educational innovation
  • Higher education
  • Leadership
  • Strategy


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