Leadership for the public good, a collective achievement: the Research Center for Leadership in ActionLeadership for the public good, a collective achievement: the Research Center for Leadership in Action

Research Center for Leadership in Action (2009)

The Research Center for Leadership in Action (RCLA) was established as a dynamic center of learning, teaching and research skills with the aim of solving urban and social problems and strengthening public service. It is housed within the New York University (NYU) Wagner Graduate School of Public Service with the core commitment to integrating theory and practice. 

At its best, leadership for the public good is a collective achievement. Traditional perceptions about leadership and leadership development, however, have focused on individual leaders and their growth. In practice, this "heroic" perspective has served to isolate leaders from their constituencies and even from other leaders from whom they might learn.

The Research Center for Leadership in Action (RCLA), housed within the New York University (NYU) Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, creates collaborative learning environments that break down this isolation, foster needed connections and networks, and yield new and practical insights and strategies. It engages the leadership of a diverse spectrum of public service organizations from government agencies to nonprofits large and small to community-based and social change groups, both across the United States and around the world.
Launched in 2003 with core funding from the Ford Foundation, RCLA crafts and runs customized, experiential leadership programs that both expand individuals' skills and strengthen the organizations in which they work. It develops structured convenings where leaders explore the complexity of the challenges they face and together advance their efforts to make change possible. As an academic center, it conducts rigorous social science research, employing a variety of innovative and participatory methodologies to the issues of contemporary leadership.
All of its work exemplifies NYU Wagner's core commitment to integrating theory and practice. Its programs, developed from the "ground up" in collaboration with leaders in the field, draw on the best of the leadership literature, practitioner wisdom, and peer-learning.
RCLA's efforts in the United States and globally continue to garner broad support from a wide range of partners. These have included - in addition to the Ford Foundation-Rockefeller Foundation - Open Society Institute, Annie E. Casey Foundation, AVINA Foundation, Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, Center for Creative Leadership, Center for Action Research in Professional Practice, Accenture, and a broad network of leaders in the field.
RCLA has created projects and programs that help build fresh insights into collective leadership. Its work, which is rooted in a collaboration of practitioners and social scientists striving to expand practical experience into applicable theory, takes place in four areas of expertise listed below.
Research and documentation
Developing, documenting, and sharing new knowledge about leadership practices is an essential part of RCLA's mission. Through structured dialogues and participatory methodologies, the Centre collaborates with practicing leaders to cultivate insights that describe leadership clearly and with an authentic voice. RCLA shares these insights with both the academic and practicing communities through an extensive series of reports, papers, articles, booklets, as well as seminars, lectures, and presentations. The Research & Documentation component at RCLA believes that the knowledge gathered and shared will eventually shift the traditional discourse about leadership from a heroic and individualist view to a more collective, relational, and inclusive view.
Leadership Development
Helping organizations to maximize leadership capacity, as well as to nurture and develop the talent already within their own ranks, is a vital part of the work at RCLA. The Centre partners with Foundations and public service organizations to co-design leadership development programs that meet the particular needs and structure of each organization. Leaders are helped to develop their management skills through tailored, hands-on leadership experiences. These experiences are based in action learning, collaborative action research, and reflective practice methodologies that provide opportunities for leaders to come together with colleagues, share strategies, and collectively develop new knowledge about what works in their organizations.
RCLA provides spaces for reflection and action learning where social scientists, practitioners, and others active in community and public service leadership, both nationally and internationally, can work together on challenging and often provocative issues in the field. Convenings may occur in the form of roundtable discussions, meetings using a participatory methodology, such as cooperative inquiry or narrative inquiry, or as conferences, breakfast series, and similar structures organized around central strategic and managerial questions.
Teaching and Training
RCLA teaches and trains current and future leaders through undergraduate and graduate coursework and partnership programs with other educational institutions and organizations both nationally and abroad. The Centre partners with faculty at the NYU Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service to encourage students to examine how history, culture, and context impact their own ideas about leadership. They share different models of leadership and invite student to learn more through presentations and roundtable discussions with respected leaders in business, nonprofits, and government. RCLA also provides training programs on various participatory, action-research, and facilitation methodologies to help practitioners and organizations hone the leadership skills that are vital to making change in their fields of work.
Access to the complete file of the good practice in the Universities and Social Commitment Observatory.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


  • UNESCO. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
  • The Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP)

Sponsored by

  • Generalitat de Catalunya