Research activities

RCUKSeaGT: Social Network Analysis of Innovation Cluster in Creative and Cultural Value Chain-Case of George Town World Heritage Site

This prestigious Newton Fund research project is funded by UKRI ESRC, co-funded by AHRC, under the Newton Fund programme. This project is facilitated by Newton-Ungku Omar Fund in Malaysia. Dr Jin Hooi Chan is the Principal Investigator. The total budget is £120,137.

This research addresses the phenomenon of creative and cultural cluster in a site with a rich cultural heritage. The project will explore questions regarding the role of different actors in developing businesses in cultural districts while preserving and disseminating their cultural heritage. Hence, the research is positioned in a wider debate regarding the links between cultural preservation, urban regeneration and tourism.

The selected site is George Town, a post-British colonial town in Malaysian. The town has experienced gentrification since 1997 after the repeal of Rent Control Act. The pace gentrification exacerbated with the growth of tourism and influx of external capital investment after it has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. Gentrification induces displacement of long-term residents and causes erosion of local culture and heritage - a global phenomenon in many World Heritage Sites.

Nonetheless, a creative and cultural value chain has been developed with involvement of various local and external actors. The development of cultural district is becoming an important tool for urban planning in fostering the development of urban centres and revitalising neighbourhoods in decline. Reviewing the existing models of innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem, there is a gap in the scope of these models in capturing civil society actors and insufficiently explaining the phenomena of cultural clusters. Thereby, they are inadequate in informing urban planning policy makers, the innovation community, cultural organisations and small businesses.

The project aims are:

  • To develop a relational model of innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem for creative and cultural districts;
  • To provide social network insights for the development of creative economy and conservation of cultural heritage in George Town; and
  • To produce a policy brief on strategies for developing creative and cultural districts in George Town.

A research team led by Dr Jin Hooi Chan from the University of Greenwich have recently completed a project which examined the formation of cultural and creative clusters in the UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS) located in the city of George Town, Penang, Malaysia[Feb 17 - Aug 19]. The research was co-funded by the Newton Fund and the AHRC (£103,573). The project was a collaboration between the University of Greenwich and Universiti Sains Malaysia, while it was supported by the policy think tanks Penang Institute and Think City. George Town was awarded World Heritage Status in 2008 in recognition of its rich multi-cultural heritage, including a distinct architectural heritage as well as intangible heritage, in the form of linguistic, religious and craft traditions. The pace of gentrification in the city has been increasing since leading to the displacement of residents who embody the local culture. At the same time there is strong evidence of cultural activity in George Town suggesting the formation of a cultural and creative cluster involving both local and external actors who are embedded in networks of different relations.

Project Start: February 2017

Project End:  August 2019

Research Team

Principal Investigator: Dr Jin Hooi Chan (Greenwich)

Co-Investigator:  Professor Hooi Hooi Lean (USM)

Associate Professor Dr Intan Hashim (USM)

Associate Professor Dr Suet Leng Khoo (USM)

Dr Athena Piterou (Greenwich)

The project benefited from the complementary skills of the research teams. Dr Chan has expertise in innovation and entrepreneurship, and research experience in South East Asia. Co-investigator Dr Athena Piterou contributes in Social Network Analysis. The project draws on the expertise of NUSC and PEGFA, two core research centres in the Faculty of Business, University of Greenwich. The research collaborators are from Universiti Sains Malaysia: Prof Hooi Hooi Lean is a top economist and prolific researcher, Dr Suet-Leng Khoo and Dr Intan Hashim contributed their expertise in survey design, psychology, heritage and urban studies.

Project Partners

The project works with local non-research partners and policy institutes.

Penang Institute: A top policy think tank, funded by the Penang State Government, Malaysia.

Think City: A social purpose organisation based in Malaysia with the mission of making cities more people-friendly, resilient and liveable.

George Town World Heritage Inc.: Penang State heritage agency established by the Penang State Government to spearhead efforts in safeguarding the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Main findings

115 organisations from the cultural and creative industries responded to the survey, while detailed case studies were developed for ten organisations. The respondents provided information on their entrepreneurial orientation and innovative activity, and their network linkages. It emerged that although many organisations are young, they are managed quite conservatively with only about a third indicating high innovativeness. An interesting finding was that many respondents refused to answer questions regarding their attitudes to competition since they did not consider other organisations in their sector as competitors: instead, they argued that they share similar aims suggesting that creative and cultural entrepreneurs have idiosyncratic understanding of competition. The network analysis indicated that most organisations engage in collaborative activity. However, there is a need to diversify their funding networks to reduce reliance on core funders. Also, limited knowledge exchange was noted among the cultural/creative sector and tourism, despite tourism being a major industry in George Town.

Impacts and Engagements

Although the project was completed in September 2019 dissemination activities are still on-going. The Malaysian partners and representatives from the Penang State Government visited London for a Workshop in Summer 2018. The workshop provided the opportunity to engage with UK based cultural and policy organisations such as NESTA, Royal Academy and the Old Royal Naval College. Another Workshop took place in George Town in January 2019 where the findings were presented to policy- makers and practitioners from the George Town's cultural sector.

The research team has presented the findings in a number of conferences in Europe and Asia, and delivered numerous invited research seminars in China, Taiwan, and Malaysia. Dr Jin Hooi Chan was awarded further funding by the National Science Foundation of China for a project regarding Sustainable Rural Tourism and Residents Participation, and a €3.89 million project funded by EU Interreg 2Seas circular economy in tourism and leisure sector FACET:

Further information:

UKRI Research Gateway:

Project Facebook page:

External Advisors, Speakers and Friends (not in any particular order)
Project External Advisors:

Prof Bernard Lane (Co-founding Editor, Journal of Sustainable Tourism)

Prof Vincent Vincent Xiaoguang Qi (Business School, China University of Political Science and Law, China; Wolfson College & Judge Business School, University of Cambridge)

University of Greenwich:

Jonathan Sibson, Pro-Vice Chancellor & Dean of Business School

Prof. Petros Ieromonachou, Head, Department of Systems Management and Strategy, Business School

Prof. Dotun Adebanjo, Department of Systems Management and Strategy, Business School

Dr Anne-Marie Coles, Department of Systems Management and Strategy, Business School

Doreen Nielsen, Department of Systems Management and Strategy, Business School

Old Royal Naval College:

Sarah Duthie, Public Engagement Director, Old Royal Naval College

Will Palin, Conservation Director, Old Royal Naval College

NESTA (National Endowment of Science, Technology and Arts):

Dr Benjamin Reid, Head of International, Research, Analysis and Policy Team

Georgina Innes, The Nesta Creative Hubs Programme, Nesta Skills Team

Eliza Easton, Policy Manager, Creative Industries Team

Royal Academy of Arts:

Prof Richard Simmons CBE (Executive Chairman, BPP Education Group)

Karin Grundy, Head of Patrons, RA

Alchemy, Atlantic Productions Limited

Daniel Wan, Lead Creative (VR/AR), Alchemy

Directors UK:
Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China:

Prof. Aifen Xing (School Director, Research Center for Disaster and Human Rights, Law School)

George Town World Heritage Incorporated:

Chuah Ai Kheng

Hin Bus Depot Arts Gallery and Community Centre:

Tan Shih Thoe

Minzu University of China, Beijing, China:

Prof. Ying Zhang, School of Management

Nottingham University Ningbo
Penang Art District:

Stephanie Kee

Penang Institute (Malaysia):

Dr Ooi Kee Beng (Dato), Executive Director,

Dr Lim Kim Hwa, Member, Board of Directors, Penang Institute; Fellow of Judge

Business School, University of Cambridge
Penang State Government

Honourable Yeoh Soon Hin (Member of Penang State Legislative Assembly, and member of Penang State Executive Council holding portfolios including Tourism Development)

Heritage, Arts and Culture:
Penang State Arts Gallery

Lee Khai (Chairman, State Arts Gallery Committee, Penang State Museum Board)

Think City (Malaysia):

Dr. Matt Benson

Daniel Lee

University of Nottingham Ningbo, Ningbo, China

Prof. Hingkai Chan, Nottingham University Business School China

Universiti Sains Malaysia, Malaysia:

Prof. Azlinda Azman, Dean, School of Social Sciences

Associate Prof. A.S. Hardy Shafii, Dewan Budaya (Cultural Hall)

Wuhan University, Wuhan, China

Associate Prof. Dr Xiao Bo, National Institute of Cultural Development

Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China:

Prof. Wanfei Wang (Department of Tourism and Hotel Management, School of Management & Director, Cultural and Tourism Real Estate Research Institute, Real Estate Research Center)