Professor Jen Nelles

PhD, MA, BA (Hons)

Professor of Systems and Spatial Analysis /Senior Research Fellow Innovation and Research Caucus

Oxford Brookes Business School

Jen Nelles


Jen Nelles is a Senior Research Fellow with the Innovation Caucus and co-director of the Oxford Regions, Innovation, and Enterprise Lab (ORIEL) at Oxford Brookes Business School. 


Jen specializes in the areas of innovation and productivity policy, urban and metropolitan governance, regional economic development, infrastructure, and system dynamics. Her most recent work explores dynamics of innovation, clustering, and agglomeration in the UK, where she has a particular interest in the geography of knowledge flows and how they intersect with localised assets in place-based innovation.

Other current work focuses on regional governance organizations and their abilities to coordinate policy across jurisdictional boundaries. Her most recent book takes a close look at one of these, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, to understand how entrepreneurial intergovernmental organizations succeed and fail in fragmented political environments. Her scholarship on Regional Intergovernmental Organizations (RIGOs), convened through Project RIGO, continues to try to change bring nuance and new perspectives to the dialogue on regional governance in the United States. All of this research intersects with her work with the RSA Network on Infrastructural Regionalism (NOIR), which she co-directs with Michael Glass (University of Pittsburgh) and J P Addie (Georgia State University), which was recently renewed to 2027. This network, and the research that it supports, places the region at the center of the ‘infrastructural turn’ and reflects both the increased conceptual, geographic, and political importance of infrastructure and the endemic crises of access (social space), expertise (technology), and resources (governance) that varied provision of infrastructures within regions can cause. She has recently partnered with Gabe Eidelman (University of Toronto) and a group of regional stakeholders to explore the evolution of inter-mayoral collaboration in the Toronto area in response to and in the wake of COVID-19.

She has written several books including Comparative Metropolitan Policy: Governing Beyond Boundaries in the Imagined Metropolis (Routledge 2012); A Quiet Evolution: The Emergence of Indigenous-Local Intergovernmental Partnerships in Canada (University of Toronto Press 2016); and Discovering American Regionalism: An Introduction to Regional Intergovernmental Organizations (Routledge 2019); Mobilizing the Metropolis: How the Port Authority Built New York (2023). She is also the co-editor of two recent collections: Infrastructural Times: Temporality and the Making of Global Urban Worlds (Bristol University Press 2024) and Canadian Urban Governance in Comparative Perspective (University of Toronto Press 2024).

Research impact

Jen's applied research through the Innovation and Research Caucus and her academic work are designed to have broader impacts. To list a selection of impactful projects include an exploration of the role of further education colleges (FECs) in innovation ecosystems, which has provoked several waves of follow on research; the innovation profiles and intentions of firms in the Foundation Industries; mapping the healthy ageing economy in the UK; and a framework of innovation skills. Many of these projects result in the development of tools and frameworks used by funders, such as Innovate UK and other government departments and their stakeholders in their policy work. For more information on these, please consult the Innovation and Research Caucus website.

Her collaborative research with Cambridge Econometrics on spatial patterns of innovation, supported in part by the Productivity Insights Network, has resulted in a new map of economic activity in the UK and new tools to understand spatial dimensions of productivity and innovation. She recently contributed to the development of an Innovation Cluster Map in partnership with Cambridge Econometrics and The Data City for DSIT. Her work on regional governance in the United States through Project RIGO (with Jay Rickabaugh, Appalachian State University) connects academics and practitioners interested in understanding the constellation of actors involved in coordinating policies across jurisdictional boundaries. Research with Christopher Alcantara (University of Western Ontario) on intermunicipal cooperation and municipal-First Nations relationships in Canada helped to open up new dialogues in Indigenous-Canadian relationships in both scholarship and practice.

Centres and institutes


Projects as Co-investigator

  • Innovation and Research Caucus - Lead a network of innovation and research funding policy experts(09/01/2023 - 31/03/2026), funded by: Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC), funding amount received by Brookes: £4,728,640, funded by: Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC)


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Professional information

Memberships of professional bodies

  • American Political Science Association (APSA),
  • Canadian Political Science Association (CPSA),
  • Urban Affairs Association (UAA),
  • Regional Studies Association (RSA)

Further details

She is the North American editor for Regional Studies, Regional Science; is on the editorial board of Urban Affairs Review; is a co-director of the RSA Network on Infrastructural Regionalism (NOIR); and is co-director of Project RIGO, a network of scholars studying regional intergovernmental organizations (RIGOs).