The Welsh private and third sectors are heavily dependent on SMEs. Consequently the performance of SMEs is critical to the performance of the Welsh economy. Substantial public funds, particularly from European Structural Funds, have been allocated to support these since 2000. The majority of programmes thus funded have been led from within the Welsh Government. This paper reports interim evaluation findings from one intervention led by two Welsh higher education institutions (HEIs), namely the LEAD Wales programme. The programme is an extended intervention to support the leadership skills of owner-managers and incorporates a range of learning methods, including formal masterclasses, but emphasizes situated and experiential learning through action learning, coaching and peer-to-peer exchange exercises.
The programme's impact is assessed on the experiences of 325 participants, of whom 217 have completed the programme. The paper concludes that situated learning methods, through which participants are able to draw from shared history and experience over an extended period, are critical to programme success. By contrast, short-term thematic teaching, based around more formal, hierarchical learning, is less likely to yield significant and sustainable economic benefits. The implications of this for business support in Wales are discussed.