This study will take place in rural settlements with a population of less than 10,000 across Devon and the Blackdown hills and Exmoor protected landscapes shared with Somerset.
The participating businesses or sole traders in this project must be micro in size (less than 10 employees), and based in a rural area (outside of settlements with population over 10,000). The target audience is businesses who typically do not engage with support programmes, and are ‘disengaged’ from these services. Therefore, checks will be completed to ensure businesses have not recently received support/funding through a programme in the last 12 months.
Broadly eligible business sectors include: Trades and traders, Manufacturers, Health and Social Care, and Tourism (Inc. food, accommodation and retail). These can be defined by the following SICs:
• Q Human health and social work activities – all categories
• C Manufacturing – all categories
• F Construction - all categories
• A Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing - code 02200
• I Accommodation and Food Service Activities – all categories
• G Wholesale and retail trades (codes 45211 to 46190 and 47110 to 47990)
• R Arts, entertainment and recreation (codes 91011-91040, 93110-93290)
• N Administrative and support service activities (codes 77110, 77210, 79110-79901, 81210-81299)
• S Other service activities (codes 94110-94120, 95110-96090)
All businesses whose activities are not within these codes will not be eligible to take part in the trial.
Details of the interventions:
There will be a control group who will not receive any support and will continue business as usual (it will be clearly defined what this looks like for each business). There will also be two intervention groups as follows:
a) 'The Person and the Business' package
A person-centred approach focused around developing balance between business and personal aspirations. It will identify business owners’ personal and lifestyle requirements and explore how these can best complement business growth, development, and objectives:
i. Person-centred diagnostic
ii. Appropriate soft skills and mindset nurturing support for needs and barriers. Modules could include: aligning personal and business goals; stress management; managing life/work boundaries and balance; emotional resilience; trust; running a family business; etc.
b)'Modern Practice, Technology and Virtual Solutions' package
An exploratory, tailored approach focussed on demonstrating and trialling productivity solutions to increase knowledge and awareness of productivity increasing practises/tech and how they are used. It will support exploration of business growth and productivity potential by showcasing a variety of online solutions and enabling micros to trial solutions most appropriate to their business:
i. Open technology workshops, outlining tech or virtual solutions available;
ii. Diagnostic to identify need and appropriate specific business solution(s);
iii. Grant fund to facilitate trial of new solution for 6 months; set-up, demonstrations, troubleshooting and implementation support.
Definition of primary and secondary outcomes:
Positive change in attitude to business development, growth or productivity, greater understanding of how to action this and an openness to change. Development of a positive mindset towards business development.
Actions taken with respect to positive attitude to business development, growth or increasing productivity, such as changes to existing, or adoption of new modern working practises or technologies, seeking and accessing new business development opportunities, support programmes or funding, taking on or developing staff, investment in growth or development, accessing personal support or development (e.g. counselling, skills and training) with the intention that it will develop space and time to consider business growth or development.
Specific measurement variable(s):
Mindset or attitude towards business development, increasing productivity or growth, for the purpose of this study, will be determined using a number of questions regarding openness to change, feelings towards business growth or development, and likelihood or intention to take action towards increasing productivity, developing or growing their business. The questions will be scored similar to an NPS system to determine self-efficacy and how positive participants feel at different stages of the study.
Further checks will be conducted to determine what steps, if any have been taken, towards increasing productivity, business development, or growth to identify patterns or changes in opportunity seeking and action. This will be done through a series of (yes/no) polar questions relating to specific ‘productivity increasing actions’ such as ‘have you sought development opportunities? Business Support? Have you implemented any new business practises or technologies? Have you enrolled in any new training or skills development? Etc.
Data will be collected at baseline, during intervention, and after intervention at outcome stage, and will be examined for change. All data will undergo significance testing to determine whether change and difference and correlation between change/action and interventions is statistically significant. Methods such as number of standard deviations from the mean will be employed (details dependant on each data set/format).
The evaluation will be comprised of five elements:
1. Initial Baseline Survey (Telephone Survey with all participants)
A structured telephone interview will be conducted with all participants to establish baseline data for the research questions and intended outcomes.
Once the initial baseline survey is completed a numerical randomisation technique will be used to allocate respondents to an intervention or control group. Following the survey respondents will be clustered into the sectors identified using SIC codes: Health and social care; Tourism including food, accommodation, and retail; Manufacturer (including food manufacturers) and Aligned trades (e.g lifestyle businesses, construction, market traders). Within each SIC code cluster a numeric randomiser will be applied (eg every third respondent - the exact random number will depend on the numbers of businesses in each cluster) to apportion the respondents across an intervention or control group.
A parallel design trial will be used whereby participants are randomly assigned to an intervention group or control group and the initial, interim and final baseline surveys will be administered and the results compared.
2. Interim Survey
This will repeat initial baseline survey approach and will collect another set of data for comparison.
3. Interim interviews with participants in each intervention or control group:
i) The Person and the Business Package
ii) Modern Practice, Technology and Virtual Solutions Package
iii) Control Group
A numerical randomiser will be applied to each intervention or control group to identify 10-12 respondents to participate in a semi-structured interview.
4. Final Baseline Survey
A final structured telephone interview will be conducted with all participants to establish final baseline data for the research questions and intended outcomes.
5. Final Case Study Interviews
Final case study interviews will be conducted with between 15-30 participants. The case studies will be chosen based on results obtained through the baseline questionnaires and the interim interviews. Cases showing significant changes in mindset (either positively or negatively) will be identified. Unstructured interviews will be conducted to explore the reasons for the significant changes – the changes may be attributable to factors within the project scope or out-with.