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Engaging Rural Micros for Increased Productivity Trial
Last registered on October 28, 2019

Pre-Trial

Trial Information
General Information
Title
Engaging Rural Micros for Increased Productivity Trial
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0004935
Initial registration date
October 24, 2019
Last updated
October 28, 2019 1:29 PM EDT
Location(s)

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Primary Investigator
Affiliation
Plymouth Marjon University
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
Plymouth Marjon University
PI Affiliation
Plymouth Marjon University
Additional Trial Information
Status
On going
Start date
2019-10-01
End date
2020-09-30
Secondary IDs
Business Basics 2 - SME Productivity (non-business led trials) NESTA
Abstract
This trial aims to stimulate 'growth mindsets' with traditionally 'hard to engage' rural micros using a supportive approach to overcome their tendencies towards stagnation and overworking, and increase time working on the business rather than in the business. The focus will be on 'productivity for a purpose' rather than productivity for its own sake. We will evaluate subsequent increase in adoption of new practices and technologies and ultimately, productivity.

This is the second stage of our research; the first stage asked businesses what they felt are their barriers to engagement and how future business support programmes could overcome these and encourage engagement. This trial uses the information gathered to design and test different methods of engagement and explores the best methods of encouraging rural micro businesses to adopt modern technologies and business practices.

The trial is based on two research questions:

* What are the most effective methods of engagement with rural micro businesses in Devon?
* What is the most appropriate method to increase adoption of existing technologies and business practices to boost levels of productivity among rural micro businesses?

Additional questions to explore in this study include 'why' these methods are effective, and whether subsequent benefits result.
Micro businesses and sole traders (less than 10 employees) make up 90.1 % of Devon's rural economy (excluding Exeter). Evidence shows they are hard to engage and need a more basic level of 'person-centred' support to increase productivity via adoption of modern technology and management practices. Helping these businesses to embrace new technologies and modern ways of working by supporting the person, could have a significant impact on our rural economy as well as mental health and wellbeing. This Trial will identify how this can best be achieved, and how future Business Support Programmes can be designed to engage and support rural micro businesses.
The Trial will be based in settlements with a population < 10,000 across Devon and the Exmoor and Blackdown Hills areas of Somerset, in four overrepresented sectors: Tourism; Health and Social Care; Trades; and Manufacturers.

Outcomes of this research include a robust, evidence based academic evaluation that will scientifically measure the success of the interventions and methods. This intelligence will be utilised by existing and future Business Support Programmes to design effective rural micro engagement and support. If interventions are successful, the resulting micro growth mindset could stimulate future support uptake and be scaled-up.

Main Research Questions:

• What are the most effective methods of engagement with rural micro businesses in Devon? • What is the most appropriate method to increase adoption of existing technologies and business practices to boost levels of productivity among rural micro businesses?
This trial will focus on increasing the adoption of:
• Tried and tested productivity increasing technologies, software and virtual business solutions. • A growth or development mindset in rural micro businesses, congruent with lifestyle choices and wellbeing.

The Target Audience:

The target population will be rural (settlements with <10,000 population, as per rural-urban classification index) micro businesses and sole traders (0-9 employees) in Devon and Somerset (within Blackdown Hills AONB and Exmoor National Park boundaries only), in 4 broad sectors:
• Health and social care • Tourism including food, accommodation, and retail • Manufacturers (including food manufacturers) • Aligned trades (e.g. lifestyle businesses, construction, market traders)
These represent SIC codes: C, F, I, Q, and parts of A, G, N, R and S. and were target test sectors for the Engaging Rural Micros proof of concept.

255 organizations will participate in the research project and completed three baseline surveys and a randomised selection will participate in semi-structured interviews.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Citation
Beaumont, Emily, Hilary Duckett and Laura Wallis. 2019. "Engaging Rural Micros for Increased Productivity Trial." AEA RCT Registry. October 28. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.4935-1.0.
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Experimental Details
Interventions
Intervention(s)

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:

Primary 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.

Secondary Outcomes:
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 Analysis:

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.


Intervention Start Date
2019-11-17
Intervention End Date
2020-08-02
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
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.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
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.
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
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.


Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Simple randomization will be used to allocate participants to intervention or the control group - eg every third respondent in SIC codes to reach sample population required
Randomization Unit
Individual firms will be the randomized units
Was the treatment clustered?
Yes
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
255 micro businesses in rural devon will be included in the study
Sample size: planned number of observations
255 micro businesses in rural devon will be included in the study
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
A minimum total population sample of 255 will be the baseline. This total population will be sub-divided into four groups (Health and social care; Tourism including food, accommodation, and retail; Manufacturer (including food manufacturers) and Aligned trades (e.g lifestyle businesses, construction, market traders) using SIC codes. It is intended that the total population will be divided proportionate to the total population across all four groups as follows:

SIC Code Number of Rural Percentage of Overall Number of ural micro businesses
Micro Businesses Business when N = 255
C. Manufacturing 664 12% 31
F. Construction 1697 31% 79
I. accommodation and
Food Service Activities 659 12% 31
Q. Human Health and
Social Work Activities 457 8% 20
A.(D2200 only) 4 1% 2
G. (Excluding 46210-46900) 1301 24% 61
N (parts of) 162 3% 8
R (parts of) 177 3% 8
S (parts of) 345 6% 15

5,471 100% 255

Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
80%
IRB
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
IRB Name
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number