The Inductive Frame
Small business principals have superior operational skills, but they do not understand the importance of thinking about their business from a strategic perspective. What is needed is a simple model that will articulate the message that operational skills alone are not enough.
In French (2009f), action research (AR) was described and justified as the appropriate methodology for researching the aims of this paper, particularly Emancipatory AR, following the guidelines of Perry and Zuber-Skerritt (1991). The AR cycles will develop in response to the three Premises detailed in French (2009e). Hence, this paper describes the three AR cycles of an Inductive Frame used to deliver a model to articulate the importance that small business principals should place on thinking about their business from a strategic perspective.
The answer to Research Question 1—the “research” element of the AR project—What is the composition of a model of business that assists small business principals to understand the need to think strategically? is explored.
As shown in Figure 1, three AR cycles were required to complete the action and research elements for the stage of the research described in this paper. These three cycles were the first of ten cycles required to complete the total project.
In French (2009e), it is suggested that each AR paper concludes with a response to: Collaboration, Problem Solving, Change in Practice, Theory Development, Publication, and Power. Collaboration is the interaction between and the development of the relationships between the researcher and the practitioner group. In the project element described in this chapter there were three AR cycles and each cycle involved the same Inner Group of practitioners. However, in addition, there was a Wider Group of practitioners, who influenced the development of the ideas through Cycles One and Two and the audience for the Model, who in Cycle Three influenced its final composition.
This change of participants is an acceptable process in AR theory. “Although these two or three cycles do not have to involve the same workgroup, the understanding gained in the reflection phase of the first spiral in the first workgroup should be transferred to the planning phase of the first spiral in another workgroup” (Perry & Zuber-Skerritt, 1991, p. 77). Considerable collaboration led to the creation of the whole project but specifically to the achievement of the objectives for Cycle One.
Stringer (1996, p. 11) suggests that problem solving is a primary purpose of AR, which should be used as a tool for solving practical problems experienced by people in their professional lives. The problem for this element of the project was that small business principals did not understand the importance of thinking strategically about their business. The CBB Model helped to solve this problem.
Zuber-Skerritt (1992, p. 12) suggests that not only should results and insights gained from the AR be of theoretical importance but they should also lead to practical improvements in the problem areas identified and subsequently lead to a change in practice. It was not until after the CBB Model has been successfully used to re-direct the thinking of practitioners to the strategic level, and they had been through the CBB Strategic Thinking System seminar described in French (2009h) that the reality of changes to business practice were observed.
Holter and Schwartz-Barcott (1993, p. 300) suggest that an important goal of AR is that the results assist the researcher to develop new theories or to expand existing scientific theories. The CBB Model and its exposition form the first stage of a new theory of how small business principals can be helped to improve their business management skills by thinking about their business at the strategic level.
The final element is Power. Power in AR involves the sharing among a group of equal participants. However, the emphasis is still upon individual power for action. In Emancipatory AR participants are free from traditional constraints. Power is located in the group and not with individuals. “The expert is a process moderator, collaborating and sharing equal responsibility with the participants” (Hughes, 1996). In the development of the CBB Model, power was shared. During the first two cycles, the participants of Wider Group shared responsibility as the group attempted to attract funding and to create a consistent approach.
The CBB Model is a simple pragmatic tool intended to capture the imagination of the small business principal and open his/her eyes to the possibilities of developing some core strategic skills. Modernist concepts are eschewed—an epistemological paradigm of a Critical nature is apparent but consideration is given that mainstream management theory is almost entirely Modernist (Parker, 2002, p. 123) and that the audience is unlikely to be tertiary business educated. However, it is also the first stage of a programme to create a knowledge base for small business principals. In this sense, it is the first stage of a process to empower principals to drive their business forward. The ‘action’ element of the AR project is therefore complete. There was acceptance from the small business principals of the notions regarding the importance of thinking strategically about their business. The ‘research’ element is also complete and the first research question has been answered.
Research Question 1:
What is the composition of a model of business that assists small business principals to understand the need to think strategically?