Gunn, Christopher Neil orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-3025-4100 (2021) ORGANISATIONAL GOVERNANCE: A PRAXIOGRAPHY OF THREE (UK) VOLUNTARY SPORTS CLUBS. In: Re-Opening the 'Black Box' of Sport Governance, 28th September, 2021, Cyprus. (Unpublished)

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Author: Presenter: Christopher Neil Gunn

University of Central Lancashire

Submission: 2021

Conference Abstract
1. Research Questions & Aim:
The dearth of empirical governance research at grassroots level (King, 2017), particularly in the UK, combined with evidence that local clubs are encountering a more challenging environment, led to questions: how are voluntary sports clubs (VSCs) governed?; what do they do when governing?; and, how best to open up the ‘black box’ to gather empirical evidence? The research aim was to better understand local sports clubs’ governance.
2. Theoretical Background & Literature Review
Recent application of social practice theory (SPT) to diverse organisational phenomena has produced positive empirical and epistemological outcomes (Hui et al., 2017). Organisational governance (OG) research’s reliance upon a limited theoretical range, producing narrow, limited analyses (Smallman, 2007), suggests it may also benefit.
Schatzki’s concepts of practice-as-entity, and constituent elements, and practice-as-performance, supplemented by others from Nicolini and Whittington, were utilised. These formed a comprehensive theoretical framework. Practice approaches are considered particularly suitable for study of the everyday, in its social, affective and material context; as Whittington (2011) says, SPT ‘responds well to the realities reported back from the field’ (p. 184).
Many sport OG studies prioritise larger or more commercial organisational entities. Some have addressed the smaller, highly significant grassroots context (VSCs), but there is minimal empirical academic evidence of local clubs’ actual governing practices.
Discernible across much extant research, and the myriad published codes of governance, is prescription of a more professional and corporate approach. Smith (2009) partly demonstrates this in a study of Swedish riding schools which did incorporate non-profit variants; although, contrastingly Hill et al.’s (2016) research into small sports clubs in New Zealand revealed ‘success’ could be achieved without necessarily adopting ‘policy governance’ practices. While Nichols and James’ (2008) study of English netball clubs embodied some governance-related elements, more studies of VSC governance are requested.
3. Research Design & Methodology
Critical realism (CR) provided the underpinning research philosophy. Its conceptualisation of reality as stratified, comprising unobservable, deeper mechanisms which influence, but do not determine, the social dimension, qua actual events and empirical effects, can reveal how and why something occurs. Reflective also of SPT concepts, this theoretical and philosophical platform connoted an in-depth study, ‘zooming in’ on localised enactments, would open up the ‘black box’.
An exploratory qualitative multi-case strategy and design was adopted. Three VSC case studies were undertaken, enabling comparisons and contrasts to be drawn across the cases.
Observations of governance meetings and semi-structured interviews with practitioners and stakeholders were expedited with documentation also scrutinised. Voluminous rich qualitative data was generated. Thematic analysis was conducted, using also ‘in vivo’ codes, to identify patterns within the data, supported by NVIVO (12).
4. Findings/Discussion
Contemporary and insightful findings emerged from the research: all cases are sites of a comprehensive bundle of governance practices. Unexpected, at all levels of reality, was the significant apparent homogeneity in their governing principles, purposes, procedures and processes, and outcomes. Cases had long-standing traditions of an ultimate democratically elected decision-making committee, meeting practices and constitutions, albeit with minor subtle local variations. Changes to practices were also observed and three prominent key activity areas were identified: Communicating and Engaging with Stakeholders; Planning and Reviewing and Structuring and Organising; and Addressing Finances and Facilities.
Through analysis of these a governance framework was constructed. Conceptualised as governance domains - fields of action, thought and influence – the F’s framework (Finances; Funding and Fundraising; Facing Outwards; Facilities; Fun and Friendship; Future Focus; Flexible and Functional) epitomises the ethos, key foci and purposes of practices, while also encompassing more recent changes of emphases within governing practices.
This research complements extant VSC studies which suggest clubs should focus on members, finances and planning, and seek to develop organisational capacities: human, physical, financial, services and programs. There is similarity with other sports organisation research which advocates prudent financial management, inclusiveness and responsiveness. The F’s governance framework assimilates many of these, but also offers some extension, providing a useful mnemonic for practitioners.
5. Conclusions
It is argued SPT is a sufficiently facilitative and cogent theoretical prism for better understanding of OG. Furthermore, its innovative partnering with CR has helped uncover valuable and illuminating insights into VSCs, educing a more comprehensive understanding of governing in this context.
This research suggests governance in these clubs should not be characterised as antiquated, casual, and desultory; rather, evidence indicates practices are considered, structured, and organised, united by specific purposes, principles, and policies (rules). Research also reinforces the claim that OG is a relevant, fundamental and critical activity.

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