Organisational governance: a praxiography of three cricket clubs in Lancashire

Gunn, Christopher Neil orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-3025-4100 (2022) Organisational governance: a praxiography of three cricket clubs in Lancashire. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Sport governance has provoked much academic and policy interest in recent decades. With claims that voluntary sports clubs (VSCs) are encountering a more challenging environment, and requests for more research into this ‘under-theorised’ field (King, 2017), an exploratory study of governance was undertaken.

The aim - to develop a critical and comprehensive appreciation of local cricket clubs’ governance - was actualised through three qualitative case studies. Observation of practices, interviews with committee members and stakeholders, and scrutiny of documentation generated voluminous qualitative data. Computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software (NVIVO 12) was utilised to facilitate collation and analysis of data.

Social practice theory (SPT) was adopted as the underpinning conceptual lens. Fused with a critical realist (CR) paradigm, this created an innovative, cogent and supportive theoretical framework. Social practices, when perceived as an entity within the ‘real’ domain, comprise components such as traditions from previous practices, and associated understandings, values, meanings, ideals and purposes, or what Bhaskar (1989) refers to as ‘generative mechanisms’. Manifesting within the ‘actual’ domain, these underpin and guide performances (Heisserer and Rau, 2015) to create outcomes and effects (the ‘empirical’ domain). Attention to these different levels of reality (Collier, 1994) and a primary emphasis on practices, as opposed to agentic or structural dimensions, arguably evinced a deeper understanding of governing in this context.

This theoretical framework facilitated elucidation of this complex organisational phenomenon, opening up the ‘black box’ of governing to reveal contemporary and insightful findings. All cases are sites of a comprehensive bundle of governance practices, comprising a blend of formal, informal and pragmatic activities, perceived as contributory
to positive organisational outcomes. Research disclosed unexpected significant homogeneity across the cases, at all levels of reality, including pre-existing and emerging
‘conditions’ (Sayer, 1999), purposes, processes, and principles of governing and consequences therefrom.

A combination of thematic and in-vivo coding was utilised to develop common key governing activity areas: communicating and engaging with stakeholders; reviewing and planning and structuring and organising; and addressing finances and facilities. From these, praxis was subsequently conceptualised as domains, summarised in a mnemonic (7F’s), aspiring to support practitioners. These domains - fields of action, thought, influence – aim to epitomise the ethos, key activities and purposes of practices and represent those regarded by practitioners and stakeholders as more significant and consequential.

Since presented at several practitioner and academic conferences, the ‘7F’s governance framework’ © now forms the basis for a series of online club support workshops delivered
by the researcher. Feedback about this model has been extremely positive, bringing Laplume et al.’s (2008) comments, ‘a theory that moves us’, to mind. Additional empirically
informed governance recommendations for practitioners have also been formulated.

Overall, it is believed the original aim has been attained. This research makes novel, compelling and perceptive evidence-based theoretical and practical knowledge contributions. A more nuanced, contemporary and critical appreciation of governing in grassroots sports clubs has been advanced, progressing understanding of how it is performed and to what ends.

The blending of SPT with a CR paradigm is regarded as an appealing theoretical development and a key contribution to knowledge. Researchers should be encouraged from
the operationalisation and application of social practice theory: its utility has been demonstrated, within this empirical project, and fusion with critical realism has revealed
flexibility, providing illuminating insights for future studies. Proposals for further research are suggested.

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