Better places through community business: updating our hypotheses

Power to Change supports community businesses to revive local assets, protect the services people rely on, and address local needs. Our work is based on a belief that no one understands a community better than the people who live there. That is why we have also made significant investments in research, evaluation and data analysis. We are aiming to build a detailed picture of local economies and the challenges they face, and get under the skin of what’s really going on in community businesses.

To do this, in 2017 we decided to develop a set of basic statements about how community businesses might transform their local areas and how Power to Change might help them to do so. We published a list of nine hypotheses to guide our research and evaluation, all of which were designed to be falsifiable. We are and remain open to the possibility that some may not hold up to scrutiny once data has been analysed. Where that turns out to be the case, we promised we’ll adapt and improve them. So that’s what we’ve done.

What did we do?

In May 2019 the Research Institute reviewed evidence for each of its original nine hypotheses against the following criteria:

  • Quality of evidence: Is there data of sufficient quality to test this hypothesis?
  • Quantity of evidence: Is there currently data of sufficient quantity to test this hypothesis?
  • Clarity of hypothesis: Is the hypothesis clear, easy to understand and testable?
  • Relevance to demonstrating the impact of Power to Change’s work: Is testing this hypothesis entirely relevant to Power to Change’s work?
  • Relevance to understanding how community businesses make places better: Will testing this hypothesis improve outcomes for community businesses?

Based on this review, the Research Institute proposed three options for each hypothesis -retain, revise or retire. These options were then put out for public consultation, for which we received 14 responses. We used the combination of these responses and our internal evidence review to revise our register of hypotheses.

What did we learn?

Our internal evidence review and the public consultation highlighted to us that several of our hypotheses needed to be revised, with three being retired or merged. Only one hypothesis (Assets) has been retained in its original formulation.

We have also made the following changes to our register of hypotheses:

  • Re-written them in Plain English, avoiding ambiguous terms
  • Highlighted the dependent variable being measured (e.g. survival rates) and independent variables (e.g. sense of ownership) which are meant to influence it
  • Highlighted the direction of change (e.g. survival rates for community businesses are higher than other SMEs)
  • Published our underlying assumptions alongside each hypothesis (e.g. what is meant by ‘sense of ownership’)
  • Published details on how we are planning to measure each hypothesis, including secondary data sources to be analysed and comparators (e.g. SMEs).

There are now only 8 hypotheses, all with the same underlying logic and structure. We hope this will make them easier for us and others to test.

Where are the updated hypotheses?

We have published them here. We will review them annually, sharing what we learn as we go along. Please drop us a line if you have thoughts about how we could develop our hypotheses, about different data sources we could use to test them or about potential collaboration opportunities.

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