Introducing Dr Alyson Nicholds, our new Associate Professor

 

Dr Alyson Nicholds, Associate Professor (Business Management), Staffordshire Business School

I am delighted to be joining Staffordshire Business School as Associate Professor (Business Management).  This is my 5th University, having previously worked at Leeds Beckett, Birmingham, Middlesex and Coventry in various teaching/ research roles.

Dr Alyson Nicholds

Dr Alyson Nicholds

I’m probably best described as an ‘interdisciplinary’ academic of all things Public Policy. What this means, is that I bring to bear all my past professional experience (as Nurse, Health Promoter and Development Officer) to analyse, empirically, ‘what works’ in health, social care, urban, science and technology policy.

I do this by exploring ‘why policy fails’, but this is not by evaluating the impact of policy is (i.e. rationally), but by analysing ‘why practitioners do what they do’ (i.e. the accounts that professionals provide of their practice). We call this more novel type of research ‘discourse analysis’ and it works by paying close attention to the language embedded in what practitioners say and do i.e.:-

  • How professionals ‘describe’ how they do what they do (‘functionalist discourse’);
  • How professionals ‘interpret/ frame’ why they do what they do (‘constructivist discourse’);
  • How the context ‘shapes/ constrains’ what professionals say and do (‘dialogic discourse’);
  • How society ‘influences’ what it’s possible to say and do (‘critical discourse’)

Discourse analysis is therefore important because it addresses some of the limitations of more rational/ scientific approaches to traditional policy analysis which typically ignores the human voice. Hence, much of my early work has involved applying the second type of discourse (constructivist discourse) to real-life cases, as with my PhD, which revealed regeneration professionals’ shared experiences of the barriers to effective regeneration in the East and West Midlands[1] [1a].  Indeed, this was so compelling, that I’m now reanalysing this data using the third type of discourse (i.e. dialogic discourse) to understand ‘why actors don’t do what they say’!

Other work, using this more ‘constructivist discourse’ approach, involved a large scale NHS funded study (Post Doc) to ascertain the value of different joint commissioning arrangements in health and social care (i.e. in 6 NHS Trusts in England)[2]; and scientists’ preferences for sharing knowledge in a global network (i.e. the large-scale physics experiment known as the hadron collider at the CERN facility in Switzerland) [3].

More recently I’ve been working with colleagues from Birmingham and Middlesex to analyse how formal and informal leaders prefer to lead in sub-national urban development places (i.e. the Smart Cities policy initiative)[4]. My latest work explores the practical applications of all of this type of discourse work in transforming the social outcomes of public policy through greater reflexivity in management learning. In future blogs, I’ll be writing about this and the different ways we might better research these complex types of policy problems, to address widening social and economic inequality.

[1] http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/3495/1/Nicholds12PhD.pdf

[1a] Alyson Nicholds (2011) Making sense of urban policy failure in complex times, Regional Insights, 2:2, 18-20, DOI: 10.1080/20429843.2011.9727924

[2] Helen Dickinson, Stephen Jeffares, Alyson Nicholds & Jon Glasby (2014) Beyond the Berlin Wall?: Investigating joint commissioning and its various meanings using a Q methodology approach, Public Management Review, 16:6, 830-851, DOI: 10.1080/14719037.2012.757353

[3] Mabey, C. & Nicholds, A. (2015) Discourses of knowledge across global networks: What can be learnt about knowledge leadership from the ATLAS collaboration? International Business Review, Volume 24, Issue 1, February 2015, Pages 43–54. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0969593114000754

[4Alyson Nicholds, John Gibney, Chris Mabey & Dan Hart (2017) Making sense of variety in place leadership: the case of England’s smart cities, Regional Studies, 51:2, 249-259, DOI: 10.1080/00343404.2016.1232482

Award-winning Business and Enterprise Graduate Finds the Balance

Luke Ellis, a recent graduate, award winner of the Davies Group Business School Prize and business owner talks to Angela Lawrence, Business Management Course Leader, about the success of the business that he grew alongside his studies.

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Simple beginnings

I started the business, Churnet Valley Garden Furniture in 2012 from my Dad’s garden shed. I had a vision that I could design, create and make the best garden furniture in the UK. I guess I was the drive and brains behind the operation and my Dad was a good all rounder, a hard worker with loads of experience over the years as a handy man. I’d worked for 10 years in an engineering role so I had gained all of the skills needed for design and precision work

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Juggling balls

I won’t lie, it was hard work studying, growing the business and bringing up my two sons as a single Dad with sole custody. The boys are 8 and 9 now and can both be a handful. I have struggled to balance things at times, but somehow I always manage to pull it off.

Business growth

I pushed the business in every way I could think of; it became both my hobby and my passion. I started off exhibiting at my local village carnival in 2012 and four years later I am winning an award for the best garden furniture stand at the Ideal Home Show in Manchester and I’m on target for a quarter of a million pounds turnover this year. I’ve made products for JD Sports, H&M and completed a huge project making and installing Christmas market chalets for a French market group last winter.

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Where next?

My goal is to maximise my current capacity at my workshop by growing the business to a level where it is big enough to run independently and consistently. I have always had a passion for the food industry, so I think that will be my next venture – to get something running in the winter months, when garden furniture isn’t exactly on people’s minds.

Keeping it in the family

I also want to return to university and do an MBA, and then open my own consultancy business. I bought my Dad out of Churnet Valley Garden Furniture in 2015 and this year my younger brother has invested time and money in order to prove himself and earn a share of the company.

Proud moments

Seeing my boys grow up into good kids makes me proud every day. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved academically, of getting a 1st class honours degree, of winning the student award for the best overall performance on the BA (Hons) Business Management and Enterprise course, and of the way in which my company has grown and developed. We recently ran a Facebook competition to win a garden Love Seat. It reached over 60,000 people and got over 800 page likes in just three days! So we must be doing something right.

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