Systematic planning and preparation beforehand, are the essence of ‘strategy’ for the conduct of practitioner-based enquiries. Some enquiries and information-gathering activities are likely to be straightforward. Others, probably the majority, are likely to be complex and full of hidden, potential pitfalls. Where difficulties are likely to occur, the prior planning task is even more important. Entering into any kind of enquiry involving people and systems is necessarily a complex and sensitive task. To study effectively real-life settings, the researcher has to be a practising sociologist and also an inquisitive citizen. More urgently, the researcher must have or acquire the technical competences that are part of the ‘tool bag’ of the applied researcher.
The very first move in planning a PBE is an in-depth consideration of the topic area. Ideas tend to be rather general at first. They have to be further scrutinized in respect of such questions as: Why research this topic? What knowledge will be gained? Will the enquiry lead towards improved skills? This in-depth consideration may range from empowering self to practical, professional benefits in the workplace leading to organizational change and improved management. From the outset, the practitioner must not only ‘know’ his or her purpose and who or what it is for, but must also keep it clearly in view throughout the life of the enquiry. A good sense of audience and an expectation, even at this early stage, of what the results of the enquiry are likely to be is helpful. In taking such a step, the process of focusing the general ideas commences. Sometimes, the way ahead may be self-evident or, on the other hand, confused and opaque. Matters may be shaped by whether you are deciding for yourself or whether outside agencies are influencing the purpose. A brief from a line manager is one such well-known external influence on the selection of research problems. Ideally, the drive towards focus should be impelled by what you as researcher are interested in and care about. If you are not strongly motivated about a topic, the whole exercise tends to become much harder and can slide into drudgery. Similarly, prior enquiry and research experiences can be re-engaged to drive towards