Active Communities Network (ACN) welcome this report and see it as a progressive step in the Sport for Development (S4D) sector. The messages, findings and recommendations produced resonate with the practice and experience we have implemented and gained during the last 12 years.
When ACN was established in 2006, we committed to supporting the burgeoning S4D concept and build a stronger evidence base to apply a ‘what works’ approach to programming.
The report highlights the importance of a programme theory and how projects would benefit from the development of theory of change models, which can be applied in sport and non-sport settings. This is an area we are delighted is recognised in this review. The role of non-sport organisations and contextualising programme design in our experience is all too often overlooked.
Our first research publication; Breaking Barriers (Substance, 2010) recommended that clear developmental approaches were required to achieve wider societal outcomes. By developing clear pathways for young people, success can be achieved in this area. The environment in which programmes operate within an S4D context are broad, with the Global north and Global south presenting just two high level variables which offer different challenging contexts. It is these contexts which need more unravelling and debate given the environmental differences. At ACN we have developed a methodology which enables us to apply in various global contexts and targets wider communities other than youth. This development enables us to articulate the ‘Journey of a Participant’ with developmental milestones acting as our common monitoring framework. This is an area which many practitioners, funders, policy makers and academics can find out more at www.activecommunities.org.uk/ourmethodology
There is much academic discussion and conjecture relating to S4D. Many critics demand a greater level of scrutiny and further study to delve deeper into the outcomes claimed by programmes and NGO’s. Much debate centres around the reliance on case studies and evidence to promote and market to funders rather than focus on ‘what works’ approaches. ACN’s experience would recommend that project and organisational benefit comes with this level of scrutiny. It sharpens your service, broadens ideas and innovation, and when published makes ‘a case’ to funders. ACN have taken all this learning and built a coherent methodology falling out of theory of change and logic model development. This is an area projects ought to consider and invest in with the goal of learning as a primary aim.
It is most reassuring that the review references that sport in isolation is not responsible for creating positive social development. This is an area of great importance for ACN, the balls, the cones, the bats, the racquets, the track do not create social change. To suggest that sport in isolation has a mystical power to transform society is very much a misjudgement what S4D strives to achive. It is how the activities delivered by highly motivated, undervalued, skilled workers with wider developmental goals in sight that creates the desired (and often unintended) change. Whilst the review acknowledges prioritising retaining workers, it is worth noting that one of the greatest challenges we face is building and maintaining a workforce. Committed and altruistic community volunteers remain integral; however, as S4D evolves and becomes in effect ‘professionalised’, we need to be cautious in respect to the skills and capabilities in the sector and what is required of us, not just as practioners, but as leaders, managers, and communicators whilst being business minded. The review acknowledges the local knowledge and skills of local people as the ideal practioner. There is a need to invest further into our workforce, firstly to ensure skills and expertise are retained, secondly, the sector needs to acknowledge that to grow we need to develop the workforce in a way which blends the skills and expertise of practice with the increasing necessity of core functions and organisational management. This is why ACN have responded with its training academy, offering a pathway from entry volunteer to post graduate degree level learning. S4D needs to consider how it ‘buys in’ specialisms, but ultimately needs to cultivate generations of workers who are able and motivated to develop a diverse set of skills designed to take them beyond practice and into organisational management and development.
The recommendations provide a solid platform and basis to apply. Whilst many will acknowledge short termism as one of the critical challenges faced and attribute this at the door of funders and policy makers; practioners need to accept and take responsibility for any dependency culture created and utilise strong and coherent evidence to deliver a higher quality of service and platform to diversify its resourcing.
Authorised by Kevin McPherson, Director or research and development