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Blog: engagement tips from the front line – part 1

Justin-CAlliance of Sport Co-Founder and Secretariat, Justin Coleman, picks out some of the highlights from our recent review of community sport, with some priceless insights on engagement from those on the front line.

The starting point for any Sport for Development organisation in achieving impact must be effectively engaging with potential participants. The whole journey starts with completing this part of the process successfully.

Recently, we visited 13 organisations across England and Wales to collect examples of best practice in using sport for crime reduction in communities as part of our Ministry of Justice-commissioned report, Sporting Chance: Review of Community Sport for Development organisations.

We were able to observe in each case how they effectively recruited people on to their programmes, broke down barriers and energised them to change behaviour patterns and fulfil their potential.

It is this observed practice that is further developing the Alliance of Sport’s Theory of Change. In it, we identify five progressive stages of ‘engagement of sport in criminal justice’, by combining the five stages in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and DCMS Sporting Future Engagement Strategy.

These stages begin with pre-contemplation or ‘disengagement’, progressing to ‘thinking about it,’ then ‘preparation (“planning to do something about it soon”), through to ‘action’ (“getting started”) and finally ‘maintenance’, where an individual is highly engaged and “sticking with it”.

We quizzed each of the 13 organisations on their engagement methods along each stage of this participant journey. Their feedback contained some gems which are of value to anyone using sport for the desistance of crime in community settings.

Here are a few examples focusing on the first two stages – arguably the most difficult part – engaging the disengaged, disadvantaged and hard-to-reach. (In my next blog, I’ll share some examples from the later stages of the process).

Pre-contemplation (disengaged/survival) – “Not on my Radar”

  • Use social media and digital channels

“Our messages are delivered directly into the hands of our target groups for partnerships, service user and community.” That means via text, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Musically, Podcasts, Instagram etc. “That comes directly from staff of our organisation and they are keeping it active, relevant and up to date, when and where the interest is.”

  • Word of mouth

“If a positive message comes from a trusted person it is more likely to motivate attendance or at least drive further positive investigation from the potential participant. You never know where this will come from, so we engage with our local network, local shops, businesses, clubs and community centres/services”.

  • Power of the brand

“The visible brand must be the community and sports brand, not the statutory service branding. Our Sports and Active clothing shows our united identity with a clear logo. This instantly reduces barriers around initial engagement and enables more open conversation and participant interest, when we also give some to the participants, they belong, they are united, and they love it!”

  • Local role/goal models

“We deliver out- and in-reach, going where the potential services users are and are able to actively listen and be on their level. We inform them of positive possibilities and opportunities, talking with and targeting complex individuals and groups. We give and get current information, feed back to the organisation and then back through flyers and promotional messages stating the purpose of service.”

Contemplation (not engaged/safety mode) – Thinking about it”

  • Build foundations of trust and positive relationships for the long term

“We deliver consistent messages and reference to a fun, family-orientated, safe and supportive environment with vast possibilities. We have fun and support each other.”

  • No direct paperwork or forms

“We do this over a one or two month period, with consistent role models and create a safe space to build understanding for both us and the participants.”

  • Link with local front line organisations and professionals to form a bigger, stronger community

“We do what others can’t and they do what we can’t. When we work together, we show the participants the bigger picture and all use our skills to support them.”

  • Start to engage with family, carers, peers and feed them all the positive messages

“At every opportunity we show the family and their peers the positives of the individual, and display the opportunities. From this we know it is more likely that this positive thinking continues during the times they are not with us.”

  • No judgement, only praise and positive feedback

“We do what we say we are going to do. We have big hearts and time to give, and at this stage of the relationship it’s essential that the participants are feeling safe and secure with us.”

In my next blog, I will share feedback from the 13 community sport organisations on keeping participants engaged through the course of their journey.