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New research on partnerships in sport and criminal justice

New research on how to form effective partnerships in sport and criminal justice has been published by Dr Haydn Morgan and Dr Colin Baker from the University of Gloucestershire. 

The Alliance of Sport and several members of our Community of Practice were part of the research group into finding out what elements make up the best partnerships when the spheres of sport and criminal justice work together. 

Dr Haydn Morgan

“Partnerships are the lifeblood of this area of work,” Dr Morgan (pictured left) told us. “Sport and criminal justice programmes are heavily reliant on partnership working, whether that’s funding, expertise or equipment. Dr Baker and I wanted to delve a bit deeper into the alchemy of those partnerships – what it is that makes some work particularly well, and others not so well.” 

The research used data gathered at an Alliance of Sport steering group session in December 2018 and an event at the University of Gloucestershire in March 2020 for frontline practitioners. 

The research contrasts partnerships of a different kind: 

  • Strategic partnerships based around hierarchies, where the partnership was used to meet a pre-agreed set of objectives 
  • Communicative partnerships which are co-created and operates in a supportive and collaborative environment 

“Our overriding conclusion was that strategic partnerships tended to see people contribute individually without a project ever becoming more than the sum of its parts,” said Dr Morgan. 

“It’s quite common within sport that people pair up just to get funding or resources, then do their own thing thereafter, so the partnership doesn’t quite deliver up to its potential. It becomes transactional. These partnerships are much easier to form but tend to be less effective on the ground. 

“We wanted to think about how to make partnerships within sport and criminal justice more communicative with collaboration at heart, problem-solving and working towards objectives together. That makes projects greater than the sum of their parts. They feature genuine desire from all parties to transform circumstances and young people’s lives.” 

Another notable feature of partnership in this sphere, according to Dr. Morgan and Dr. Baker’s research, is for organisations to work with people they know and trust. The danger here is leaving gaps in provision or expertise which could limit the partnership’s impact on participants. 

Dr Morgan said: “The idea of a true communicative partnership is to make sure you’ve got all of the bases covered in terms of the skills, staff, resources, funding and facilities to support a young person’s journey. 

“You need to recognise what your own limitations are, where you need additional support, reach out and ensure all gaps are filled. We tend to work with those we know and trust who may not have the necessary level or breadth of skills and experience.” 

The new research draws on the example of the Alliance of Sport in Criminal Justice as an effective partnership to harness the power of sport to tackle crime, violence and reoffending. 

“The Alliance of Sport’s ability to bring people together, share ideas and discuss pertinent issues is an indication of a desire to build communicative partnerships. It is all about co-creation and co-design in search of solutions,” said Dr. Morgan. 

The next stage of research is to conduct in-depth case studies of working partnerships, which could include the Levelling the Playing Field project. The project, powered by the London Marathon Charitable Trust, brings together over 75 partners across England and Wales to increase the number of ethnically diverse children taking part in sport and physical activity, and prevent and divert ethnically diverse children from being involved in the Criminal Justice System. 

You can access Dr. Morgan and Dr. Baker’s research paper, Strategic or communicative partnerships? Insights from sports programmes in the criminal justice sector, here