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Alliance of Sport’s Theory of Change meets academic scrutiny

The Alliance of Sport’s Theory of Change (ToC) has been analysed by experts in the field of sport and criminal justice to open it up to academic critique and debate. 

The ToC, published in 2016, offers guidelines to help practitioners maximise their impact in using sport to prevent criminal behaviour and rehabilitate offenders. 

It sets out five key performance indicators which help people working in the sector structure their programmes effectively and monitor and evaluate their impact. In essence, the ToC seeks to answer the question ‘what works?’ 

Since its release, the ToC’s guidelines have been embraced and adopted by delivery organisations across the sector, but until now it has not been held up to scrutiny in the academic world. 

Now, Dr. Haydn Morgan, in partnership with Prof. Andrew Parker, Prof. Rosie Meek and Jon Cryer, has published a paper in the Sport, Education and Society journal analysing the ToC and comparing it to other related academic literature.

Lead author Morgan, lecturer in Sport Management at the University of Bath, explained: “The idea is that by getting this out in the academic world for further scrutiny, more research is ignited across each of the five phases, enabling them to be refined and adapted to make the process even more effective. 

“We looked at how each of the Theory of Change’s five phases really compared to what’s out there in the academic literature. For example, what research already exists about the initial engagement phase and how is that reflected within the ToC? 

“Whilst our initial scrutiny shows the clear potential of the ToC, there’s always that need to keep refining theories of change. We hope by exposing it to a broader academic audience that discussion will continue.” 

One example of the academic literature challenging the ToC was ‘sporting capital’ – the idea that a potential participant’s propensity to want to engage with sport is a key factor in the initial process. “In future, we perhaps might need to identify an individual’s degree of ‘sporting capital’ before the engagement process begins,” Morgan explained. 

The next steps for Morgan and the team of fellow researchers will be to analyse the ToC’s phases individually – how to recruit, engage and retain people for sport-based interventions; relationships between coaches or youth/key workers and young people/adults; and how to facilitate pathways into education and employment. 

“Sport is often seen as such a beneficial tool in achieving change, but kicking a football is not by itself going to make you a better person. It’s about having all the other parts of the plan in place to initiate and sustain change,” says Morgan. 

“I wouldn’t say we have drawn strong conclusions that following the Theory of Change means you’ll necessarily crack that nut, but we can be confident, now it has been scrutinised academically, in saying that much of that process can have important and beneficial change for young people.” 

To access the paper in the Sport, Education and Society journal, click the link below: 

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13573322.2019.1674274 

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