SPORT AND DEVELOPMENT: Benefits, challenges and lessons learnt from a participatory action research study

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16 NOV 2023


Claire Jenkin

Senior Lecturer in Sport Development
University of Hertfordshire

In this article, I’d like to reflect on the benefits and challenges of participatory action research (PAR), in addition to lessons learnt, based on a study that has recently been completed. 

I, along with my colleagues, Dr. Verity Postlethwaite from Loughborough University and Dr. Katherine Raw from Swinburne University, undertook a four-year PAR project (2019-2023). This research study explored the referral processes in a sport for development (SFD) holiday programme for children from low socio-economic backgrounds in the UK. 

As context, the research study started with a process and outcome programme evaluation, which consisted of free drawing from the children and focus groups with parents/carers of the children attending. This provided recommendations for future research and practice. One recommendation was to better understand how children were referred into the programme. Specifically to explore how and why (or why not) those most marginalised engaged with the programme, which we wanted to further explore. 

This second stage of the project was a document analysis to understand who was referring children into the project and then interviews with key stakeholders, including referrers, those who worked at the programme sites and those managing the programme. During this second stage, informal conversations throughout with those managers about the changes made, helped develop our (and their) thinking about the referral process. The project ended with a reflective workshop with those managing the project, to critically reflect on the changes made and develop an action plan to embed further changes. 

One key benefit of doing PAR was the opportunity to embed learnings in real time, which as we know, is really key in SFD. It also gave the opportunity to reflect on what did and didn’t work and then make further changes. Another interesting benefit was to explore any resistance to some changes and work out how to mitigate this, which may not be possible with a one-off research project.

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