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Louise Mansfield, Brunel | Evidence-led research impacts Sport England policy

Louise Mansfield, professor of sport, health and social sciences in the Institute for Environment, Health and Societies at Brunel University in London, discusses her Research Impact Award-nominated work.

My work since 2013 has been underpinned by a package of research, funded by various bodies, around making a difference to people’s health and well-being through community sport. In doing that, we have focused on increasing the numbers of people taking part who started off as inactive. But we have also changed decision-making at a policy level, particularly with Sport England and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, around how they evaluate activity and how they know their initiatives are working.

Louise Mansfield (Photo by Brunel University London)

We were involved in the policy and decision-making development post-London 2012, when we had the physical activity and health legacy targets from the Games; targets which it quickly became obvious were not being reached. We knew there needed to be a strategic approach to raising physical activity levels through community sport, so we have been involved in that in a sustained way and from the outset, through a number of research projects and academic publications. The impact measurement is based on a package of published research and funding grants and then the work that we do with organisations in order to translate and disseminate that information.

We first published what we call a ‘protocol paper’, about how we were going to do the research, using some Sport England funding to explore the impact of community sport on health and well-being for the least active. Once we conducted the study – a large, mixed-methods project which involved quantitative survey data collection, repeated measures and also the qualitative work with the groups and with the sport coaches – we published a paper on the role of sport coaches in this whole agenda. In this paper we argued that they were what we called a ‘community asset’ or resource, an alternative to the medical profession, to really support inactive people to take part in physical activity.

In the community sport project we took an intersectional approach, it was about social diversity in different and complex communities. The common feature of the population involved was that they had to be inactive, that was who we were targeting, but apart from that we were trying to look at who were the least active across a range of social diversity groups in Hounslow, London, where the studies were carried out. We worked in schools with sixth-form girls. We worked with an organisation called Urban Youth Network that delivers to Somali populations and other black and minority ethnic groups to deliver a football project. We worked with a group called Integrated Neurological Services, who work with people who have got neurological conditions, where we delivered a yoga project. So we targeted specific groups within the inactive population to get a view across issues of gender, race and ethnicity, disability and socio-economic status.

Sport England has just written for us a corroborating evidence letter for the Research Impact Award, and I think one of the standout impacts that we have been involved in is their decision to spend a quarter of their budget on delivering to those who are inactive because, through projects like ours they can see that it works, that it makes a difference and that it has an impact. So they made an investment decision to spend more of that money than they had done and up to 25 per cent on delivering to inactive people.

The second stand-out decision on their part was to develop new evaluation approaches. We were working with Sport England on how they could evaluate their work better to demonstrate the evidence of what was working and what was not. That has led to a series of outputs from Sport England, one on the design principles – how do you design a project in order for it to have best impact? We had a significant impact on the development and content of that. They have also developed an online evaluation framework, and all projects now that Sport England fund have to follow the process of that evaluation framework, and that’s been implemented through the knowledge that we’ve produced through our work.

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