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The value of intersectoral partnerships in sport : promoting sport participation, physical activity, social capital and mental health through a sport development program in disadvantaged communities

Book - Dissertation

Societal changes in the 20th and 21st century have led to a bigger gap between rich and poor, an increased social diversity and a decrease in social cohesion and social capital in our Western civilization. These changes cause multidimensional challenges for sport, social, health, youth and cultural sectors that cannot be handled by a single organisation and call for an integrated approach. One of these challenges is including ethnic minorities and people of lower social class into society. Asides these mutual challenges, these sectors offer potential joint solutions. Participation in sport has namely been regarded as a popular tool to reach disadvantaged groups and found to be related with higher levels of physical activity and social capital and better mental health. Previous research has indicated that, when these sectors partner together, an increased sport participation in the community can be attained. Although partnerships between the sport, health, social and other sectors seem obvious, on the field, this is far from being the standard. Most sport organisations operate in silos, which causes a sports delivery paradox. On the one hand sport organisations want to inspire every individual to participate in sport, but struggle to reach disadvantaged target groups due to a lack of skills and knowledge to deal with these groups. On the other hand, health, social, youth and cultural organisations use sport as a vehicle to capture the attention of these disadvantaged groups and to reach physical, social and mental health gains, but lack sport specific skills and resources to reach their goals. To dissolve this paradox and in order to reach and strengthen each other’s goals, the need to collaborate between sport, health, social and other sectors is pertinent. The main purpose of this doctoral thesis is therefore to provide insights into if and how these sectors create value when they collaborate. A community sport development program (CSDP) in Antwerp (Belgium) was chosen as case study in order to deliver these insights. The CSDP interacts with both sport, health, social and other organisations. The main ambition of CSDP is to enable sport participation and to lower thresholds concerning sport participation for everyone residing in the community, with special attention for the disadvantaged groups. The CSDP additionally uses sport as a means for social inclusion and health promotion. The present doctoral thesis incorporates three studies with the purpose of answering how intersectoral partnerships can deliver added value in sports. A first study aimed to provide insight into the interrelation of sport participation, total physical activity (PA) (i.e. active transportation, leisure-time PA, household-related PA, work-related PA), community social capital (a measure for the trust in the people of the community), individual social capital (a measure for the trust in the people in general) and mental health. These relations are often the reason for social, health and other organisations to partner with the sport sector. Structural Equation Modelling (SEM-)analysis showed that sport participation was associated with better mental health but not with both types of social capital. Social capital was only generated when individuals indicated that they participated in sport with friends or family. Higher levels of community and individual social capital were linked with higher levels of mental health. Only community social capital was related to higher levels of physical activity. No relation was found between physical activity and mental health. Results of this study imply that supporting initiatives aiming at bringing the neighbours together by means of sport has beneficial effects in different ways. A second study investigated whether adults from CSDP-communities engaged in more sport participation than adults from control communities (without CSDP) and if this also resulted in higher levels of physical activity, social capital and mental health. Multilevel-model analysis revealed that adults from program communities engaged in significantly more sport and in more physical activity than their counterparts living in control communities. Sport participation of respondents in CSDPcommunities was 61.3% whereas in control communities, such participation was only 42.4%. Furthermore, individuals of CSDP-communities participated on average 96 min longer than in control communities. Moreover, participation in sport clubs was also significantly higher for adults in program communities (15.7%) compared to that of adults of control communities (6.5%) and the average of adults in Belgium (10.9%). These results apply to the entire community, however, they also apply to ethnic minorities and people of lower social class. To illustrate, in CSDP-communities 46.2% of ethnic women of lower social class indicated to participate in sport, whereas in control communities this was only 10%. Concerning physical activity, adults from CSDP-communities were approximately 50% more physically active than their counterparts in control communities. No differences were found, however, for social capital and mental health between the respondents of the different communities. Mechanisms underpinning these outcomes could be derived by analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data. Findings indicated that, for the context of sport promotion, it is crucial to have an organisation that can bridge the gap between sport organisations on the one hand and health, social, culture and youth organisations on the other. The links between these organisations provide a better sport offer tailored to the needs of the residents in the disadvantaged communities. The CSDP was able to undo the sports delivery paradox by bridging this gap between sport and health, social, cultural and youth organisations. The CSDP started from the available capacities in the communities and aimed to strengthen the organisations using different strategies, making them an added value for multiple organisations. Regarding the staff members of the CSDP it appears that a combination of both sport and social workers is best to reach the objectives of the CSDP. Furthermore, one of the reasons why the CSDP remains sustainable is because they support sport clubs open to disadvantaged groups both with cultural, organisational and financial capacity. The third and final study targeted to identify the key success factors of intersectoral partnerships in a community sport development context according to the ‘capacity building theory’. Thirteen key success factors were identified that build capacity at the practitioner, organisational and partnership level in the context of the CSDP. First, at the practitioner level, more knowledge and competences are gained between partners that evaluate their mutual activities during the process, and that foster mutual trust by having an open attitude toward the partners, having clarity about their role in the partnership, looking for opportunities in the environment and by understanding that fostering trust does not happen overnight, but takes time to be built. Second, at the organisational level, more resources are shared by organisations that create interdependence between their partners and that build support from policy makers. The support from policy makers can be positively influenced by objective metrics that prove the value of the partnership and by the support of partners who convince the policy makers of the added value of the organisation and the partnership. Third, at the partnership level, stronger and broader partnerships are built by organisations that dispose of unique qualities that are complementary and compatible with the other organisations in the community and that diversify in their activities. This facilitates the connection with multiple organisations and over time creates credibility that convinces other organisations to join the partnership. In conclusion, empirical results of our studies indicate that intersectoral partnerships in sport have value, especially to promote sport participation and physical activity. It appears that the sharing of skills, competences and resources between the sport sector on one hand and the social, health, youth and cultural sector on the other hand, are crucial to resolve the sport delivery paradox.
Publication year:2016
Accessibility:Open