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Making the case for prioritising evidence-based SDP knowledge sharing

A man and a woman lie on a basketball court
Copyrights: UNOSDP

Making the case for prioritising evidence-based SDP knowledge sharing

Eli Wolff and Mary Hums write that developing critically-reflective communities will expand evidence-based best practices, standards and expectations for the field.

When academics or practitioners conduct research on or create sport for development and peace (SDP) projects or initiatives, they may believe (at times erroneously) that they are pioneering or inventing the SDP field or sector. This enthusiasm of new discovery is not specific to just SDP but can be seen in other fields as well. Newcomers need to be guided into an emerging sector where they can learn how their work contributes to the field.

Established scholars or practitioners in any field need to do whatever is possible to welcome new scholars and practitioners and their innovative lines of inquiry and programmes. Newcomers to the field of sport for development and peace need to be encouraged to conduct a thorough review of the existing literature, learn about the history of SDP, and more broadly investigate the interrelated areas of sport and society, social change and human rights. Appreciating the work done by earlier scholars such as Peter Donnelly, Harry Edwards, Pat Griffin, Bruce Kidd, Richard Lapchick, and Carole Oglesby who unpacked social issues in sport provides a solid foundation.

Without doing this background research, there is a risk that newcomers will simply end up “reinventing the wheel.” Not learning from the rich history of the area renders them unable to add to the body of knowledge in the field in a meaningful way. Not doing their homework, so to speak, creates a risk that the SDP community will lose sight of the accurate history of the contributions of those who initiated the line of inquiry into sport for development and peace.

Experienced SDP researchers and practitioners must also keep an open mind to the newcomers entering this academic space. People do not “own” the space just because they have done work in the area. Rather, there should be a willingness to share access to common public databases and ideas which are transparent and ethical ways in which any area of study can grow and develop. Mentoring by experienced researchers and practitioners who recognise the importance of welcoming newcomers into the research space is important. Newcomers are not threats to the discipline but rather pipelines to future growth and innovation. True scholars know, welcome and encourage them.

Along these lines, it is important that SDP academics and practitioners further encourage the growth of evidence-based knowledge sharing communities. There is a need for meaningful, practical, data-driven research to advance the SDP field particularly in the areas of measurement, evaluation and best practices. Keep in mind that this data can be either quantitative or qualitative in nature as both forms will prove useful. Publication outlets for this information include sport related journals such as the Journal of Sport for Development or the Journal of Sport and Social Issues, and also journals in the non-profit sector such as VOLUNTAS.

While theoretical work is valuable, SDP organisation administrators need practical hands-on information they can use to improve programme delivery to successfully serve their populations in need. Many academic disciplines face this challenge: the ability to bridge theory and practice. Academic work only maximises its potential impact when it is readily available for programme administrators to put the findings into practice.

SDP will grow in professionalism through the proliferation of evidence-based knowledge communities that include academics, practitioners and programme participants. Developing critically reflective engaged communities will further expand the boundaries of evidence-based best practices, standards and expectations for the field. True growth of the SDP sector can only be achieved by prioritizing evidence-based knowledge sharing that will facilitate the credibility and legitimacy of the field.


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Eli A. Wolff, Mary A. Hums


Monday, March 16, 2020 - 15:45