The Bunter Ball project uses a science-based approach to emotional, social and intercultural competencies. It engages primary school children in an area where residents have a wide range of social, economic and cultural backgrounds.

The Living Lab in Germany pairs the not-for-profit organisation In Safe Hands e.v. with the German Sport University Cologne. The activities are centred around the Sport for Development project managed by In Safe Hands e.v. While building the Living Lab, meetings, interviews, observations and a focus group were organised with project participants and stakeholders.

The Living Lab brings together the opinions and interests of the project’s target group, children from a primary school in Bochum, and other stakeholders, including experts from In Safe Hands e.v., academics, teachers and educators.

Background and context

In Safe Hands e.v. is a German not-for-profit organisation located in Hürth, delivering programmes within schools in Herne and Bochum, North Rhine Westphalia. At the centre of these activities is the sport-pedagogical project Bunter Ball. The project is designed for each participating school class over four school years and accompanies them through the entire primary school level.

The weekly sports education groups are firmly anchored in the everyday life of our partner schools. Bunter Ball’s competence model and curriculum are based on a scientifically derived concept and focus explicitly on children’s emotional, social and intercultural competencies, both of which are essential to greater social cohesion.

In the context of the Living Lab, the main Bunter Ball activities occur at the primary school Auf dem Alten Kamp between the districts Wiemelhausen and Querenburg in Bochum. These are two significantly different districts, but as the school includes students from both areas, the two areas are relevant to understanding the local context.

Generally speaking, Wiemelhausen is an older, more affluent and less diverse district. There, about 16% of the population have a migration background, unemployment is about 7%, and seniors comprise 32% of the population. In contrast, almost half of Querenburg’s inhabitants have a migration background, seniors account for only 20% of the population, and unemployment is twice as high, at about 15%.

In these neighbourhoods, there are a few other sporting or social offers, mainly concentrated in Wiemelehausen. These include the multisport club Concordia Wiemelhausen 08/10 e.V., as well as some youth work offers in Querenburg.

The stark differences between the two neighbourhoods also translate to the programme, as kids in Bunter Ball come from various backgrounds, speaking languages ranging from German to Arabic to Turkish to French. For the purposes of the Living Lab, we are focusing uniquely on one group within the school. The participants started primary school in 2021 at the beginning of the Sport and Social Cohesion Lab project and are currently in third grade.

A limited number of stakeholders are involved in the programme, which is in part due to the structured and more closed nature of the school setting. These stakeholders include In Safe Hands e.v. (permanent staff & volunteers), the school, educators and the Arbeiterwohlfahrt (AWO) Ruhr-Mitte.

The AWO, in particular, is the funder of the all-day activities at the Bunter Ball partner schools and the official cooperation partner of In Safe Hands e.v. Initially, In Safe Hands e.v. coaches were responsible for implementing the Bunter Ball sport sessions. However, based on feedback received during the Living lab process, since 2022 sessions have been co-delivered through tandems of coaches and local educators.

Target group/stakeholders

There are three main groups of Living Lab participants:

  1. Children (6-10 years old): students of the primary school “Auf dem Alten Kamp” from two neighbourhoods with different characteristics regarding migration background, employment rates, diversity and household income in Bochum
  2. In Safe Hands e.v. (permanent staff & volunteers), the school, educators and the Arbeiterwohlfahrt (AWO)
  3. University teachers, researchers and students (specialising in sports and leisure studies, sport and development or the sociology of sport)


Semi-structured Interviews were conducted with the In Safe Hands e.v. staff as well as the two coaches of the observed class. These interviews aimed to obtain a sense of the perceived goals and impact of the programme, challenges and opportunities within Bunter Ball, and respondents’ understanding of social cohesion. In total, interviews were conducted with two coaches and three programme managers.

In addition, one focus group discussion was held to help better understand the goals, impact, challenges and opportunities within Bunter Ball and local understandings of social cohesion. It originally intended to host a focus group with two educators, two In Safe Hands e.v. coaches and the head of the ‘all-day’ department at AWO Ruhr-Mitte. However, only the coaches and the educators were present. Through bringing coaches and teachers together, we not only hoped to obtain useful information but to facilitate improved exchange between the different sides of the project.

Due to the young age of the participants and the need to include their experiences, views and needs within the Living Lab, we decided to organise observations of their weekly Bunter Ball sessions. The goal of these observations was to build trust with the participants while also allowing for regular, informal contact between GSU and the coaches, educators and children. In turn, this allowed us to observe the experiences and delivery of the sessions and gave us unique insight into the activities. In addition, it allowed us to collect specific feedback related to selected activities and approaches used within the sessions.

Again, due to the young age of the participants, we opted not to include them in a formal interview or focus group activity. Nonetheless, their feelings and opinions are highly important. Thus, a research activity was created by the observing researcher based on the normal project activities. In addition, a short, multilingual survey was distributed to parents; however, responses for this were limited.


  • Collaboration between an NGO that works in the field and a university that provides input from research methodology and theory: practical experience informs the theoretical and research expertise and vice-versa. 
  • Establishing awareness of the importance of listening to the voices and needs of all stakeholders involved in the programme
  • Evaluating the programme to find potential for improvement and best practices


  • Reaching and engaging parents as stakeholders for co-creation
  • Actively including children in the Living Lab process on an equal footing with other stakeholders

Images: Tim Kramer (top banner image); Sarah Rauch (image below)

Living Lab in Bochum, Germany