READING GUIDE TO: Lindsey, I.  (2008) ‘Conceptualising sustainability in sports development’, Leisure Studies, 27 (3): 279-294.

There seem to be four kinds of sustainability that sports development might be interested in—‘individual, community, organisational and institutional sustainability’ (279).There are also considerations of processes that affect sustainability, which involve us in issues of power, control and integration.

In general, sustainability is still referred to in unclear and general terms [and some examples are given from policy documents, page 280].  There are many definitions and therefore ambiguity at the heart of policy.  As a result, there is little evaluative research either.  A more promising line is to examine the literature in health in sustainability in general, and in health programmes specifically.  For example the general literature combines ‘ecological, economic and social concerns’, combining economy, society and some notion of environment (280).

The literature on health programmes is more specific.  There seem to be two separate but related conceptual frameworks, invoking three alternative perspectives, and then four different levels of social organization.  The models can be synthesised into a general framework: four kinds of sustainability (‘individual, community, organisational and institutional’  (281)).  Individual sustainability indicates that there may be quite different outcomes for individual beneficiaries, but in general, individual sustainability can be defined as ‘longer term changes in individuals’ attitudes, aptitudes, and/or behaviour through involvement with the sports development programme’ (282).  Community sustainability often gets defined in terms of social inclusion, or ‘legacy’ in strengthening community capacity or skills.  Hence the definition: ‘maintenance of changes in the community in which the sports development programme is delivered’ (282).  Organisational sustainability turns on matters such as capacity to maintain delivery, financial and other viability, and these are commonly stressed in policy, hence the definition: ‘the maintenance or expansion of sports development programmes by the organisation responsible for their delivery’ (283).  Finally, institutional sustainability can be defined as ‘longer term changes in policy, practice, economic and environmental conditions in the wider context of the sports development programme’ (284).  [Not very helpful or inspiring definitions in my view].

A particularly influential model in health policy is provided by Shediak-Rizkallah and Bone (1998) , who identified particular groups of factors which affect sustainability: (a) design and implementation, including the effectiveness of the negotiation and its programme, available capital and training; (b) organisational strengths and integration and capacity; (c) the broader political social and economic environment of the programme, including the degree of community participation.  These factors are rarely specified in sports development programmes, although they can emerge in programme evaluations, and the evaluation of the School Sport Coordinator Programme identified similar factors.  It also specifically noted the transient nature of volunteers, which relates to employment conditions, and the issue of what to charge participants—both can be included under economic environment, however. 

An alternative model comes from Pluye et al (2005), who suggest that we should not use a chronological model of planning implementation and so on but rather classify factors specific to sustainability, those specific to implementation, and those addressing both.  The factors overlap, although they separate planning and evaluation from sustainability process as such.  The two models can be integrated into a framework, by recasting them as scales ( basic 2 x 2 table with integration and control as the two axes – p. 287).  Particular forms and processes can be located at different points.

The case study refers to the NOPES Activities programme (new opportunities for PE and sport), a national Scottish initiative.  All four forms of sustainability were relevant and addressed, although different participants have different views of them.  The main definition of sustainability was the possibility of gaining further funding to continue, by launching successful pilot projects.  Generally, sustainability was left as rather vague [not surprisingly given the political fighting that must have gone on] individual sustainability was not a strong focus, partly because it was only a three year project aimed at generating initial interest.  Community sustainability was identified as training of volunteers the development of voluntary sports clubs and the encouragement of partnerships between different community organisations [classically parasitic activity again].  Some interviewees thought that they could easily develop sustainable partnerships, but experienced a lack of control, especially over funding.  They saw evaluation is one way to get more funding.  ‘Some project staff gained a degree of control over sports clubs in return for providing access to training and facilities’ (289).  However, there were some negative effects on community sustainability, for example paying coaches leads to a breakdown of the voluntary provision.  Charging participants could also be seen as counterproductive.

Categorising the dilemmas was useful and did help overcome definitional lack of clarity [which is still seen as a serious weakness for policy and practice—typical scholastic remark really]. Categorising practices can help address weaknesses.  Generally though, research is needed on how different forms of sustainability can overlap or contradict each other.  Evaluating effectiveness was seen by some interviewees as an important element of organisational sustainability, but this needs to be researched and raises policy issues about priorities.  Overall, processes affecting organisational sustainability were not well integrated—there were conflicting desired outcomes, and insufficient control over project staff.  The staff wanted particularly to have more control over sustainability, but this may be at the expense of organisational integration, and it raises ‘significant democratic and accountability implications’ (291) [so reading between the lines, it looks like the underdogs were far more interested in getting more funding to keep their jobs, possibly at the expense of achieving the other priorities, which led them into conflict with managers?]

We need more research to further develop the framework in order to develop ‘a more comprehensive understanding’ (292).  Longitudinal research would be particularly useful, and probably mixed methods approaches: for example volunteers might be tracked, and future policies and practices might be researched.


Selected References

Pluye, P., Potvin, L., & Denis, J. (2005). Making public health programmes last: Conceptualizing sustainability. Evaluation and Program Planning, 28(2), 123–137.

Shediac-Rizkallah, M.C., & Bone, L.R. (1998). Planning for the sustainability of community-based health programmes: Conceptual frameworks and future directions for research, practice and policy. Health Education Research, 13(1), 87–108.

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