Implementing a theory of change approach to research sport participation programmes targeting ‘hard to reach’ groups
Taylor & Francis
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A theory of change approach uses logic models to articulate how a programme is intended to operate and to test empirically whether and if so how it achieves its stated objectives. Theories of change have been used in evaluation research across a range of disciplines and public policy domains. This article considers their application to research on sport and physical activity programmes. Applying a theory of change approach to the ‘Calls for Action’ programme, which seeks to increase participation among traditionally ‘hard to reach’ groups, the article explores the strengths and limitations of the method. It argues that a theory of change approach offers a rigorous and systematic way of framing and conducting research on interventions designed to encourage engagement in sport and other forms of physical activity. The article demonstrates how the approach can link project outcomes to wider programme and policy objectives. It also shows the value of making explicit and testing the assumptions which underpin interventions at both programme and project levels. By developing a theory of change approach, policymakers and practitioners can clarify what they are seeking to achieve and promote a better understanding among partner organisations which have different priorities for and perspectives on an intervention. Future research could usefully focus on ways of extending the theory of change methods described in this article to test for causality and analyse the links between sport participation and wider policy goals, particularly health outcomes and improvements in well-being.
International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics;
Bolton, N., Martin, S., Grace, C. and Harris, S. (2018) 'Implementing a theory of change approach to research sport participation programmes targeting ‘hard to reach’ groups', International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, pp.1-17
Article published in International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics available at https://doi.org/10.1080/19406940.2018.1476397
- Sport Research Groups 
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