Mapping National Sport Policy with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Sport Ireland

The Client

Sport Ireland is the governing authority tasked with the development of sport in the Republic of Ireland. This includes participation in sport, high performance sport, anti-doping, coaching and the development of the Sport Ireland Campus. In 2018, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport published the National Sports Policy 2018 - 2027. This document outlined the policy context that would apply operationally over a ten-year period. Sport Ireland strongly endorses the National Sports Policy and, as the statutory agency responsible for its implementation, will hold a key role in surmounting many of the operational and strategic challenges addressed within the Policy document.

The Project

As a nation, Ireland is proactive in trying to embed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) across all their government ministries and agencies. Sport Ireland wanted to similarly prioritise moving the SDGs forward within sport and society, a feat not yet formally accomplished in Ireland. They involved inFocus to assist in this process.

The National Sport Policy includes an action plan that is revised every three years to ensure sport is meeting its actions – areas of work that is prioritised to help propel and strengthen sport in Ireland. These actions are strategically linked to national development goals and other policies such as Healthy Ireland Strategic Action Plan but are not explicitly linked to the United Naton’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Sport Ireland needed two things:

  • To map the actions of the National Sport Policy to the targets of the SDGs to understand where and how sport in Ireland can contribute to sustainable development; and
  • To have effective coordination amongst multiple areas of the Irish sport ecosystem to monitor activities around the actions and collect data to evidence sport’s contribution to the SDGs and the extent actions have been fulfilled.

At that point, different sectors and government organisations were collaborating very minimally and some had limited understanding around sport’s contribution to sustainable development. Whilst data was being collected, it was often not effectively shared, not in the format needed or not regarded as a resource with any potential. To change this reality would require involvement from all types of voices ranging from academia and the nonprofit sector to for-profit entities and government involvement. It would take effective communication and collaboration amongst a large cross-section of stakeholders to move them forward.

The Solution

To ensure the representation and involvement of a wide variety of stakeholders, inFocus facilitated two working groups to meet at the Sport Ireland campus just outside Dublin.

The groups were made up of representatives from various Sport Ireland departments, academia, government ministries and agencies, and from both profit and not for profit organisations. The group was cross-sector in nature, representing sport, health, education, transport, and national development. InFocus worked closely with the Sport Ireland team and academics at the South East Technological University (formerly Waterford University) to map the actions to the SDGs, create a theory of change for the NSP actions, and identify and develop indicators. The working group workshops created an environment for thought leaders across various sectors to investigate, validate and contribute towards the set of indicators eventually produced for Sport Ireland. It also founded a working network of contributing bodies and individuals that could support the initiative’s continued success. Pre-existing public and government data was then mined from open and closed sources to find additional indicators and to create a baseline.

This piece of work culminated in an internal data development agenda that Sport Ireland could employ to track progress towards the NSP actions and ultimately their contribution to the SDGs. A public report was developed to summarise the mapping process and results with recommendations for both Sport Ireland and the sporting community around alignment and further action.

The inFocus Approach

InFocus’s overarching style emphasises a participatory approach whenever possible. Involving stakeholders and beneficiaries in the strategic and design processes of a project uncovers stronger ideas, helps more skillfully address nuances in complex systems, increases ownership and builds a strong foundation for promoting participation and buy-in. These working groups helped avoid skepticism or dissent should the strategy have been designed internally and announced to stakeholders in finished form by involving everyone in their development. This approach had never been used in this way before and was well-received by involved stakeholders.

As part of the recommendations provided to Sport Ireland to finish the project, inFocus also suggested a Composite Index approach that aligns with the European Union’s approach to similar initiatives. This framework combines multiple measures into a score that makes it easier to compare and capture improvements over various delivery aspects of Sport Ireland’s action plan moving forward.

The Impact

Our inFocus team was pleased by a number of the outcomes of the project and learned from Sport Ireland and its partners. This initiative helped incubate ideas based upon a programme being implemented by the Gaelic Athletics Association encouraging climate-conscious initiatives such as recycling and emissions controls for clubs and venues at all levels. This programme issues a ‘green mark’ for clubs meeting minimum standards to encourage more participation and awareness surrounding climate change and stewardship. A similar idea has been posed for actions at the local and regional levels of sport linked to other SDGs.

inFocus’ work on this project also produced positive outcomes for Sport Ireland by helping increase lines of communication between multiple ministries, agencies, and delivery organisations at the regional and national levels. It also supported the creation of a new internal data portal for Sport Ireland that will assist in tracking the impacts of initiatives and population level data.

This project was not only a successful implementation for Sport Ireland but a helpful learning exercise for inFocus. Our team finished this project with valuable learning points about conducting this kind of strategic project and how we will be able to implement them effectively in the future for other countries and international federations.

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