Learning Out Loud

Our Senior Research and Evaluation Specialist Katy Tomaino discusses how a developmental evaluation of Sport for Good New Orleans revealed significant learnings that have shaped our approach to place-based work. Access the full version of Learning Out Loud: The Developmental Evaluation of the New Orleans Sport for Community Coalition, authored by Laura Dean Shapiro, Senior Evaluation Consultant at inFocus here.  

A fundamental tenet of the Laureus USA theory of change is the assumption that a greater number of Sport for Good programs delivering high-quality work, backed by significant and sustained funding, will create deep community impact. With the understanding that large-scale social change requires cross-sector coordination, Laureus USA launched Sport for Good New Orleans in 2014.

This locally-driven approach involves more than just funding youth sport programs in a single location – it is based on the idea that collaboration is vital. To this end, cross-sectional, locally-led coalitions form the centre of our change model.  This strategy relies on two pillars: providing multi-year grants to innovative non-profits; and committing to robust research and evaluation. In New Orleans, our coalition of partners is now working on addressing issues of education, childhood obesity, and youth violence through the power of sport.

Sport for Good New Orleans was our first foray into a community impact initiative, so we prioritised a learning approach. In the beginning stages, we partnered with inFocus and New Orleans-based evaluator Laura Dean Shapiro to conduct a developmental evaluation (DE) of our work. Throughout the process, inFocus was able to critically assess Laureus USA’s role and understand how we were supporting the effectiveness of our Sport for Good coalition.

Through six months of observation and discussion, our DE produced significant learnings – many of which we implemented in real time. For example, our evaluator uncovered “several important preconditions for effective collaboration in community work, the most overarching relating to the complex and intricate nature of facilitating change and the challenges that arise when launching a new idea, in a new space, with all new players.” As noted in the full report, we were able to pivot and adjust as needed to ensure challenges were addressed quickly, and in keeping with our approach to values-based leadership.

We learned that for our model to encourage replicable change, we as the backbone organization must provide structure to support local leaders in addressing context specific community needs. To use an analogy from the evaluation, Laureus USA “provides a scaffolding that empowers leaders actually living in the community to recognize their own needs and the tools to build the rest of the house.”

This scaffolding is built upon the values of transparent learning culture, organizational empowerment, and servant leadership. The success of the model is contingent upon building deep trust between Laureus USA staff and the local leadership committee of the initiative. Human relationships are critical to the success of this work; and dynamics around social norms, gender, race, and socioeconomic status are essential to the equation.

We now also know what characteristics are essential in those who we hire to serve in our community facing positions. Among these: the ability to put others’ needs first; a personal commitment to equity and social justice; and the willingness to learn in public and openly acknowledge that we do not have all the answers. The DE also unearthed that scaling place-based work requires intentional organizational structures to support local staff with remote work realities and the emotional labor that is part and parcel to deep community work.

By taking the time to critically evaluate our experiences, we now fully understand what it will take to continue expanding our place-based work. Using the learnings from our developmental evaluation, we officially launched Sport for Good Atlanta in July and will kick-off Sport for Good initiatives in New York and Chicago. If you are invested in community work of your own and interested in learning more about our approach, I invite you to read our full Learning Out Loud report.

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