Blog: How we designed ‘Ahead of the Game’

A person rock climbing

By Lisa Bedding, Senior Investment Partner - Sport for Change

In May Comic Relief launched our first ever sport and mental health funding call, Ahead of the Game

Over the last 10 years our investments in work using sport for positive social change has shown us that there’s a growing evidence base that sport can have a positive impact on mental health. Ahead of the Game is our first funding opportunity that intentionally focuses on investing in sport for change approaches that improve mental health. 

In this post I’ll outline the process we went through to ensure our funding call will have greatest impact. The process focused on working with an external organisation to increase our own organisational knowledge and practice around mental health and sport for change, as well as taking a more systematic approach to designing a funding call, including how we decide the focus and remit of the call, which countries we focus on and how we’ll use the learning for future funding design.  

In-depth research

Over the last three months we’ve been working with Shift, a charity that designs products and social ventures that help solve social problems. Shift have supported us to design a funding call that moves away from being outcome-led and towards asking organisations to identify solutions to issues we have highlighted. Shift did this by supporting us to design a theory of change which underpinned the development of Ahead of the Game, allowing us to define the long-term goals and then map backwards to ensure the fund focused on the right areas.

Shift carried out internal interviews in order to understand the strengths and challenges around fund design, external interviews with UK and International stakeholders to gather insight into approaches that do and don’t work, as well as target groups that are most likely to benefit. This was complimented by reviewing published literature on the role of sport and mental health, and statistics on the level and costs of mental health problems. 

Ahead of the Game aims

  1. The two aims of this funding opportunity are to:
  2. Support new or existing work that combines sports-based approaches with quality mental health support to reduce distress and/or improve mental wellbeing. 
  3. Contribute to the growing body of evidence by learning from projects about what approaches are effective for whom, in what contexts.

Which countries?

Ahead of the Game is open for work taking place in the UK, Rwanda, Uganda and Ghana. 

Shift carried out in-depth research to identify which international countries we should prioritise. We used the following factors to support our decision making: level of need specifically relating to the treatment gap that exists around mental health, and the capacity of the mental health system in each country. We also looked at the delivery capacity, which means ensuring there are delivery organisations that can be funded in these countries; combined with where Comic Relief has experience in funding in these areas. 

This was an invaluable process as it allowed us to consider what is most likely to impact the success of the fund. Considering a range of factors when prioritising countries is essential.

Different Countries, Different Contexts 

Shift’s in-depth research and interviews with different stakeholders highlighted the vastly different landscapes for sport and mental health in the UK compared to our chosen international geographies. As a result, we’ve made sure the funding call takes a different approach to work in the UK compared to Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda.

In the UK we will focus on supporting organisations to use sports-based approaches to support people who are already experiencing mental health problems, whether these are self-determined or diagnosed.

In Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda, in recognition of the lack of the infrastructure that exists around mental health services combined with the fact that often a mental health diagnosis might not happen for an individual, we will support the following:

  • Organisations to deliver sports-based approaches in communities where they can demonstrate people are at high risk of developing mental health problems.
  • Organisations to deliver sports-based approaches who are working with those already experiencing mental health problems. 

This is an important step for us to get right. Given that Comic Relief is now a global funder, we need to recognise that each context is different. Our work with Shift allowed this to be at the forefront of our project design. Shift also provided us with an opportunity to design a call that allowed us to capture key stages which will be valuable for us in designing future funding calls, as well as identifying options for learning across the programme, which we will be keen to share.

The deadline for the first stage applications is 12noon GMT on Friday 31st May 2019. Full details of the funding call can be found here.

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