Learning about learning in sports for change programmes (and beyond)

30th March 2022

By Alison Mckinley

What did we do?

Comic Relief commissioned Zimbabwe-based Muthengo Development Solutions (MDS) to work with funded partners in our Levelling the Field (LTF) 2 programme which is using sports to address social issues experienced by the most minoritised women and girls in Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia. In considering their approach to learning, MDS’s starting point was to engage with the previous LTF1 funded partners to reflect on their challenges, successes, impact and learnings to inform their approach.

What did they find?

  • An impressive amount of context-specific learning on sports for change approaches and programming took place during LTF1, although this learning was less organised and intentional in the absence of a dedicated learning partner.

  • In the absence of clearer guidelines, funded partners took different approaches to articulating learning questions and planning structured learning activities to answer them. This meant that some key learning opportunities were sometimes missed, for example, more nuanced consideration of gender in LTF1’s data collection and interpretation.

  • Comic Relief’s grant management and MEL approach reflected a commitment to prioritizing meaningful, internal learning for funded partners, over burdensome external accountability. However, our process of supporting learning could be more systematic in supporting funded partners to better enable more intentional learning.

What does this mean for LTF2?

“The overarching lesson drawn from LTF1 is the importance of internalising the need for learning -. This calls for a shift in mindsets from - using data to fulfil reporting requirements to using data to stimulate learning.”

MDS will support a stronger environment for more intentional learning by demonstrating the added value of developing relevant learning questions and activities designed to answer them. The evolution of the learning approach between LTF1 and LTF2 is depicted by MDS’s ‘Defining and Expanding Space for Learning under LTF 2.0’ diagram:

Learning about learning in sports for change programmes

What can others take away from MDS’s findings to better enable intentional learning? MDS concluded their report with some top tips on creating a culture of learning, for example:

  • Secure senior buy-in for learning

  • Build in time and space for sharing and reflection

  • Embed learning into regular reporting cycles

  • Build appropriate MEL into job descriptions and performance reviews

These are relevant far beyond just Sports for Change projects and are things that everyone working in funding and frontline contexts can contribute to.