Strategic thinking and planning are essential when fighting against inactivity in Europe

By Pia Pauly, DTB, and Saska Benedicic Tomat, ISCA
13/06/2022

Over the two-year timeframe of the NEXT Neighbourhood Sport project, we learned that the key to any successful and sustainable activity is having the correct mix of people, strategic thinking, planning and a positive culture of “we can only do it together”. Our recommendations to the sport sector for sustainable physical activity promotion will be presented at the NEXT project final conference in Rome on 15 June 2022.

We believe that we can identify 3 key principles of the project: 

  • To plan, define and advocate for a partnership and network between different actors in local communities
  • To define our target group for the activities and for the network
  • To plan and implement activities that fit to the local community and target group  

Partnership is the most important – on all levels: nationwide, regional and local. We need to find a group of different stakeholders with a common interest who agree to work together towards a common goal, and that is to fight against inactivity. We see really different methodologies for a successful network, but also many challenges. 
Forming a network and keeping it running is also challenging and time-consuming. A sports club with a volunteer leadership is often overwhelmed. Because sports clubs often do not have personal contact with possible partners, support from the municipal administration can be very important. In order to inspire people to adopt an active lifestyle, we need public spaces that encourage physical exercise. And the last essential factor is having infrastructure that invites you to move and supports physical activity. Fighting against inactivity is not possible without political will and local authority support.

We would like to underline 4 main learnings from the NEXT Project and recommendations for the future of the activities in our local communities.   

  • “Do it with the target group, and not without them”. The target group should be our most important stakeholder. We need to plan all activities in the local communities with them. We need to ask them and define with them “what is the right place, right time, right activity and the right price for them”. Our target group, needs to feel that they can contribute in the planning phase. The more they contribute, the more likely they will also be to join in and bring others to join in. 
  • It is important that we bring competent trainers on board. Trainers that know the local community, and trainers that people know and also trust. Sometimes is even better to start with social activities first, like cultural programmes, cooking sessions, games… something that people are familiar with and then we can explore how physical activity can fit into the full picture.
  • Our planned activities need to be fun, joyful and social. Especially now when venues are opening up after Covid-19 lockdowns, offering social interaction through planned activities has become even more important.   
  • Last, but not least, local spaces in our neighbourhoods are important. Our local space gives us options for a social and active life. And local clubs can also bring activities to our local spaces.

Promote your activities
It is also very important to get promotion right from the beginning, at the right time and by using the right tools. We need to think about promotion that works for different target groups, for example, those interested in fitness can be motivated through social media and video or fitness activities in the public space. Experience shows also that word of mouth is an effective way of promotion and bringing people to the activities. The venue of activities should be visible and also be marked with banners, beach flags or similar materials. Use social media for promotion as well. Videos of activities on social media or community/club website help very much in promotion.   

One big challenge is to address inactive people and motivate them to take to the first step. These are usually elderly (who have a fixed picture of physical activity and sport), who never did sport or physical exercise. In order to address this target group, we need partners who are in contact with the target group and enjoy their trust. Then the motivation and activation can succeed.

Long-term initiatives can sustain the activation
It is important that we promote long-term activities and not just “come and try events”. Behavioural change doesn’t happen with one event; it takes time, often up to one year! We need to focus on a lifelong learning experience for citizens, so that they can become members of the local club, are socially involved and get a full range of activities available. But be sure that the club or local community are providing “healthy activities”.  

One example we can learn from is the concept of Healthy Clubs from Slovenia. The Healthy Club in Slovenia is a Quality Mark for clubs that provide “healthy activities” for citizens. It is easy for citizens to find a club and choose the right activities close to where they live. But most important is that activities in healthy clubs are planned and organised with local municipalities, health centres and companies. Partnership is key! Without bringing different actors, different stakeholders and citizens together, healthy clubs could not be successful. 

We also learned that it is important to define a monitoring process together with stakeholders. We need to define what we measure and how we measure results and significant change in the local community. It is not just about collecting and reporting stories and data, but also about understanding what different groups and individuals value. And also what do stakeholders value? With the right monitoring system, we can define the future on the NEXT activities, the future of the partnership and policy orientation in local communities. This is how we can define our common believes in local communities. We can only do it together in a bigger stakeholders group.

Recommendations to the sport sector for sustainable physical activity promotion will be presented at the NEXT project final conference in Rome on 15 June 2022. More here.

Posted on 13/06/2022 by Pia Pauly, DTB, and Saska Benedicic Tomat, ISCA