Published 2021-10-28

This post is also available in Swedish

Mistra Sport & Outdoors breaks down boundaries with learning groups

Its aim is increased sustainability for sports and the outdoors, and the way there is characterised by cooperation and participation. The Mistra Sport & Outdoors research programme includes representatives from research, organisations, businesses and public authorities; they have been placed in learning groups where they take on shared challenges.

The stressed parents who drive their children to floorball training, the youngsters committed to equestrianism, the outdoor enthusiasts hiking through forests, marathon runners, and the chanting football fans that gather at arenas – the Mistra Sport & Outdoors research and collaboration programme aims to create a sustainable movement in sport and the outdoors. To succeed, they need to reach out to everyone involved, which requires perspective and cooperation between the parties involved. And, to hear everyone’s outlook on the transition, the programme is working with learning groups, in which researchers and practitioners investigate and test solutions together.

“All the key actors in the programme were able to propose organisations and individuals for the learning groups. Since their formation, some organisations and representatives have been added, because the learning groups felt they lacked important perspectives,” says Christina Frimodig, Collaboration Manager at Mistra Sport & Outdoors.

“Environmental issues comprise a complex challenge that affects many actors in sports and outdoor activities. The learning groups build upon research-based knowledge, and we believe that combining perspectives creates better opportunities for dealing with challenges and finding solutions,” says Christina Frimodig, Collaboration Manager at Mistra Sport & Outdoors.

Mistra Sport & Outdoors has six different themes: knowledge and transformation; sustainable transport solutions; sustainable use of land and water; material and sustainable equipment; sustainable events; behaviour, policy and future change. Learning groups are linked to each theme. The ‘sustainable use of land and water’ theme also has more specific groups for coastal, mountain and urban environments. In total, there are ten learning groups working on specific challenges.

Work in the learning groups leads to projects

The knowledge and transformation learning group includes Susanna Hedenborg, Professor of Sports Science at Malmö University, and Carl-Johan Thorell, who works with education issues at the Swedish Sports Confederation and has a background in teacher training at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences. They say that a great deal of time has gone into refining the challenge for which they are working to find solutions. Their question is: How and what change can we create in sports, outdoor activities and in the school subject of sport and health to promote environmentally sustainable development? They have also invested time in exploring the expertise of the learning group, sharing specific knowledge, perspectives and hot topics in their everyday work. Now, about a year after the learning group was formed, they have several ongoing projects and studies.

“It is extremely beneficial for the Swedish Sports Confederation to be part of this. Having research to back us up provides great support, as we are going to get moving on our own environmental work and that of our member associations,” says Carl-Johan Thorell from the Swedish Sports Confederation.

“The Swedish Sports Confederation is currently working on developing an environmentally focused learning platform for the entire sports movement. We are also developing an environmental network with about participating 20 sports associations. To understand their challenges and perspectives, researchers at Mistra Sport & Outdoors are now conducting a study where they do deep interviews with the associations and follow their work. And, at the same time as we’re working at the confederation, I can bounce ideas off the learning group,” says Carl-Johan Thorell.

Susanna Hedenborg adds:

“The learning group has also initiated a course with an environmental focus for sports teachers, at Dalarna University, through Erik Backman [researcher at Dalarna University] who is also in the learning group. Many sports teachers want tools so they can work more actively with this issue and, if we can reach out to teachers who can then reach out to school pupils, we will have started an important sustainability process.”

And Carl-Johan Thorell continues:

“Formulating our challenges was a long process, which was interesting for me – as a researcher – to follow. It was allowed to take time and led to everyone feeling that they had played a part in formulating the challenges. I’m grateful for that,” says Susanna Hedenborg, professor at Malmö University. Photo: Håkan Röjder

“We have discussed subjects for research in sports and outdoor activities. For example, I made a presentation to the learning group using examples from sports where they have started working on environmental sustainability. This generated the idea to interview the people who had already got started, the keys to success they could share. It was you, Susanna, who saw the link. This is an example of how working together with practitioners boosts our work, and how researchers can take it a step further.”

Initially, their learning group met once a month. Now that several initiatives and projects are underway, they meet less frequently. Susanna Hedenborg highlights curiosity and time as success factors in their work. Carl-Johan Thorell emphasises the importance of having the group as a sounding board while things are developing on-site among the various organisations.

“For example, we got to see the embryo of a syllabus and provide input for the course at Dalarna University. In my role, I’ve also been able to share my network and create contacts between researchers and civil society. We help each other smooth the way and open doors,” he explains.

“The meetings are an energy boost, we leave each one feeling richer,” says Susanna Hedenborg.

The groups are led by a facilitator

Before the learning groups for Mistra Sport & Outdoors were formed, key players in the programme proposed organisations and representatives for the groups. When a particular perspective has been lacking in a learning group, people with that expertise have been added. For example, as time has passed, a sports teacher has been added to the knowledge and transformation learning group.

The groups work according to a structure: plan, study, innovate, test and implement, and they are now at different stages, says Collaboration Manager Christina Frimodig.

“Some are at the planning stage, while other groups have started innovating. Common to all groups is that they feel they are researching the right things, that the research is adapted to a real need. Bringing people together from a wide range of organisations and areas, sometimes with vastly differing perspectives on a challenge, is not always easy. Each learning group has a facilitator, which is important in making it work,” says Christina Frimodig.

“There may be an uneven power balance, you could work according to different logics or be accustomed to fast or slow processes and working methods. Communication is very important. The great thing in the groups I have visited, is that they have really succeeded in created an atmosphere of participation. The goal of creating a sustainable movement is a glue that bonds together everyone on the programme.”

Learning groups in Mistra Sport & Outdoors:

  • Consist of representatives from research, organisations, businesses and public authorities who work together on specific challenges developed within the research programme.
  • The groups’ work follows a basic structure that involves planning, studying, innovating, testing and implementing.
  • Each group has a facilitator that supports the group’s ability to let everyone use their voice and contribute. The facilitators meet regularly and evaluate the work.
  • Programme meetings are held twice each year and all the learning groups, as well the researchers who are not participating in a learning group, meet.
  • Mistra Sport & Outdoors is also creating a communications group, where communications representatives from a range of organisations can share their knowledge.