A community-led approach to moving more
Posted: Tue, 18 May 2021 12:20
Sara Fernandez, CEO of Oxford Hub reflects on the vital importance of community led approaches, learnings from the pandemic and plans for the future:
Over the past 2 years we have been working closely with Active Oxfordshire to get more people moving. We are all aware of the benefits of sport and physical activity in our mental and physical health, and particularly as we emerge from lockdown, this is something we hope to be prioritising across our work in Oxford City. Read on to find out more about what we have learned and our plans for the future.
Mapping exercises on their own are futile.
A traditional approach to increasing physical activity has been to find out a list of activities available, determine where the 'gaps' are and make sure more opportunities are created as a result. However, any mapping exercise is pre-determined by our own biases and pre-existing beliefs about what the landscape should look like, and what things are missing. For example, we could have gone through a list of exercise classes in the Leys and discovered there is no ladies' basketball available – but what if people are not interested in this? Instead, we used participatory approaches to find out where the energy is. Through offering small grants, we funded a group that wanted to celebrate Rwandan culture, including Rwandan dancing. That's exactly the sort of thing that would have never come up if we had done a traditional mapping exercise. We are planning to continue to focus on participatory grant making in order to increase physical activity as we emerge from lockdown - this will help us make sure that investment follows where the energy is, and that we reach communities who might not want to participate in more traditionally organised sport activities. Understanding a community, its networks, its strengths and opportunities for physical activity is a more participatory exercise than a traditional mapping exercise often allows - but of course this understanding period is essential. We'd encourage everyone to spend time building local relationships, getting to know the local park, learning about what people do in their free time and what their interests are. It's in all these 'softer', messy and harder to aggregate information that the real insight lies.
We are not qualified to get people moving.
We are very aware that we all bring our own experiences, and those will always be limited, so we really won't have the knowledge to support everyone we meet. We may now know what is the best way to cycle for a Muslim women wearing traditional dress, or the specific barriers facing a family with children of different ages doing the school run on their bikes. When promoting physical activity, we are keen that we enable peer-to-peer support and bring people who have first-hand experience of things to encourage others to get moving. This is a great way to encourage meaningful relationships across the community, which is at the heart of our work at Oxford Hub. We have recently appointed the first parent peer-to-peer supporters, who we hope will support more families to be active, and we are really impressed by the Active Ambassadors work across communities.
We must move away from being led by Key Performance Indicators.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been upcycling bikes to get families moving, together. We received funding to focus on a specific neighbourhood in East Oxford during the autumn and set ourselves a target to distribute 40 bikes. However, these targets influenced our activities, and made us prioritise the actual bike deliveries – rather than the important things that go with the deliveries, forming relationships, getting to know people, understanding people's barriers and their own individual context. While giving more bikes is important, we know that what matters is how we distribute the bikes, to give families the best chance at cycling more in a way that fits their life and their priorities. We still keep track of the number of bikes we have given out (64 so far!) but we also prioritise the ongoing relationship that emerges from this, so that we can connect people with more opportunities in their community. This is a good reminder of why meaningful measurement matters - we plan to continue to prioritise learning over traditional monitoring, so that we don't pursue the wrong incentives when being led solely by narrow key performance indicators. We are encouraged that many funders around this work are becoming interested in measurement for learning rather than control, and approaches like storytelling that give a more nuanced insight into what matters.