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This research focuses on the organisation of sporting encounters for different groups of people in socially vulnerable situations with a low socio-economic position. The reason for this is that their participation in sports and physical activity lags behind in comparison with other groups. People in a low socio-economic segment, including the long-term unemployed, the homeless, and refugees, often feel marginalised and lonely and experience great difficulty in keeping their lives on track, which increases their risk of exclusion in society (RIVM, 2018). The fact that many people in a vulnerable position do not structurally participate in sports and physical activities means that they do not experience the benefits of sporting encounters either.


We still have a limited understanding of the way in which organisational networks (meso level) and frontline workers (micro level) can make sporting encounters more inclusive for people in socially vulnerable situations. Frontline workers and their organisations play a crucial role in guiding people towards, facilitating and organising sporting encounters. At the same time, frontline workers use different professional routines and there is limited knowledge exchange regarding these routines. More insight into designing and organising sports encounters gives professionals applicable tools so that they can better reach the target group . Ultimately, this contributes to a better use of the value(s) of sport and a more inclusive society for everyone.


The aim of this research is to map the impact of frontline workers (e.g. community sports coaches, social workers) and their organisations on inclusive sports encounters for people in a socially vulnerable situation, so that practitioners strengthen their skills and networks to create inclusive sports encounters. By sporting encounters we mean encounters in which people in a socially vulnerable position come into contact through sport with people in a similar situation, as well as with 'other' people and professionals.


We focus on three levels at which stakeholders can impact the organization of inclusive sporting encounters:

the macro level forms the context for this research project. It concerns the policy and physical environment in and through which sporting encounters take place;

the meso level concerns the network configurations and interactions between organizations, such as the municipality, social work and sport service organizations. We analyze the configuration and dynamics of cooperation between these organizations, and their frontline professionals and the way in which they try to shape more inclusive sporting encounters and how this can be strengthened;

the micro level concerns the interaction between frontline workers and people in vulnerable positions. We analyze their interaction in order to distinguish enabling and constraining routines for inclusive sporting encounters.


This project will be conducted and headed by Dr. Maikel Waardenburg (Utrecht University, School of Governance) in collaboration with colleagues from the Department of Social Geography and Urban Planning (UU), the Department of Industrial Design (TU/e), the Lectorate Move to Be (Fontys Sporthogeschool) and the Lectorate Participation and Urban Development (University of Applied Sciences Utrecht). We work closely with local and national social partners: Vereniging Sport en Gemeenten (VSG), Stichting Life Goals, the municipalities of Utrecht and Eindhoven, SportUtrecht, FC Utrecht, PSV Foundation and the sports innovator centre InnoSportlab Sport & Beweeg.


The research is carried out in two living labs. Living labs are a research and design methodology for developing and testing services or processes in co-creation with users in a real-life environment that is applied by research institutes in collaboration with public and private partners. The main reason we choose living labs is the ability to calibrate disciplinary knowledge, thorough academic research with practical interventions (Ericsson et al., 2005). The living labs are situated in a neighbourhood in Utrecht and in Eindhoven, both of which are characterized by multi-problems and relatively low levels of sport participation. With the project we are delivering prototypes (product/process) that support organisational networks and frontline workers in their tasks and ultimately make sporting encounters for vulnerable groups more inclusive. This includes a self-assessment tool for organisational networks and a skills training for frontline workers.


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