Dr Louise Mansfield*, part of our culture and sport evidence team and Senior Lecturer in Sport, Health and Social Science at Brunel University, sets out what we know about sport, culture and wellbeing and suggests the next steps to build an evidence base for the sector.

How much we earn, whether we work and other circumstances help to explain subjective wellbeing. But so do the sports we play; the cultures we enjoy and/or are connected to; or the arts we participate in creating, or enjoy consuming.

And while what we do affects our wellbeing, wellbeing can influence our life circumstances, engagement in activities and other outcomes like physical health.

What evidence do we already have about culture, sport and wellbeing?

We already have relevant evidence about culture, sport and wellbeing. And we know it is possible to measure the impact of culture and sport on subjective wellbeing: our reviews of sport and dance and music and singing are just two examples, but there are more:

This is only a selection of what we know. Our forthcoming review will lay out the evidence linking visual arts in adults with mental health conditions, and the wellbeing benefits of leisure time and the family.

Why build the evidence on wellbeing in culture and sport and how should we do it?

Wellbeing evidence could be more widely used in UK strategies to promote the wellbeing benefits of engagement in culture and sport, or to tackle wellbeing inequalities through cultural and sport interventions.

Analysis of the existing research shows us that when thinking about what this evidence base looks like in practice, we need to consider the following:

  1. Evaluation quality (rigour of design) is the key to a strong evidence base. Methods of monitoring and evaluation will differ according to the questions being asked, and in relation to time, financial and human resources. Monitoring and evaluation needs to be embedded into culture and sport programme commissioning, design and delivery and is both process and outcome focused
  2. New evidence is likely to come from strong research-practice partnerships and through cross-sector working to develop mutual understandings of concepts and definitions, and evaluation questions and methods. Examples include researcher roles on sector steering committees, commissioned evaluations, doctoral training programmes, research-led teaching and professional development courses.
  3. There is scope to more extensively use existing wellbeing outcome measures in large scale collection of data (e.g. through online surveys) and/or analysis of existing data sets. These might already include information on number of participants, participation frequency, number of volunteers, number of instructors, and diversity of participants.
  4. Process evaluations help in understand how impact and outcomes are achieved and are central to building knowledge about what works, for whom, in what contexts and for different types of activities. These evaluations might include traditional methods such as focus group work and/or interviews with participants, instructors, managers and commissioners. Additionally more innovative methods (visual, performance and online) can develop new evidence .
  5. Developing evaluation guidance for wellbeing in culture and sport would be of benefit to the sector in supporting monitoring and evaluation and building evidence on wellbeing. This could build on existing published strategies, like Creative and credible.
  6. Effective communication and knowledge exchange can help to ensure evidence is used in decision making at policy, commissioning, practice and participation levels. Blogging, published case studies, public involvement activities and cross sector secondments can support knowledge exchange strategies. Approaches must be manageable and workable recognising the skills and resources required to engage in professional development activities.  

As part of our effort to help get evidence put into action, the Centre will be publishing evaluation guidance for the third sector, including for arts and sports organisations,  if you would like to  receive an alert when it is published, please sign up by typing your email in the alert box on this page.

*Dr Mansfield collaborated with, and had input from Prof.Tess Kay, Prof. Norma Daykin, Prof. Paul Dolan, StefanoTestoni, Dr. Catherine Meads, Dr.  Alistair John, Prof. Guy Julier, Prof. Alan Tomlinson, Dr. Annette Payne, Lily Grigsby-Duffy, Jack Lane, Prof. Christina Victor.

More research on physical activity and wellbeing