Karin Woodley's vision of social innovation and sport



Social innovation and sport, according to Karin Woodley.


Last week, partners and projects from around the globe came together for a week-long event focussed on sharing, learning and developing - both content and practice. Karin Woodley, CEO of Cambridge House and esteemed member of the Playlab scientific committee spoke with Matt Ruuska, Playlab Project Manager, about social innovation through sport, capturing experience and knowledge, and her experience in sport.


Matt Ruuska : Karin, what is social innovation?


Karin Woodley : I would describe myself as a social activist. That requires me to innovate constantly for different situations: for changes in the economic, political environments, for changing needs. We’re constantly managing change, and having to innovate, either because we have poor resources or because new leads emerge. We have to be incredibly creative.


To me social innovation is what needs to happen at state level. That is where the word social innovation comes from, because state provision has so often get it wrong. 


What we have to learn to do better, as social activists, is to capture and share the experiences and knowledge with the people we work with, as well as the experience and knowledge that we gain in developing programmes that work – capturing this in a body of knowledge that can be shared and impact on social policy. Therefore, help the state to be socially innovative.


Matt Ruuska : OK, so here at the Playground we have teachers and coaches from around the globe. They have a huge amount of knowledge and experience they are sharing between themselves. How do we get their knowledge and experience to the policy makers?


Karin Woodley : I think that is a real challenge for us. Historically, we have been maybe a bit complacent about using the best tools to capture knowledge so that we can share it. I think that we need to work better with technical researchers, academics, in a more longer-term frame. So that we have the support of another sector in terms of really knowing how you evaluate and how you assess if it has had long-term impact.


I think we need to change the way we think a bit and develop partnerships with sectors that are vaguely alien to us, and I think that will benefit their practice, benefit our practice, and give our learning the depth in terms of what works, what doesn’t work, why it works, in what context it works. To me, we can share our knowledge better if we can demonstrate unequivocally what works and what doesn’t.


The power of something like today, is that you have bought together professionals who work with young people, who are sharing what works, they want to explore what they found works, share it with each other, but that’s because we are pretty focused, sport is our tool – sport for social justice is our tool.


We are also showing young people what can work for them, and we make those young people another type of ambassador for what works. Assessing is not just about sharing our so-called professional knowledge and capturing it. There is also a responsibility for us to capture the learning and knowledge of the young people and children we work with, and giving that voice in terms of their experience. Because, everything we do in terms of social action is creating an environment where young people think differently about themselves, their relationships, their social and moral responsibilities. The way they are going to respond to it is very different to us because I’m old and you’re getting old – I’m already there.


They have a different experience to us. I think there is work that the whole of society can benefit from giving voice to that, and collecting that knowledge.