When the National Alliance for the Desistance of Crime launched the 'Theory of Change' in December, our aim was to provide a framework for sport projects to achieve maximum impact in preventing criminal behaviour and rehabilitating offenders.

Since then, the NASDC team has been travelling all over the UK delivering training in how to apply the Theory of Change effectively, helping organisations celebrate their successes, improve areas of weakness, and measure their impact.

As well as maximising their impact, the process will help make organisations more appealing to potential partners or investors. It will also contribute to the NASDC's base of evidence, proving the role sport can play in the community and Criminal Justice System and stimulating further investment across the sector.

To build trust and respect from organisations who undergo the Theory of Change process in the future, we realised that we need to 'walk the walk' as well as just 'talking the talk'. That's why we applied the framework to our own practice. As James Mapstone, 2nd Chance Group's Founder and Managing Director, commented: "How can we advise others on applying the Theory of Change if we haven't lived it and done it ourselves?"

The Theory of Change measures the effectiveness of Sport for Development organisations across five key performance indicators (KPIs). The process concludes with a detailed Impact Report that highlights strengths and areas that may need more work, which the NASDC help develop through follow-up training and support.

When shining a light on the 2nd Chance Group by applying the Theory of Change framework, this is what we discovered, and the action we took, in each of the five KPI areas:

Engagement

The questions posed in the Theory of Change helped us reflect on how we could best serve the interests of the most disengaged members of society.

Previously, those using our Pause & Engage mentoring service were referred to us by schools or social services. They were challenging and complex young people, but they were already 'engaged' enough to be at least willing to attend. What about those on the fringes of society; homeless people or victims of human trafficking, for example?

This result kindled our move into more outreach work. Natasha Mills, Head of our Coachmakers programme, linked with women's support centres in Cornwall and built relationships through light sport and physical activity sessions, with a view to eventually supporting some of the women there through our education or mentoring pathways.

We have also begun to consult with families on a notorious estate in Weston Super Mare to build up a picture of needs, so we can respond to those needs proactively, rather than waiting for referrals. It's given us, as an organisation, a clearer picture of how and why that pattern of 'disengagement' begins, so our processes of combating it are better.

Physical and Mental Wellbeing

Applying the Theory of Change is a reflective process, and enabled us to celebrate some of the success we've had in this area. Our projects deliver sport in an accessible way, removing potential mental barriers to sport and physical activity in every single aspect of delivery.

In our plans to deliver Endurance Sports in women's prisons and with families in the community, for example, we focus on stages of engagement before any sport or activity takes place. We take formerly-inactive participants to a 'shop' to choose their own outfits and sports equipment before engaging in physical activity, which begins as gently and informally as possible with a conversation, walking or a session on an exercise bike.

"It's about building it up slowly with small sessions and lots of ownership," says Head of the NASDC Justin Coleman. "It's about getting to know someone first and making sure the wellbeing is there every step of the way, mentally as well as physically. It may take longer, but it’s more sustainable. It's about them owning the change, rather than being forced to change."

The Theory of Change's 'checklist' helps organisations reflect on how new users are welcomed into the environment, and asks whether processes are in place to offer an accessible and non-intimidating atmosphere that fosters sustained engagement.

Individual Development

Previously, our methods of measuring our impact were very output-focused (e.g. number of sport sessions delivered, number of qualifications achieved, number of mentoring hours undertaken). We had lots of quantitative data but we didn't record the quality of our outcomes. In order to build a persuasive evidence base, we needed data on how our programmes positively impacted our users' motivation, resilience, self-esteem, self-efficacy and ability to manage emotions.

The Theory of Change has helped us better assess each participant's individual development, measure each aspect of their progress and will enable us in future to provide much more detailed impact evidence.

"It was really powerful stuff," says James. "The staff felt empowered when they could see the impact done in a different way. They felt they were having a much more qualitative impact on the lives of young people."

Education and Training

Developing our processes around the two previous KPIs has meant we are now better able to identify and support young people on our programmes who are most at risk of dropping out of education. Staff have really bought into this process and were keen to learn how to support those most in need.

Therefore, all our education staff have undergone the 1st4Sport Level 3 Mentoring Programme, which just happens to be delivered by our very own Pause & Engage programme team!

Implementing this particular KPI is already having an extremely positive impact on service users. In 2015/16, 90% of participants in our Coachmakers programme progressed into further education, training or employment. Going through the Theory of Change process should help further improve those figures by reducing drop-out rates and better supporting those most in need of extra guidance.

"We're training staff to deliver better services so young people become better volunteers. We're giving them self-esteem, confidence and choice, so they go into those Level 1, 2 or 3 qualifications, then into jobs in the sport and fitness industry feeling comfortable and capable. It works phenomenally well," comments Justin.

Social and community development

An important aspect of this particular KPI is an organisation's ability to "represent and promote a purposeful service-user voice". So, instead of dictating to our beneficiaries (or just assuming what they want or need), we are engaging with community groups on our projects in Bristol and Cornwall in order to find solutions together.

We put in an enormous amount of work to engage, develop and educate young people, but if they are returning each evening to a community where they are surrounded by negative influences and poor role models, our work becomes much more difficult. By working with the community and helping them create a better environment, we're starting to take a more holistic view.

As a result, we are committed to working with partners and service users to support further community development. Planned projects include Learner Voice Committees and a Young Ambassadors scheme to help us tackle some of the most pressing issues in our society.

Overall, affecting change within an organisation is never simple and results may not be immediate, but the NASDC is committed to helping guide and support Sport for Development organisations through the process by forging strong, trusting and enduring working relationships.

"Every time I've delivered this training so far, the organisation has come out feeling new positivity about what they're doing," says Justin. "It gives them a chance to lift their head from the daily 'firefighting' and appreciate what they're doing well.

"The Theory of Change framework and the five KPIs help present an objective view of areas that need addressing and which ones they might want to improve. Applying them to ourselves and going through this reflective process has certainly helped us become more mature in our approach."

Ultimately, the Theory of Change will help empower some of society's most complex and challenging individuals by harnessing the power of sport in the most effective ways. The results will help build a national evidence base that will make an almost irrefutable case for further investment in sport as the perfect vehicle for the desistance of crime and achieving positive social outcomes.