Spheres of Influence. Identifying key players in your sport program networks.

One of the key elements for successful inclusive sport programs is the ability to establish, tap into and maximise strong networks. When it comes to achieving true lasting engagement in sport activities, particularly for people in the community who might face disadvantage when it comes to getting involved in sport, sometimes its difficult to know exactly who or what the main influencers are. Certain people, organisations, circumstances or environments might play a very important role in whether your target participant does or doesn’t engage in your sport activity.

The good news is there is a way that you can figure this out. The Spheres of Influence is a helpful concept that sport administrators and deliverers can use to identify who and what might influence whether a person or group of people becomes engaged in your sport activities.

Application of the Spheres of Influence can be found in psychology, marketing and socio-political settings. Typically it illustrates influencers that have greatest control at the centre or closest to the subject and those influencers with least control at the periphery.

The Spheres of Influence can also be applied in the planning of inclusive sport programs, especially when it comes to determining who you need to include in your networks to help overcome barriers to participation.

Here is a representation of the Spheres of Influence that we will apply in a sport context.

Figure 1. Spheres of Influence diagram

In a sporting context you can apply the Spheres of Influence from two perspectives. You can take the point of view of the target participant or from the point of view of the program goal or outcome.

From the point of view of the participant the influencers are the key people and organisations that they interact with and who have a role to play in ensuring they can actually participate in your activity.

From the point of view of your program goal, the influencers include the people and organisations that play a role in ensuring success of your program; they contribute to the achievement of your program goals.

Core

At the core are the people closest to your participants. These are the people with the most regular and usually the most influential interaction. Typically these influencers have the greatest control and they share the same goals. From the perspective of the participant it could include immediate family, spouse or workmates. From the point of view of your program it could include mangers, staff, stakeholders etc. Interaction with the core influencers would happen every day, perhaps many times a day.

Inner

These could be work acquaintances, personal friends, service providers, past colleagues or other work departments to name a few. These are often untapped resources and can easily be called upon for support and assistance. They may also become core influencers in some situations. This is a wide group that knows you, your program or your target participants well.

Outer

The outer sphere is made up of people you don’t see, community members you may or may not know but could be introduced to. This is anyone you could approach but probably have not. This is a group full of possibilities, but not necessarily your first priority.

Discovery

This sphere is one added by Inclusive Sport Design and is not typically seen in other applications of this concept. This sphere is a completely unknown, unconnected group. To access this group is difficult and would usually require proactive research or exploration to identify. This might include people from other sports, other sectors or other communities, who under the right circumstances may become an influencer if engaged with. It’s important to be aware that possibilities may exist in the sphere.

Below is an expanded representation.

Figure 2. Spheres of Influence diagram with descriptions.

Depending on the target participant and the goal of your program the key influencers will be different. For example parents will play a major role and are likely to sit in the core when it comes to sport programs for children, while for adults this is likely not the case. Likewise leaders in some ethnic communities or elders in Indigenous communities may be quite influential while not for others. Transport providers may be absolutely necessary for some people with disability but certainly not for all. Also consider that depending on the circumstances some influencers may move from one sphere to another.

The key is to consider how people and organisations influence the likelihood of successful participation in your sport activity.

Let us know in the comments if the Spheres of Influence approach has worked for you!

For a variation on this approach you might be interested in the article below from the Inclusion Club. It is takes a deeper look at the types of influencers you might encounter.

The Inclusion Club: Episode 19, The Influence Map

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