Case study on the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between Aston Villa Foundation and Aston University, funded by Innovate UK.

About Aston Villa Foundation

Aston Villa began its community department in 1990, and the Aston Villa Foundation (AVF) charity was formed in 2013, delivering the community and social responsibility work of Aston Villa Football Club. The Foundation works with children, young people and young adults from a variety of backgrounds across Birmingham. Its programmes focus on youth outreach work, schools, football development, disability, health and wellbeing, education and employability and community relations. The Foundation's projects provide a landscape of opportunities in or outside of school in underserved communities, through recreational sport, youth work education and training and into employment. In 2023, AVF worked with around 29,000 beneficiaries across all of its programmes.

The challenge that the KTP was set up to address

Community engagement is an essential part of a professional football club's role and is encouraged and supported across the Premier League. Foundations with community engagement programmes have existed in UK football clubs since the 1980s, delivering projects in response to the needs of their local communities.

Working alongside local partners and national stakeholders, AVF runs over 40 community projects every week. Its mission is one of “Working Together to Enrich Lives”. AVF is looking to improve on the monitoring and evaluation measurement tools it currently uses to measure the impact of its work.

A common problem shared with football foundations across the country is that there is no standard way to monitor and evaluate the impact of their community programmes. With funding generated through charitable donations and grants, demonstrating value using reliable tools is crucial for raising funds.

What this will mean for AVF

A new, robust framework to measure and demonstrate the impact of each of its projects will enable AVF to evidence the benefits of their work in grant applications, giving them a greater chance of success. With increased income, the Foundation will have more resource to invest in the delivery of its community projects.

These insights will also support AVF to make more informed decisions about which projects are deserving of further resource, based on their impact.

AVF hope to help many more people with targeted projects in the years to come, so this KTP will help to increase engagement within the community and support the Foundation to deliver wider social and environmental benefits.

Why a KTP is the ideal route

AVF’s goal for this KTP is to find a way to monitor how individuals and wider society benefit from each of its projects. This feeds into the Foundation’s wider vision of leading the way in how corporate social responsibility projects are monitored and evaluated across football and other professional sports. To achieve this, it wishes to develop an impact evaluation toolkit that could be adopted by the entire sector.

Grounded in the latest research, the KTP will develop the first robust framework for evaluating the impact and effectiveness of football community engagement programmes. Developing this toolkit requires an in-depth understanding of behaviour change, mental health, wellbeing, youth mentorship, professional training, and evaluating return-on-investment.

With this having the potential to be a new resource for the sports sector, tackling the challenge requires knowledge and expertise from other sectors.

The project brings together a multidisciplinary team with expertise grounded in healthcare evaluation from Aston University’s College of Health & Life Sciences and Aston University Business School, one of the UK’s top ten business schools. With research that is internationally excellent, this diverse group of academics are applying their specialist knowledge on evaluating community interventions, behaviour change, youth mentorship, and professional development training.

Combining academic and research expertise with sector and project knowledge is at the heart of this KTP, and Aston University is the partner of choice. Through the recent Villa Vision project, Aston University worked with AVF and an optical lens supplier to engage 4,500 inner-city children in Birmingham with eyesight tests, free glasses and educational resources. Professor Rachel Shaw from the College of Health and Life Sciences, who leads this KTP for Aston University, developed the impact evaluation of Villa Vision. The approach used will be scaled up and will form the basis of this KTP.

The research team

Professor Rachel Shaw leads this project for Aston University. A Health Psychologist in the Institute of Health & Neurodevelopment and Director of the Applied Health Research Group, Professor Shaw has a strong track record in NHS healthcare settings to develop, implement and evaluate new ways to improve and maintain health and wellbeing. She is internationally renowned for work to advance applied qualitative research in psychological and health sciences. Her work has informed several NICE Guidelines and the World Health Organization’s Guide to Qualitative Evidence Synthesis.

Dr Gemma Mansell is a Lecturer in Psychology in the Applied Health Research Group. With experience in NHS primary care, she has expertise in applying mediation analysis and process analysis to help understand whether psychological interventions work as intended and whether they are accepted by end users. For the KTP, Dr Mansell will identify and design appropriate data collection tools to capture relevant information on impact.

Dr Anna Ackfeldt is a Senior Lecturer in the Aston University Business School. She studies how training, communications and leadership in organisations can affect job attitudes, role stress and employee behaviour. She also researches organisational citizenship behaviour and service management. Dr Ackfeldt will apply many years of industry experience in marketing and management to this KTP and will primarily be leading work to communicate the project with its stakeholders.

Brenda Wangari is the KTP Associate on the project. Working across AVF, Brenda supports the design and delivery of the evaluation framework across the Foundation. She will work closely with AVF’s stakeholders to promote the toolkit as a gold standard method of evaluating community engagement projects across Premier League football clubs.

The team work closely with Guy Rippon, Head of Aston Villa Foundation and Community Partnerships and an Aston University alumnus. Guy has over 20 years’ experience in the sports, community and social responsibility industry. His Aston University MBA research project, conducted part-time while in his present role, included the challenges and opportunities in measuring community and social responsibility performance in professional football clubs. Some elements of this KTP will build on his own recommendations for improvement.

What the research will involve

Because of the diverse portfolio of projects run by AVF, creating a framework that effectively evaluates the full array of football community initiatives is a big challenge. AVF’s projects vary greatly - from working with children at risk of exclusion from school and mentoring young people in the criminal justice system, to workshops aimed at preventing religious radicalisation and initiatives that equip young people with new skills.

Capturing a range of impacts across their projects requires easy-to-use, standardised planning and evaluation tools that are grounded in high-quality science.

To meet this challenge, the KTP will adapt and apply evaluation measures and robust methodologies used in healthcare settings by Aston University’s academic team. These include measuring quality of life, wellbeing and social cohesion with methodologies that include standardised questionnaires, focus groups and observations. Developing the impact evaluation framework requires in-depth analysis of the complex programmes delivered by AVF to understand what objectives and outcomes are shared and which might be unique to that project. The team will apply their behaviour change intervention development expertise to translate those complexities into a simple ‘logic model’ approach. This will help delivery teams to easily visualise and explore the shared relationship between the activities, outputs, outcomes and impacts of each programme.

All these different approaches will include associated training modules so AVF staff can determine and then deliver the right type of evaluation for their project. The bespoke resource will be developed into an impact evaluation toolkit that can be offered, for the first time, to the wider sector.

What the partners say:

Guy Rippon, Head of Foundation and Community Partnerships, Aston Villa Foundation:

“Our range of projects is extensive, but we need to produce hard data and information. For example, we have a 12-week mentoring system for young people becoming involved in the criminal justice system. We need to know if that makes a difference, and we need the evidence to prove it.”

Rachel Shaw, Aston University:

“Our work with Aston Villa Foundation contributes to Aston University’s 2030 strategy to be ambitious in our research by being inclusive, transformational and entrepreneurial. It aims to improve current and future prospects of under-served communities and bring together excellent science with real-world need. It will also establish a novel impact evaluation framework with potential for adaptation in almost any organisation working with communities to improve health and wellbeing.”

Anna Ackfeldt, Aston University:

“This project is a great opportunity to strengthen our ongoing relationship with the Aston Villa Foundation. By working to deliver the project from within the Foundation, the KTP Associate brings a fresh perspective on their challenge, adding value to the project in a way that’s cost-effective and entirely different to other forms of collaborative working.”

Brenda Wangari, KTP Associate, Aston University:

“I’m already learning so much from this project. Working within the Foundation is giving me a newfound appreciation for the game and the impact of corporate social responsibility in sport. I’m also gaining valuable new skills in how to share knowledge from research with different audiences, which will serve me well in my future career.”