Loughborough University
Tarryn Francis Godfrey - Final Thesis to be uploaded.pdf (3.54 MB)

Partnerships, policy and practice: an examination of organisational capacity within third sector sports organisations in England

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posted on 2020-07-09, 11:23 authored by Tarryn Godfrey
This study presents an examination of organisational capacity amongst Third Sector Sports Organisations (TSSOs) in England, focusing specifically on the economic and policy context and how this context affects organisations’ capacity to deliver key outcomes associated with the United Kingdom Government’s Sporting Future policy. Two existing organisational capacity frameworks by Hall and colleagues (2003, p. 7) and Millar and Doherty (2016, p. 371) are employed to gain further understanding of the organisational capacity challenges faced by these organisations and the capacity building that some require in order to respond to external changes, such as austerity measures and policy changes. These frameworks have not been employed within TSSO-focused studies specifically in England to date, thus this research aims to address this gap in the literature.

A critical realist position and a mixed methods approach to data collection was adopted for this study. This study involved two data collection phases: an online survey which was completed by 114 TSSOs, including 63 community sports clubs and 51 other TSSOs in England; and further investigation through semi-structured qualitative interviews with seven organisations that had initially completed the online survey. The choice of this mixed methods approach was considered strategic and appropriate for answering the research questions and contributing to developing an empirically and theoretically grounded argument.

This thesis presents key findings to demonstrate the effect that austerity has had on multiple dimensions of organisational capacity for the TSSOs in this study. Both community sports clubs and the other TSSOs reported financial capacity in particular to be their greatest capacity concern. This is linked to diminished state funding and challenges associated with short-term grants and project funding. The participant organisations confirmed having to diversify their revenue streams as traditional funding opportunities have become more difficult to secure.
This thesis also argues that many TSSOs lack the organisational capacity required to respond to policy change. Increasing pressure to prove impact to funders was highlighted as a challenge by the TSSOs, with Sporting Future adding to this pressure through its outcome-based funding criteria. This funding criteria requires extensive impact reporting and places a burden on human resources and financial resources, as organisations need to recruit impact staff, or need to pay for external impact and grant expertise.

This study has also highlighted the importance of collaboration as a tool for TSSOs to plug gaps in their organisational capacity through sharing vital resources, with many participants in this study confirming that their organisations are reliant on collaboration to ensure survival. As this study has highlighted that incentivising TSSOs to implement policies such as Sporting Future through financial rewards (i.e. grants) seems to be having limited effect, encouraging organisations’ collaboration and enhancing overall readiness for capacity building may be a better long-term strategy for the government.

While both Hall et al.’s (2003, p. 7) framework of organisational capacity and Millar and Doherty’s (2016, p. 371) process model of capacity building were found to contain appropriate elements, which helped guide the present research, the findings of this study indicated that their potential application would be strengthened through the addition of a time element and the emphasis of organisational survival.

This thesis offers a unique contribution through its empirical findings and also through its theoretical suggestions. The research is timely and offers a wide range of practical and policy implications for TSSOs and the government. The findings will prove valuable as they offer a greater understanding of the challenges TSSOs and sports clubs face in a changing policy and economic context. Future research should focus on further investigating the mechanisms behind TSSO and sports club collaboration and should seek to understand the formalisation of this collaboration and the negative consequences that might occur if collaborative opportunities break down, especially within a changing external context. It should also focus on further extending and the testing the changes to the models presented.


Loughborough University (Ph.D. studentship)



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences


Loughborough University

Rights holder

© Tarryn Godfrey

Publication date



A doctoral thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


  • en


Carolynne Mason ; Paul Downward

Qualification name

  • PhD

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

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  • I have submitted a signed certificate