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Randomised acts of kindness

20 November, 2020

How do you know if you’re making things better?

It’s a question we ask a lot, of our clients and ourselves. And it’s often a surprisingly difficult one to answer. That’s why we were so excited to see the results of an eight-year randomised controlled trial (RCT) this week, measuring the impact of the PeacePlayers International sports and peacebuilding programme in the Middle East.

PeacePlayers uses basketball to build bridges between young people from the most historically divided communities in the world. And nearly twenty years ago, the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, which we helped set up, was one of its earliest funders.

The results alone tell an incredible story. More than 95% of long-term participants have formed a cross-community friendship, participants are more willing to live or study alongside the “other” ethnic group, and more willing to speak out against hate speech.

Equally ground-breaking, however, is the methodology. RCTs, familiar from pharmaceutical studies, are often cited as the “gold standard” of evaluation, as they are one of the few methodologies that allow researchers to infer cause and effect relationships. Given the practical challenges of applying RCTs to long-term social programmes such as this – as well as the difficulty of reducing complex interpersonal relationships to a neat set of results – it’s unsurprising that this is only the second study of its kind to be performed on a sport and peacebuilding program.

In this case, however, the RCT confirms what PeacePlayers has heard from its participants over two decades: that young people who play together learn to live together too. We’re no basketball experts, but this one is definitely a slam dunk.

By Sarah Howden

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