Project Insights from the Sport & Rec: Expanding Access Project

Francesca smiling against a white background.

The Innovation Hub recently concluded its Expanding Access: Sport & Rec project. Francesca, Design Research Team Lead, reflects on how stories can build empathy in understanding others throughout the research process.  

Written by Francesca Pabale, Design Research Team Lead, Master of Education, Higher Education 

In this project, we partnered with Sport & Rec to gain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the current Sport & Rec student experience.  We aimed to uncover the needs and perspectives of students who are not currently engaged in Sport & Rec programs and spaces.  In consultation with members from the U of T community, we sought to learn about their experiences by listening to their stories. 

Stories are Diverse  

Four squares with different movement patterns in them: One with an atom, one with an explosion spike, one with turning patterns, and one with turning arrows.

Throughout the research process, hearing diverse stories in all forms continuously shaped our evolving understanding of the Sport & Rec experience.  Taking an empathy-based approach to feedback sessions, open-ended questions, and probing intentionally provided opportunities for the team to listen and learn from others. Towards the end of data collection, I found it eye-opening to explore a part of the University’s community that was different from my own.  As I was able to discover how diverse the experiences varied at Sport & Rec, I recognized that stories create opportunities to build and deepen my empathy for others. It was valuable for me to develop a comprehensive understanding that was authentic to the student experience. Hearing the various perspectives of staff and students collected in the data inspired me to reflect on the stories that were shared with us to better understand the needs of users at Sport & Rec.  

Stories are Holistic  

An abstract earth on top of a plate with rays.

A theme that the research team found during data analysis centered around the power of stories and their significance to the whole student.  In our work, we learned that movement impacts every student’s life in some way.  This realization for me was pivotal to approaching the data in a holistic manner. As we were able to see “all sides of the story” and the different factors that impact the student experience, I learned through stories they shed insight into the holistic journey students embark on when they engage in their movement journey.  

Stories are Humanized   

Three people at the bottom of a path with a lightbulb at the end, and another group of three halfway on the same path, all have a speech bubble. 

As the stories brought us together as a team, humanizing the data played an integral role in presenting the research findings.  Particularly, when constructing personas, stories were aggregated to contextualize the needs and reflections of students. For me, creating the personas with my team was an impactful experience as I was able to exercise storytelling by bringing the findings to life. The storytelling through our personas enabled us to see how important ensuring people are at the core of all the work at the university.  Having the opportunity to present the stories was meaningful to me as it created space to inspire change. 

Stories are Honored  

Head with a star badge inside

Over the course of the project, the team continuously reflected how stories create those ‘aha’ moments, and deeply empathize with the people we spoke to, which ultimately creates transformative change and impact across our campus. As each member found a personal connection behind the stories, we recognized the privilege the team had to honour the stories students and stakeholders shared with us throughout the project. Collectively, through gathering, analyzing and presenting the lived experiences in our stories, we are hopeful that the future of Sport and Rec will continue to foster an inclusive community for current and future users of the spaces. Curious to learn more about how to engage in movement at U of T? Check Sport and Rec’s website to learn more about their programs and services offered to explore the journey of movement.  

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