What’s that coming over the hill, is it some data?

Data matters: and people collect data about things that matter. To them. And that’s the point: the absence of data doesn’t mean something doesn’t matter.  Just that it didn’t matter (enough) to the people who could and perhaps should have collected it.

One of the most important things we have learned since starting Make Space for Girls is that there is a massive shortage of data about girls and parks.  In fact, scratch that.  The truth is that the people who fund, commission, design and build parks have almost no data about how teenagers in the UK use parks full stop. But because the facilities provided tend to suit boys, it’s girls who end up disadvantaged by this data gap. So this is essential information which should matter to the people who fund, commission, design and build parks.

Let’s take the Muga – the multi use games area – as an example.  That’s the fenced off pitch which can be found in almost every park, plenty of school playgrounds as well as many city estates.  Sports England gives a cost estimate of £160,000 for a MUGA.  There must be many thousands of them all over the country – although, again, no one’s got the data.  If there were 7,500 MUGAs across the UK that would be £1.2 billion. And people just keep on building them, despite the fact that they have never asked themselves who uses them, or tried to collect any data about this. 

So far, there has been precisely one research paper written about MUGAs, and that’s about using them as a venue for social work.  With boys.  And there’s the clue.  It’s common knowledge that MUGAs are mostly – perhaps almost entirely – used by boys and young men but no one has thought it is worth collecting any data about this, even though this would basically involve people standing in the playground counting who’s inside the fence.  Yet without this very basic data it’s much  for easier the disadvantages that MUGAs create to remain cosily concealed, allowing people to hide behind the platitudes of “our teenage provision is gender neutral”  and “but girls can play football”.

There’s slightly more data around about skateboarding, but even so, very little.  Other than that, there is a startling lack of UK research on why girls use parks less, what stops them from taking part or what they might want to find in their public spaces.  And this lack of data is one of the obstacles to making the problem visible.

But we have found one other thing out over the last few months.  Which is that a lack of data is music to the ears of academics and researchers.  Because it gives them a potential project which they know is worthwhile and which will create new knowledge.  We’ve spoken to all sorts of people recently who are very interested in different aspects of this data gap, but the really good news is that one organisation has already decided to dive in.

Yorkshire Sport Foundation heard what we had to say and decided that this was something that needed work.  So they’ve put out a tender to do this very straightforward but necessary research across four parks in this area in a project called ‘Make Space for Us’.  The aim is to understand how teenage girls use parks and green spaces, consult with them and work out some solutions.

That noise you hear is cannonfire and confetti going off.  Really, this is such a big step forward and it’s amazing that it is happening.  Hurrah.  Because with data, the fight for space for teenage girls is going to be even more powerful than it is already.

Oh, and if you happen to be a research organisation that works in Yorkshire, the deadline is 31 August.  See you then. 

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