Finding the way with an empathy map

If we are going to get parks right for girls we have to understand the barriers they currently face and how to make things better. The starting point is to engage with teenage girls themselves. But how? In this blog we look at a great toolkit from Women in Sport.

Women in Sport are experts at engaging with teenage girls. Their research into the impact of the pandemic on activity levels for teenage girls showed just how important being physically active was to them. They debunked the myth we sometime hear that “girls just want to stay in” by talking to over 1,500 teenage girls,  showing that 82% of them said they will put more effort into being active when life returns to normal.

Women in Sport have spent a long time learning how to engage with this particular group, and it shows in their recent report Reframing Sport for Teenage Girls. This piece of insight put teenage girls at the heart of understanding how to reframe physical activity to make it relevant and appealing to them. And as part of this project, Women in Sport have shared their knowledge of the process in a Guide to understanding Your Audience.

At Make Space for Girls we are focussed on parks as places where teenage girls should be able to play. Play is a fundamental right of teenage girls under the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, as elucidated by  UN General Commentary 17:

Play involves the exercise of autonomy, physical, mental or emotional activity, and has the potential to take infinite forms, either in groups or alone. These forms will change and be adapted throughout the course of childhood. The key characteristics of play are fun, uncertainty, challenge, flexibility and non-productivity… While play is often considered non-essential… it is a fundamental and vital dimension of the pleasure of childhood, as well as an essential component of physical, social, cognitive, emotional and spiritual development.”

Play is different from sport. But the learning that Women in Sport have developed in relation to sport provides a brilliant place to start when engaging with teenage girls on play.  Borrowing the language of reality TV, here are some of the “best bits”:

  1. Understand which teenage girls you want to target and why. Women in Sport use a spectrum of engagement (disengaged, gradual disengagement, engaged). But for parks you may want to look at local geographical and social/demographic factors. Do you want to hear from the girls who live near the park? Who travel through the park? Are there local communities that face barriers to inclusion? Girls with links to your local green social prescribing work? The girls you find skating in the Morrisons carpark rather than the park? The local roller derby team?
  2. Get to know the girls in an environment they feel comfortable in, with other girls they know and of a similar age. Women in Sport suggest small friendship groups of 2-4 girls work well.
  3. Who in your organisation is best placed to connect and engage with teenage girls? If you haven’t really got anyone that fits that bill, could someone else facilitate it for you?
  4. Draw up key questions you want answered; but allow time to build a rapport and get to know the girls before trying to get these answers.
  5. Make sure you have parental consents and all the necessary safeguarding arrangements in place.

Another great idea from A Guide to Understanding Your Audience is the Empathy Map. This has been designed by Women in Sport to help organisations use the results of their engagement with teenage girls in the best way possible.  

It is part of a process that asks us to step away from thinking about how we see a park and what we think is needed to make it more inclusive, and adopt a process that asks us to put ourselves in the shoes of teenage girls. It can be a very revealing process: if as a group working on a park we cant complete the empathy map, then may be we don’t know enough to do a good job.

If we adapted the empathy map to think about teenage girls experience in parks it might look something  like this:

If the people involved in commissioning, creating and maintaining our parks could use this sort of map as part of their process,  we’re pretty sure we’d get to parks that are more welcoming to girls with fewer wrong turnings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.