In pursuit of ‘what might be’: Exploring the use of design thinking in sport organisations

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This doctoral project is concerned with the use of design thinking in the field of sport management. Design thinking is a human-centred approach to generating value for users which makes the thinking and the doing of expert designers accessible to practitioners in non-design fields (Brown, 2009; Carlgren, Rauth, & Elmquist, 2016). At the outset of this project design thinking had received no attention in the field of sport management, despite representing a potential means of overcoming user-centric challenges currently faced by sport organisations. The project began with a scoping study, which allowed for the review and rapid mapping of existing literature in the field. Findings of the scoping study revealed the existence of at least nominal design thinking alignment in each sport organisation captured in reviewed articles. Sport organisations which align with all five themes of design thinking were found to share traits which represent points of entry for the possible implementation of design thinking practice into the field. To explore how such engagement with design thinking might unfold in sport management practice, a case study was undertaken with the Sydney Sixers, one of eight clubs in the Big Bash League, Australia’s professional Women’s and Men’s Twenty20 (T20) cricket competition. The initial exploration revealed the existing practice of the Sixers to be aligned with all five themes of design thinking, which suggested they were capable of the performative component of design thinking and needed only to engage with the ostensive component – the 𝘪𝘥𝘦𝘢. A subsequent intervention sought to initiate engagement with the ostensive component by identifying a design activity which would both suit the Sixers’ preferred way of working and maintain, if not enhance, their existing links to design thinking themes. A structured brainstorming activity known as the Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ) achieved these objectives. Thereafter, the final study explored the Sixers’ adoption of the LDJ into their ongoing practice and planning cycle. Six contributions are made to the field of sport management. First, design thinking is shown to be useful in sport management as a derivative theory. Second, a framework is provided for ‘fitting’ design thinking for sport management practice. Third, design thinking is foregrounded as a means by which human-centred innovation can be achieved in sport. Fourth, the LDJ is highlighted as a means by which reflection can be restored to the practice of professional sport organisations. Fifth, increased adoption of design activities (the performative component of design thinking) which are utilised toward achieving human-centred outcomes (the ostensive component of design thinking) by sport organisations can have flow on effects beyond the designs being pursued, such as enhanced perceptions of organisational performance. Finally, the value of shadowing as a data collection technique in qualitative sport management research is highlighted.
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