The impact of London 2012

14/08/2012  -  11.03

Dr Richard Medcalf & Dr Gerald Griggs

How do you measure if something is having an impact? How many times do we use the word ‘impact’, without actually fully appreciating what it means to us and to the situation which we are attempting to discuss?

In an Olympic sense, the term ‘impact’ often frames the highly politicised arguments which surround positive and negative outcomes, relative to a cause-effect type relationship.

An understanding of the term ‘impact’ from a socio-cultural or socio-economic perspective - and a discussion about what it means in the context of such domains from an Olympic perspective - entails consideration of issues such as participation, inspiration, and consumption.

We can, of course, look to previous Olympic Games to support these arguments (in either positive or negative directions), and we can gain a lot from doing so.

However, this can sometimes negate the importance of the far-ranging contextual factors which differ across time and place. To try to represent such relationships through an explanation of ‘impact’ necessitates an understanding of complex patterns of participatory behaviour which, as yet, we know little about.

Traditionally researched and understood precursors to participation (such as peers and family), are problematic to extrapolate to an event which lasts just one month. It is far more difficult to look at the short term inspiration of such an event as being a precursor to any form of consistent or repeatable response – the exact things you would want to see if you were to speak of an ‘effect’ with any certainty.

Relationships, belonging, social competence, and self concept, cannot be ‘measured’ and put into a level as per other economic or performance outcomes.

As such, is there an inherent tension in legacy programmes – because although they claim to have an effect upon their participants, will these effects will always be tapered by pre-existing values?

Their success (impact) is still heavily related to wider societal factors which cannot be measured. All that we can begin to do is in this situation is to ‘throw light’ upon such programmes, and use the findings to illuminate possible outcomes.

Of course, the Games are impactful in many ways. However, this said, human behaviour cannot be predicted with the precision that is possible in the natural sciences – especially in instances such as the Olympic Games, with their associated array of stakeholders and pre-determined perceptions.

As such, the tools we use to measure the ‘impact’ of anything within a social context must counter the erroneous epistemological belief that behaviours are governed by universal truths.

Behaviours (and thus Olympic outcomes) vary according to people’s intentions, objectives, and the historically changing meanings which give them sense and context.

This notion fundamentally challenges the consideration of ‘impact’.