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Crossing the great divide between academics and practitioners: The application of autoethnographies in sport (event) volunteer research

By Erik Lachance, Doctoral Student, University of Ottawa

Since my volunteer experience at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, I have been passionate about sport management and, more specifically, sport (event) volunteers. At the end of the undergraduate studies I took an interest in studying sport (event) volunteers, and conducted an autoethnography about my volunteer experience in a small-scale para-sport event.

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To date, the recruitment of volunteers for the pilot study phase of my thesis, and some of my additional independent research projects, has been challenging as I have been repeatedly asked to volunteer in exchange for being able to interview participants. It appears as if once the targeted organization or event becomes aware of my research topic, they assume that I am more likely to be interested in volunteering. I believe this creates a trade-off in the sense that I would collect data from the volunteers, and, in exchange, I would volunteer for the sport organization or event. Some sport organizations and events have actually declined to participate because I could not volunteer, and when speaking to some of my colleagues, it appears as if this is not a normal request or occurrence when recruiting participants. Although the request to volunteer could present some challenges (e.g., time commitment), it also brings a great opportunity to bridge the gap between academics and practitioners. But, how can this be achieved? The answer is with the incorporation of autoethnographies.

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Compared to traditional ethnographies, autoethnographies can be considered as a combination of autobiography and ethnography in which the researcher’s personal experience is described and analyzed to understand a phenomenon (Ellis, 2004). Recently, autoethnographies have been applied to investigate the sport (event) volunteer experience in large-scale sport events, such as the Olympics (e.g., Kodama, Doherty, & Popovic, 2013; Sadd, 2018), and small-scale para-sport events (e.g., Lachance & Parent, 2017, 2018). Speaking from personal experience, my first taste of research in sport management was an autoethnography, which enabled me to appreciate the value of subjectivity in research, and shaped my current epistemological stance. Investigating my own volunteer experience at a para-sport event also gave me the opportunity to learn more about myself, such as the importance of establishing relationships with others, developing an interest in para-sport, and fostering my passion for volunteering in sport.

The application of autoethnographies benefits both academics and practitioners. Perhaps the greatest opportunity is to bridge the current gap between academics and practitioners. However, a benefit for academics is to gain an understanding of a phenomenon from a front-line perspective. As Ellis & Bochner (2006) explained, this approach seeks to put the researcher back into the study, and values subjectivity (e.g., emotions) in order for rich insight to be yielded from a front-line perspective. Therefore, the incorporation of autoethnographies would benefit academics with rich insight and a greater understanding of the sport (event) volunteer experience (Kodama et al., 2013).

The benefits of autoethnographies are also present for practitioners. More specifically, the collaboration between academics and practitioners during autoethnographies would allow for the transmission of knowledge to occur. For example, the researcher, who is an “insider”, could pass on knowledge from past research, relevant theories, concepts, and cases during the volunteer experience. Having the presence of an academic as an “insider” would also enable practitioners to have access to a valuable resource. Thus, autoethnographies would benefit practitioners with the transmission of knowledge, and having access to a valuable resource (i.e., knowledge and experience of academics) in an effort to enhance organizational capacity, and possibly the ability to succeed (e.g., achieve goals).

This post was inspired from my personal experience doing autoethnography, and of recruiting participants for research on sport (event) volunteers, and discussed the win-win situation that is created for academics and practitioners through the application of autoethnographies. The incorporation of such an approach could increase collaboration, and bridge the existing gap between academics and practitioners. The hope for this post is to spark discussion and interest among academics and practitioners regarding the application of autoethnographies for sport (event) volunteer research.

References:

Ellis, C. (2004). The ethnographic I: A methodological novel about autoethnography. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Ellis, C., & Bochner, A. P. (2006). Analyzing analytic autoethnography: An autopsy. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography35, 429-449.

Kodama, E., Doherty, A., & Popovic, M. (2013). Front line insight: an autoethnography of the Vancouver 2010 volunteer experience. European Sport Management Quarterly, 13, 76-93.

Lachance, E. L., & Parent, M. M. (2017, June). The volunteer experience in a local para-sport event: An ethnographic approach. Paper presented at the North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM) Conference, Denver, Colorado, USA.

Lachance, E. L., & Parent, M. M. (2018, June). Two phases, two tales: Planning and implementation phase experiences of a para-sport event volunteer. Paper presented at the North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM) Conference, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Sadd, D. (2018). Proud to be British: An autoethnographic study of working as a games maker at London 2012. Event Management, 22, 317-332.

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