Influence and impact – setting priorities for the NRL Community Strategy

With society facing so many challenges, what should the NRL's community strategy focus on?

Picture this: You’re an organisation that is nationally recognised and has over 400,000 kids participating in your brand. These kids idolise your staff; they pretend to be them at school, they mimic their actions on the weekend and they have posters of them on their bedroom walls. You clearly have a lot of influence.

You also have resources. You invest around $10m a year into community engagement and many of the 16 organisations that sit under your brand operate in the most disadvantaged communities in the country.

Most importantly, though, you have desire. You’ve got the desire to change people’s lives for the better by utilising your influence and resources.

The organisation described above is the National Rugby League (NRL). But with society facing so many challenges, what should the NRL focus on? How should they decide where to focus its unique influence and resources?

In 2014, we worked with the NRL to develop a three year strategy for its community portfolio. A significant part of this strategy was prioritising three or four key issues that the NRL and all 16 clubs could target.

One part of the prioritisation process was to research and work with our networks in the sector to gather relevant data on the most pressing issues in society, such as: health (both physical and mental); education; employment; domestic violence; homelessness; discrimination; housing etc.

This data allowed us to determine the size of the issue. ‘Size of the issue’ became the first criteria to prioritise against.  This criterion included:

  1. The number of people being affected by the issue
  2. The direct spend on addressing the issue
  3. The indirect costs of the issue

As you’d expect, all of the issues were, and still are, huge. How do you decide between an issue that affects 5 million people and one that affects 4 million? Between one that costs society $17b and one that costs $21b? This is where another part of the prioritisation process tied in; consultation.

During consultation with the NRL executive over which issues to choose, we used a second criteria to prioritise against; ‘relevance to our game’. Within this criterion we asked some key questions of each issue:

  1. What do we stand for, and does this issue reflect our mission?
  2. Do we already have experience in the area?
  3. Does it speak to what we are (i.e. a sport)?
  4. Does it apply to key groups where our clubs are located?
  5. Does it resonate with our players and staff?

How well the issue answered these three questions determined its relevance to the game.  Based off these two criteria, the strategy prioritised four issues to target that are fundamental to the NRL’s identity:

  • Physical health
  • Mental health
  • Social cohesion and eliminating discrimination
  • Education and employment

This is, of course, a simplified version of the prioritisation process. Research on the issue and consultation with the NRL happened concurrently, so the process was iterative rather than linear. Nevertheless, I hope this example illustrates the benefits of an organisation combining the science of evidence (sizing the issue) and the art of subjectivity (determining relevance to the game) to prioritise options in the decision making process.

You can find a detailed walk-through of the prioritisation process, as well as more on the NRL Community Strategy in previous issues of the SVA Quarterly.

The NRL has already made fantastic progress in the mental health space, as seen with their State of Mind campaign. With four areas prioritised for them to focus on going forward – watch this space for more great initiatives.