"Is everybody comfortable?" Thinking through co-design approaches to better support girls' physical activity in schools

Michelle O'Reilly, Gareth Wiltshire, Nikki Kiyimba, Deirdre Harrington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


Of interest across the domains of sport, education and health in the UK and internationally is the challenge of engaging girls in physical activity. There has been increasing support for novel approaches that take seriously the notion of ‘co-design’: i.e. involving girls in decision-making processes that directly and indirectly affect their engagement with physical activity. Given this approach is still in its infancy, this study set out to explore pupils’ experiences of a co-designed school-based physical activity programme–the UK Youth Sport Trust’s Girls Active programme–and offers suggestions for enhancing future co-design interventions. We report analysis of 22 focus groups conducted with 143 pupils from eight of the ten schools that engaged in the Girls Active programme. Seeking to explore how co-design can be optimised, the analysis arrived at a conceptualisation grounded in comfort theory, articulated here across three sources of comfort and discomfort: material, social and practical. We discuss how orienting future co-design interventions around these sources of discomfort may be a useful way of avoiding several significant reasons why girls might disengage from physical activity in schools. Crucially, we suggest that pupils are uniquely placed to offer insight and foresight about experiences of discomfort, making a co-design approach a potentially powerful way to help navigate what can be a complex, changing and context-sensitive issue. Finally, important distinctions between co-design and co-production are discussed to encourage researchers in the field to carefully consider which of these approaches are most appropriate for their own work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)248-263
Number of pages16
JournalQualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
Issue number2
Early online date10 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2023


  • physical activity
  • girls
  • co-design
  • schools
  • physical education
  • inequalities


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