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Training: DAFA, the training scheme which received the World Leisure Organization’s Innovation Award

DAFA, a partnership-based training programme in Quebec, Canada, received the World Leisure Organization’s Innovation Award earlier this year. Tom Walker spoke to programme leader Sonia Vaillancourt about the DAFA model

by Tom Walker, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management Oct 2016 issue 127
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Vaillancourt says a flexible and decentralised format is key
Vaillancourt says a flexible and decentralised format is key

What is DAFA?
DAFA stands for Diplôme d’Aptitude aux Fonctions d’Animateur, or ‘group facilitation skills certificate’. Established in 2009, it delivers training courses, materials, support and oversight for activity leaders, instructors and managers of sports and other recreational activities in Quebec and Canada.

The programme validates the work of activity leaders, promotes their recruitment and retention, and encourages their mobility between networks through recognition across the country.

What makes it unique is that it is the result of an unprecedented cooperative effort by Quebec’s recreation organisations, working together to manage the programme’s development.

Thanks to its decentralised structure and the flexibility it provides to organisations, training can be adapted to the needs of any community.

As a result, it’s now recognised by all national leisure organisations. More than 25,000 young people have already enrolled in DAFA training, along with nearly 400 municipalities and local organisations. Around 800 instructors also now offer DAFA training.

What were the motives for setting it up?
Seven national recreational organisations – through an initiative set up by Quebec’s Council of Leisure (Conseil Québécois du Loisir or CQL) –  shared their experiences about the challenges they faced in sports training and management. These included the lack of recognition for the programmes they run; society’s rising expectations of quality and safety in the supervision of children; and the difficulties they encounter in recruiting and retaining staff.

In order to devise an appropriate solution, the organisations agreed to share their knowledge and know-how to develop a single training programme they would all recognize, as a way of delivering safe, high-quality sport and recreational experiences.

How can organisations get involved in DAFA?
Those wishing to offer DAFA training must meet the accreditation conditions to become certified local organisations (CLO). Once certified, CLOs can develop their training programmes in accordance with their needs and programme requirements.

Each CLO must provide the content of the training course, respect the allotted time, use the Instructor’s Guide and Activity Leader’s Guide, and conduct evaluations. The CLO is free to choose which educational activities they wish to use, the course schedule and the terms of the offer. CLOs may ask the national organisation or the DAFA team for assistance with the implementation of the training programme.

What makes DAFA innovative?
I think it’s due to the fact that it has a flexible, decentralised format and its broad deployment across the province meets various community needs.

In its launch year, the number of certified activity leaders was 354. By the last count – carried out in February 2016 – there were 22,000. Over the same period, the number of accredited organisations that employ and train certified activity leaders went from 79 to 400, including 212 municipalities.

I believe our success is based on the solidarity among the partners and their commitment to resource sharing. There’s been real enthusiasm from local organisations large and small, urban and rural.

How do you measure DAFA’s success?
Participative evaluation is at the heart of the DAFA Programme, but after five years of assessments, the partners asked the University of Quebec to begin to evaluate the programme, by consulting with activity leaders, instructors and local organisations.

The evaluation examined the effectiveness and efficiency of the DAFA Programme. Where effectiveness was concerned, the entire DAFA Programme was evaluated, although priority was given to assessing the lessons which had been learned and their effects on activity leaders and their work, as well as the project’s impact when it comes to reaching out to a range of different clients.

We wanted to know whether the DAFA programme produced better activity leaders and also to learn about its impact.

In total, 997 activity leaders, instructors and accredited organisations completed the questionnaire and all parties involved were unanimous in their appreciation for the programme and said they would like to see it continue. A high proportion said they would recommend it.

When it came to market penetration, the university’s research clearly demonstrated that DAFA is well known and recognised in the field, and that it has been a very successful scheme since it was first implementedsº .

It is estimated that the number of people registered in the programme represents 40 per cent of the potential market. Bearing in mind the marginal nature of some rural day camps and the current absence of DAFA from some cities, this constitutes a significant success after just a few years of the programme’s operation.

With regard to validating the profession, however, success has been much more modest, with no apparent improvements to working conditions for activity leaders or their professional orientations.

What challenges is DAFA facing?
There are several challenges ahead for the DAFA Programme, along with development opportunities.

It cannot be taken for granted that a high programme-adoption rate can be maintained, particularly considering the high turnover rate in these types of organisations. Maintaining resources to support local organisations and programme partners is also an ongoing challenge.

That said, several avenues for development are on the horizon or already underway, such as updating the training content and the way that this training is appropriated in the field, translating the programme into English and developing online training.

Implementing procedures to promote reciprocal recognition and programme implementation outside the Quebec area is also being discussed.

In conclusion, we are deeply committed to the programme and are open to different types of collaborations and discussions on how to improve access to and the overall quality of leisure and activity experiences, for individuals and communities alike.

What did winning the World Leisure Innovation Prize mean to DAFA?
This international prize in recreation innovation recognises and rewards DAFA’s innovative partnership work in the field of leisure in Quebec.

For DAFA’s partners, winning is an encouragement to continue and it also demonstrates to donors the value of continuing their support for this programme, The results and impacts allow DAFA to make available these safe, high quality leisure experiences.

ABOUT THE WORLD LEISURE INTERNATIONAL INNOVATION PRIZE

Organised by the World Leisure Organization (WLO), the first World Leisure International Innovation Prize was handed out at the 2006 World Leisure Expo in Hangzhou, China. George Torkildsen, WLO chair, did much of the programme’s initial planning – including the criteria and timeline. Sadly, Torkildsen died before the first prizes were awarded.

The prize recognises organisations that have implemented creative solutions that foster local, national, or international leisure opportunities for the benefit and development of individuals and wider communities, including in the workplace.

The winners illustrate best practice in the management of sports, leisure and cultural facilities and services. Some projects show ingenuity in maximising small budgets in the public, private, and voluntary sectors, while others demonstrate innovation on a grand scale.

World Leisure has now made 29 awards over six prize rounds in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2016, all determined by international committee.

World Leisure International Innovation Prize
World Leisure International Innovation Prize

DAFA’s aim is to improve the quality of community life by:

• Providing access to first-rate training
• Improving skills and performance
• Supporting local leisure and sports management
• Encouraging young people to be active citizens
• Triggering local and regional initiatives
• Generating local and regional partnerships in various forms
• Contributing to dialogue between sectors: health authorities, municipalities, schools and communities

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