New Peruvian think tanks. Part one: LidLab

7 December 2020

I have chosen four new – or relatively new – think tanks to write about. Each has a different business model and offers a different proposal, but they all promise to contribute to improving the public policy debate in Peru. This week I look at LidLab: Sports Research Laboratory.

The 2019 Pan American Games in Lima were a huge opportunity to rethink Peru’s relationship with sports and sports policy. However, success in the medals table failed to translate into a significant legacy – for Lima or for sport.

With the pandemic and the political crisis Peru has been embroiled in, we have stopped talking about the games – which now feel like they took place years ago – and their legacy.

Immediately after the games, the need emerged to develop a new sports policy, informed by the best available evidence. LidLab was founded with this objective in mind.

By the time I met with Sebastián Suito and his colleagues in late 2019, this was an issue that we had discussed while he was in charge of the IPD (Peru’s Sports Institute). I remember asking him about the preparations to maintain the new infrastructure that the games had left us and to repeat the medal plate in Santiago 2023. Sebastián and his colleagues had already been thinking about how to take advantage of the interest that Lima 2019 had aroused in sport to create a new institution that would answer those questions.

The way forward, however, is not easy – particularly because of LidLab’s interest and focus. In this regard there are two particularly relevant issues.

First, it is a think tank that seeks to inform the policies and practice of sport and their legacy. As far as I know, no other organisation has focused on this in Peru – at least not in a systematic way. There are only a couple of similar initiatives in the world.

Second, in addition to targeting sports policy, LidLab seeks to inform its practice. This is a difficult combination for any think tank. The so-called ‘think and do tanks’ almost never deliver what the label promises.

Of all the centres that I present in this series, LidLab is possibly the one with the longest way to go to define its model. For now, the team is doing something we always recommend to new think tanks: it is establishing and demarcating its intellectual territory.

The team has opted for a combination of digital infographics, based on third-party studies and applied to the Peruvian context, along with analysis and opinion, participation in events and workshops, and association with people and institutions linked to its sector of interest. A very promising strategy.

I asked Sebastián Suito to tell me a little more about LidLab.

Enrique Mendizabal: What is the origin of LidLab?

Sebastián Suito: At the beginning of this 2020, a group of professionals linked to and passionate about sports science and social development got together to make this think tank a reality. We are aware that research and scientific evidence must play an important role in the design and sustainability of sports policies, whether public or private. We seek, on the one hand, to contribute to the development of the sports sector and industry and, on the other hand, to ensure that sport is understood as a tool for transversal development at the local and national level.

EM: What motivated you to form LidLab?

SS: We know that sport is a powerful development tool on a personal and community level. However, to motivate better decision-making, it is not enough that it is an act of faith. Evidence is needed to understand the mechanisms and conditions required for development to take place. Our motivation is that sport has a greater relevance in its social function and can become an axis for integral development.

To this end, LidLab promotes research, debates and knowledge exchange that contribute to the growth of a sports sector committed to the development of the country.

EM: What makes LidLab special – what sets you apart from other centres?

SS: We seek to generate, promote and disseminate scientific evidence on sports sciences and sports for development for better decision-making, which is something that has not been done much in our country.

We also propose to bring academic concepts that may be difficult to understand to the general population, using easy language that can be used in their day to day lives.

In addition, despite having started up only recently, we are already collaborating with key players in the sports sector, which fills us with joy and fuels our desire to continue building LidLab.

EM: What are your goals?

SS: To generate and disseminate academic knowledge in and of the sports sector, to promote the construction of sustainable sports policies that support the development of sports, and to promote alliances and opportunities for social development through sports.

EM: What has been the main challenge you have faced so far?

SS: A challenge is to explain the way a think tank works and how it can contribute in the sports field. Even for us, it took us a while to understand how we can impact the sector in a new and significant way. However, we firmly believe that scientific research can help identify gaps and seek solutions to the problems that have limited sports development in our country for too long. The arrival of the pandemic and the establishment of confinement – and the consequent reinvention of activities in sport – has allowed us to rethink the sector under these circumstances.

Another challenge is to strengthen the understanding of the link between the sports agenda and other non-sports agendas linked to development. At the global level, sports policy is being reoriented so that it considers greater links with health, security, education and social inclusion agendas.

What challenges does this change create? First, to understand that sports policy is changing its focus and becoming more comprehensive: we have gone from investing for the good of sport, to investing in sport as a social good. Second, that the social impact of investment in sport should be measured against other agendas. Only in this way will sport achieve greater relevance in the political and development agenda of our country.

EM: How are you financed? (I ask this because at OTT we promote transparency)

SS: We are in an initial stage; we created this project a few days after the start of the pandemic, and that is why for the moment we are self-financed, supported by the talents and knowledge of each of the founding members. However, we hope to soon launch a fundraising strategy that will allow us to start our own research, as well as establish alliances with other institutions and take on projects for the entire community.

LidLab faces a particular challenge. It has to create a demand for what it offers.

First, it will have to develop a narrative that links sport to other sectors and agendas – political, economic, and social. Good sports policy can contribute to achieving goals in education, health, social cohesion, inclusion of vulnerable populations, etc.

Second, they must convince those currently leading sports policy that sport needs an injection of scientific research. By combining politics with practice, they may find ways to achieve this goal.

Just as important, I think, is helping to forge a public narrative that supports these kinds of efforts. This is a role that think tanks often overlook. They focus on very limited audiences – public and private decision-makers. They forget about the rest of the population. On this issue, however, I think targeting them is the right way. It is not difficult to imagine a country with a better sports policy: a country of medals and world championships. Surely we can all rally around this objective.