Dr. Zendler and STRN Publish International Consensus Framework for Assessing the Quality of Sports Technology
July 6, 2023
Rimkus Special Consultant Jessica Zendler, Ph.D., and other Sports Tech Research Network (STRN) members published a white paper establishing an international consensus framework for evaluating the value, usability, and quality of sports technology.
We connected with Dr. Zendler to learn more about this exciting development and what it means for the future of technology in sports.
Q&A with Dr. Jessica Zendler
You are part of a team of professionals that recently developed an international consensus framework. Can you explain more about what that means?
Jessica Zendler, Ph.D.: I’ll answer this in three parts. First, a framework is a way of formulating a response to a question in a systematic and comprehensive way. In this case, the question is: “Will this technology effectively meet my intended purpose?”
Second, ‘consensus,’ indicates that a group has formally come to agreement on the framework. We used a well-published method called a Delphi study that required at least 75% of the 48 experts involved to agree on each element of the framework.
And finally, “international” indicates that the people who designed the framework and the experts who reviewed come from all over the world and also from a variety of sports as well as roles in the sports industry.
What was your role in developing this framework?
Zendler: I am co-chair of the group that developed the framework, so my role has been to help shepherd its development and dissemination. We started working on this in 2021 as an informal idea among a few of us who were deeply steeped in the sport technology world. Then the group formally began meeting in early 2022 with some additional amazing colleagues. We all put in a lot of work reviewing standards and research from across sport and adjacent industries, meeting to hash out ideas, and then drafting the initial framework.
After that, we recruited 48 experts across the world to review the framework and give feedback. I was fortunate to present it alongside the Chair, Sam Robertson, at the STRN Summit in Belgium in 2022 and a month later at the FIFA Research Symposium where we also got tremendous feedback. We then took that feedback and revised and improved the framework even further into the form available today.
What is the Sports Tech Research Network (STRN)?
Zendler: STRN is a non-profit initiative bringing together research-driven professionals from academia, industry, and sports field practice, with the common goal to create, bring to market, and implement the most trustworthy and effective sports technology solutions based on science.
Which organizations/sports will this involve?
Zendler: The framework was intentionally written to be very broad. It can be used at any level of sport, from youth to professional, for any type of sport, and for any type of technology. We expect to see immediate engagement from sports leagues and governing bodies, sports teams, athletes, technology manufacturers and start-ups, and technology investors. We’ve also already received feedback that adjacent industries, such as defense and industrial/occupational health, see the value in applying the framework to their technology questions.
How is technology in sport currently used and/or regulated?
Zendler: Technology is used in nearly every aspect of sport: athlete physical, mental, and skill development; injury prevention and treatment; coaching, strategy, and tactics; talent identification; athlete and team management; media and broadcast; statistics; officiating; fan engagement; venue security, management, and fan experience; betting and fantasy sports; and the list goes on…
Regulations depend on the type of technology, the types of claims it is making, the sport governing body, and the geographic region. For the most part, as long as something is not considered a medical device, there are very few regulations or standards to be met beyond some basic consumer safety protections. However, most users don’t realize that when they acquire technology.
How will the development of this framework change the use of technology in sports?
Zendler: We see a few ways immediately that it will help:
- Buyers (teams, leagues, athletes, consumers) will make decisions on technology more effectively and efficiently, which will result in less dissatisfaction, waste, and misuse of tech.
- Manufacturers will have clearer direction on what the market considers a “good” technology, which means less wasted resources developing sub-par products or chasing different goals for different user groups.
- Key stakeholders will have a common language to talk about what makes a technology high quality. Right now, different groups focus on different metrics or use different names for the same concept. Having a clear, common language will make discussions about technology more efficient and effective.
- Educators have a unified foundation for training the next generation of individuals with sport technology, which will produce better decisionmakers in the field.
All together, we expect these changes will result in improvements in both the quality of technology and the knowledge of technology users, which together should produce better outcomes throughout sport.
What are the five pillars laid out in the white paper?
Zendler: The pillars are:
- Quality Assurance and Measurement
- Established Benefit
- Ethics and Security
- User Experience
- Data Management
What does the future of tech in sports look like?
Zendler: Tech in sport will continue to grow, without a doubt. What I hope is that this framework will ensure that the tech being used is better quality and the users of the technology are better informed.
Tell us about your expertise.
Zendler: I am biomechanical engineer with a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and kinesiology and a background in sports biomechanics research.
I provide a variety of services for Rimkus clients. I work with sports teams, leagues, and players associations to help them develop more effective processes for evaluating the quality of sports technology and for making decisions around what technology to deploy and how best to use it. I also consult with these groups on biomechanics and player health-related questions.
I work with manufacturers to help them use science and research to develop and deploy high-quality products. I also work with other groups outside of sport who are evaluating or developing technology related to health and human performance or seeking to answer questions about human health and physical performance.
How is Rimkus on the forefront of sport science?
Zendler: Rimkus is leading the way in providing clients in the sports science industry with comprehensive expertise and testing capabilities that cover almost every feature of the framework, from assessing whether a technology measures what is says it does to ensuring it is compliant and safe to making sure it provides a positive user experience. We have extensive experience doing this across a host of sports and technologies, as well as in adjacent industries and product categories, such as occupational health and recreational vehicles, and both in the US and internationally. We also have our own laboratories for biomechanical, usability, materials, and toxicology testing and a network of relationships across the world that we can leverage to meet the needs of our clients.