Digital innovation – the story so far

How we're trying to help the sport and physical sector to innovate using open data and digital platforms

05 November 2019 Active Nation

In 2016, we stated in our new strategy that we wanted to “encourage others to invest and innovate in markets with the greatest potential by making insight freely available, creating data standards, requiring those we fund to share their data and working with the Open Data Institute to promote the principles of shared data”. 

This statement was built on learnings from previous work and since the strategy came into play, we've been trying to make good on that statement. 

Of course, it’s not always been plain sailing but with less than two years left on our Towards an Active Nation strategy, we thought it was a good time to bring you up to speed with how our work in the field of data and digital innovation is progressing. 

What we're learning

There's no single solution for all

We’ve known for a while that not being able to find ways to get active in your local area is a significant barrier to someone’s activity levels. As part of our investments in our previous strategy, we attempted to create the nation’s biggest sport and fitness finder – Spogo.

39 As of June 2019, 39 organisations had opened up their data

However, we quickly learnt that what seemed like the obvious solution to supporting more people to get active, was anything but.

Not only was this approach not sustainable, due to the high costs of nationally marketing Spogo, but data about what activities were happening where and when was not of a sufficient standard to give people the information and quality experience they expected online – our ambition was too big.

The solution was too generic to meet the needs of everyone – for example the kind of experience a really active person needs when finding their new club is totally different to that needed by a complete beginner unsure of their next steps. 

The project was not a waste though, as it led us to a relationship with the Open Data Institute and the OpenActive initiative, which encourages organisations from across the sector to openly release their opportunity data in a standardised way.  

Our role in the data ecosystem 

From Spogo we also learned that national organisations, however big, may not be best placed to create consumer-facing solutions to increase activity levels themselves. And that a concerted effort in improving the quality of the underlying data, and ensuring easy access to it, is paramount for innovators to succeed.   

To further learn about what it takes to innovate with data, in 2018 we supported 10 startups who are developing a range of solutions aimed at ensuring people can get active in ways that work for them, by sharing our knowledge, expertise and data with them to continue to refine their solutions.  

In supporting these startups, we learnt that our efforts are best served by being an advocator – an enabler for others to innovate and to support the physical activity sector to be open to innovation. We want the sport and physical activity sector to see this as an opportunity, not a threat, to grow the range of products and solutions that support different consumers to overcome the barriers that they face to getting active. 

We also learnt that we have a role in encouraging a more flexible approach to testing and learning what's needed by consumers. That's why we're running a project that seeks to use open data to support our This Girl Can campaign in the form of testing what information women need from an activity search function, to work out what still needs to be done for these kinds of tools to be successful. 

How we’re changing ourselves 

Back in 2015 we created an internal information strategy, acknowledging that if we were going to advocate for change and influence the sport and physical sector, we also needed to adapt and ideally lead by example. 

This has led to us using new internal systems that enable greater and easier sharing of information, as well as testing the latest data and analytics tools, such as KNIME, to help us in our drive to create more efficient ways of working by automating processes and implementing internal data standards. 

The first

We were the first National Lottery distributor to open our grants data on 360 Giving

We’re also looking to create an internal data policy to help us identify which of our data sets should be openly available for others to use, and how we can best support people to use and explore them. The policy will also help us to identify the data that's important to us, as well which data standards need to be created to keep our data up to date and connected to other relevant sources. 

We do not pretend to know it all though and continue to learn from organisations beyond our sector.  

This led to us opening our grant data to align with the 360 Giving data standard. However, keeping this data up to date has had its challenges and we're now learning how best to do this by automating an internal process and continuing to learn what it can be used for. 

What comes next? 

Alongside our formal partnerships, we're also continuing to test informal ways of collaborating with digital innovators, which is why we commissioned a report into the current state of the sector – the results of which we'll be reporting at the end of the month. **Due to electoral rules, this will now be published post 12 December**

We'll also continue to improve the way we package up what we're learning about the challenges and barriers that are stopping people from getting active, as we know our insight and expertise is often more valuable than our money. 

We're committed to developing easy ways to access our insight and data sets, such as Active Lives and Active Places, so that this data can better inform future decisions and solutions and ensure that as a sector we create experiences that work for all, not just the already active person.