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Grassroots funding: Behind the systems which maximise impact of Football Foundation investment

The Football Foundation has ploughed £1.3bn into grassroots sport since 2000. Tom Walker talks to the foundation’s Rory Carroll about the delivery systems the organisation has created in order to maximise the impact of its investment

by Tom Walker, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management 13 Jun 2016 issue 122
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Sunderland footballer Duncan Watmore talks to youngsters as he opens a new 3G pitch in Bishop Auckland
Sunderland footballer Duncan Watmore talks to youngsters as he opens a new 3G pitch in Bishop Auckland

On the morning of 27 May 2015 more than a dozen plain-clothed officers made a series of raids at the palatial Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, Switzerland. The target of the raids were current and former FIFA officials and associates, who had allegedly misappropriated investments earmarked for developing football around the world. The investigations sent shockwaves across the world and it was clear that there had been a failure of both structure and process in the way grants meant for grassroots football had been handled by FIFA.

By contrast in England, funding from the Premier League, The Football Association (FA) and the government is channelled by the Football Foundation, an independent vehicle through which every penny invested in grassroots can be accounted for. Launched in 2000, the foundation distributes around £30m annually and its structures guarantee impartiality in awarding of the funding – free from internal or external interference, along with a charitable model of efficiency that maximises return on investment.

As well as transparency in how funds are moved, the foundation has also become a leader in the way it has embraced technology. It has developed a suite of bespoke software solutions and created a system which enables the foundation to monitor the way funded projects are delivering on the targets set for them.

Continuous improvements
According to Foundation spokesperson Rory Carroll, the organisation has chosen an approach where the process of refining its delivery systems is never complete. “We strive for a culture where continuous improvement runs through every level,” he says.

“Technological and procedural innovation is identified through evidence-gathering or through other process reviews and we’re keen to factor in and implement the refinements.”

As a result, the Foundation’s delivery systems of investment are now so sophisticated that global corporates have harnessed them to deliver their own CSR programmes, and organisations from around the world – including from China, the United States, Germany and Australia – have visited to learn from its blueprint of best practice.

Performance Management System
The Football Foundation’s internal Performance Management System tracks all applications that have been submitted to the Foundation for funding through the assessment, approval, construction and completion phases. It provides accurate information on how the organisation is performing.  

“This helps the Foundation executive to manage its workload capacity, as the system very quickly identifies projects that are delayed,” Carroll says. “Remedial action can be taken to get them back on track early. It means time is not wasted having to fix problems that become ‘chronic’.”

Upshot
The Foundation has a ‘through-life’ approach, which means that interest does not end once it has awarded a grant to an organisation. The official opening of a Football Foundation-funded sports facility is seen as the beginning rather than the end. It is where the community can begin to feel the benefit and impact of funders’ investment.

“Upshot is an online solution we developed, which enables us to monitor and evidence the delivery of the agreed outcomes from projects throughout their useful life,” says Carroll. “It is not the building itself that matters most, it is how effective it is in delivering expected outcomes throughout its useful life.”

By monitoring ongoing performance and providing support when required, the Foundation can make sure that every project it invests in delivers what is expected – and in most cases exceed this.

Upshot, like all foundation systems and processes, is being continually developed. Initially designed to automate the Foundation’s annual survey of funded-facility performance, it also holds the capability to evidence and analyse the ‘real-time’, day-to-day visibility on how football and sports development plans are being delivered.

Specifically, Upshot helps identify problems at funded-facilities as soon as they become apparent, enabling the Foundation’s expert staff to make interventions and get those sites back on track. This ensures facilities meet their impact targets where they otherwise may have under-performed.

By identifying extra capacity and potential, it also enables the sweating of assets by helping well-performing facilities to achieve even greater outcomes. Upshot has proved so successful that the Foundation has sold it commercially via licence to more than 500 other organisations, who use it to manage their projects and evidence their outcomes.

Pitchfinder
Built and managed by the Foundation, Pitchfinder is a database of more than 22,000 football sites. It provides details of what is available at each of those sites – such as types of pitches and whether or not they have floodlights and/or changing rooms. It was revolutionary when it was launched in 2003. For the first time, the Foundation had a visual representation of where every single pitch is. Prior to that no one had any idea of where all the country’s pitches actually were, never mind the condition they were in.

The Foundation also made the information available publicly, so Pitchfinder provides the general public with a user-friendly, web-based resource (available at www.pitchfinder.org.uk) to identify football facilities near them by simply entering a postcode or navigating an interactive online map.  

For Carroll, Pitchfinder is also a powerful planning tool, providing a critical insight capability for the strategic development of football facilities across the country.  “It helps ensure that we can direct funding to where it is most needed and where it will have the greatest impact – while  giving a visible ‘project pipeline’,” he adds.

Recently, Pitchfinder was developed further so it now synchs with The FA’s Whole Game System and Sport England’s Active Places system, in a move that is facilitating strong partnership working across key organisations for the benefit of grassroots sport. There are further uses for Pitchfinder being developed too.

Grantshot
Grantshot is an online application system developed by the Foundation. It provides internet banking-style features, guiding applicants through every stage of the funding process. It provides application information 24 hours a day, whenever it is needed, and a continuous, up-to-date view of all applications at the touch of a button.

Previously, it was not always obvious to applicants where they were in the application process, or how long they would need to wait for a decision. This resulted in a high level of telephone and email traffic to Foundation project managers. The 24-hour a day transparency provided by Grantshot, however, has resulted in an 80 per cent reduction of calls and e-mails, creating real efficiency savings.

A newer, streamlined application process that accompanied the introduction of Grantshot has also resulted in a faster and easier process with applicants only being prompted to provide information as and when required.

Setting local and national targets
The Foundation’s board agrees strategic performance indicators (SPI) that the organisation must achieve. These are based on metrics such as increases in participation and the percentage of funding that should be directed into the top 20 per cent most deprived areas (where evidence demonstrates that both the need for better facility provision and the latent demand to play sport are the greatest).
This offers clarity on what success looks like and enables the Foundation’s executive, and the board, to evaluate whether success has been achieved.

In turn, the Foundation sets ‘local’ targets for each project it funds. This is set out in the comprehensive Football Development Plans (FDP) and usage plans that are produced in partnership with the County FAs and the projects themselves. They outline local outcomes that should achieved, such as the number of new grassroots teams that should be created (including for whom they will cater, be it male, female, disability, youth or adult teams).

The effect of ensuring projects achieve their individual targets is a significant cumulative increase in participation when all the projects across the country are aggregated.

A science rather than an art
The way the Football Foundation’s delivery systems have been developed over time, it is safe to say that its approach to investing into the country’s local sports infrastructure is more of a science than an art. The approach, backed by technology, also boasts some impressive returns.

“Last season we achieved a seven per cent average increase in football participation at facilities that we improved with our Funding Partners’ investment,” says Foundation spokesperson Rory Carroll.

“We achieved an eight per cent multi-sport increase at those same sites and there were also 30 million hours of extra-curricular sport played and 24,000 qualifications achieved at them.”

While the systems are able to report improvements at such pinpoint accuracy, Carroll adds that it is the intangible – yet powerful – results which offer the most satisfaction. “Ultimately, what really drives the Foundation staff to work hard to is the thrill of seeing local people of all ages and abilities – many of whom previously played no sport – enjoying new facilities,” he says. “Where before they were playing on muddy quagmires and changing in rusted shipping containers, they now have proper facilities.”

Pitchfinder

A database of more than 22,000 football sites –allows the general public to locate facilities, and also find out the type of pitch they use, if they are supported by floodlights, and have changing rooms

Pitchfinder
Pitchfinder
Pitchfinder
Pitchfinder
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