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Open data: Sharing is caring

OpenActive is a community-led initiative with the ambition of helping people in England get active using open data. Sports Management talked to Allison Savich, Sport England’s strategic lead for data and innovation to find out more

Published in Sports Management 2018 issue 4
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Allison Savich, Sport England’s strategic lead for data and innovation
Allison Savich, Sport England’s strategic lead for data and innovation

Why did you launch OpenActive?
Something we hear quite often is that people want to get active, but it can be a frustrating experience to find accurate and up-to-date information that helps them decide which activity is right for them – even just the basics like what the activity entails, where it’s located and what it costs.

This information does exist, but it tends to be hidden away on websites that are difficult to use, in disparate social media groups, or printed flyers and brochures.

As a sector, we know that physical activity must compete for people’s leisure time. And in this digital age, there are many sectors that are making it a lot easier for people to find alternatives – such as the transport, restaurant and travel sectors. For example, when the travel sector’s data was unlocked several years ago, this revolutionised the experience for holidaymakers, making it far easier for them to book holidays using sites like lastminute.com.

OpenActive aims to do the same for the sport and activity sector by ensuring that gyms, leisure centres and sports clubs keep up with the digital expectations of our consumers by putting the data people need to make an informed choice on the websites, apps and services that they already use, such as Airbnb.

Sport England’s ultimate aim is to help more people get active. According to the most recent Active Lives survey, currently over a quarter of the population in England are inactive, which means they do less than 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week. We believe OpenActive can help remedy this.

Is this the first time you have tried to solve this problem?
No. Our first attempt in 2012 was called Spogo, which was in partnership with ukactive. This aimed to capitalise on the legacy of the 2012 Olympics, but it didn’t achieve this for several reasons.

Spogo aimed to create a single website for consumers to find and book physical activity online. But we quickly came to the realisation that the marketing costs needed to ensure all of England was aware of Spogo were prohibitive and not sustainable. It was also clear from our consumer research that a one-size-fits-all approach was simply too limiting. A digital product or service that works for someone who is already active is unlikely to provide the right experience for someone who’s taking their first steps into activity.

We also learnt that the data needed to create Spogo – the times, locations and prices of activities (among other things) – was not available in high enough quality to ensure a strong experience for the consumer. This data is critical for consumers, so we knew we needed to look at other models to make it available in a format that our sector can use. This led us to speak to the Open Data Institute (ODI) and explore the creation of the data ecosystem that underpins OpenActive.

How is OpenActive different?
While Spogo sought to create a new solution, OpenActive was developed from a grassroots movement and took valuable lessons from other sectors. It is also a community-led initiative, which involves organisations from all parts of the active leisure sector – such as leisure operators, booking systems, strategic influencers, national governing bodies (NGB), CSPs and start-ups – which will all benefit from the open data, but in different ways.

OpenActive, at its heart, is also a sector change programme. Rather than starting with the solution like Spogo did, we are working collaboratively with our sector to overcome the barriers that prevent us from moving forward. We are focusing on listening to our consumers and solving their problems.

Which organisations have signed up to OpenActive so far?
More than 100 different organisations have signed up to support the OpenActive initiative. These include both owners of the open data – like NGBs, large leisure operators, booking systems, local authorities – and new activity providers in our market, such as National Trust and Goodgym.

But, importantly, we also have a number of data users signed up who want to use the data. These include Public Health England with its Change4Life campaign, Ordnance Survey, the Richmond Group of Charities and increasing numbers of start-ups which all see potential to grow our market through the use of open data.

Startups include Healum, which designs apps to help GPs prescribe physical activities, and Hoop, whose app helps families find activities with their kids.

Why should operators share their data?
There are 18 million reasons why sport and activity providers should embrace OpenActive and share their data. That’s the number of adults in England who would benefit from maintaining an active lifestyle, and who, for a number of reasons, are not as active as they’d like to be.

One of the biggest barriers for these people is finding relevant opportunities. No matter how much quality provision there is out there, if people can’t find out about it then engagement levels will never reach their full potential.

Addressing this barrier means more customers and – because of the variety of products and solutions being developed by the start-ups – the potential for new partnerships and revenue streams, as a result of creating relationships with audiences who may not have traditionally considered their activity.

There will also be internal efficiencies for many activity providers – I can only imagine the number of hours that are spent sharing this data manually via spreadsheets and if the information changes, such as the date or time of the activity, this will need to be updated and shared manually again. Open data removes this cost and inefficiency and allows us to focus on ensuring the experience that gets delivered to the consumer is the best it can be.

What’s next?
In terms of innovation with the data, Sport England is working closely with ten start-ups on the OpenActive Accelerator programme, each with its own unique approach to providing a product or service to a set of consumers. We’ve been sharing essential knowledge about our sector, as well as specific insights into the role that behaviour change tools and techniques like personalisation and nudging can play, to make their digital products and services as engaging as possible.

As a result, we are now looking into ways that we can mentor more start-ups in the near future.

With the Open Data Institute (ODI), we are also scoping the focus of the next phase of investment into OpenActive. We will seek to ensure that the data we’re providing to innovators is of a high quality, so that it gets used as quickly and easily as possible, in order to demonstrate the vital role the data plays in getting people active. We also want as many start-ups or businesses to use the data so that we can improve the data standards, which are critical to getting this data onto the internet, so the information can be found.

How can providers get involved?
By opening their data! An organisation that wants to open its data needs a booking system that is open data enabled. Sport England and the ODI will support organisations in this. We’re also working to find solutions for the smaller activity providers, such as local clubs and single instructors, to ensure that they can get their services in front of more people as well. Two such solutions are Open Sessions, and for group exercise instructors, ClassFinder.

Open your data!

There’s lots more information on how activity providers can become open data enabled at www.openactive.io/getting-started. Sport England and the ODI are offering all activity providers free consultancy, via the phone or workshops, on how to become open data enabled, so please do get in contact so that we can help more people get active.

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