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Sport for development: Demonstrating social impact

The government’s new approach to funding sport and physical activity makes it imperative for those reliant on public money to demonstrate their social impact. We explore how the industry is delivering hard proof

Published in Sports Management Sep Oct 2017 issue 133
Positive Youth Foundation provides support to disadvantaged young people
Positive Youth Foundation provides support to disadvantaged young people

The government’s Sporting Future strategy represented a sea-change in how success in the UK’s sport and physical activity sector was defined and funded. Future decisions would be made on “the social good sport and physical activity can deliver, not simply the number of participants”, with a focus on five key outcomes: physical wellbeing; mental wellbeing; individual development; social and community development; and economic development.

This agenda was further promoted by Sport England’s ‘Towards An Active Nation’ strategy, which commits £250m over five years to tackling inactivity, with a greater emphasis on ‘hard-to-reach’ groups and the same five outcomes.

With the gauntlet well and truly thrown down by those holding the purse strings, prioritising and demonstrating social impact is no longer just good practice; it’s a necessity.

Return on investment
One of the first efforts came years before ‘Sporting Future’, from the sport for development (S4D) sector: a branch focused on delivering social objectives, from improving physical and mental wellbeing and educational attainment to increasing community cohesion and civic engagement.

In 2009, Sported – an S4D member association borne out of the London 2012 legacy movement – commissioned research and technology company Substance to conduct a three-year study into the financial impact of S4D organisations on substance misuse; antisocial behaviour and crime; young people not in education, employment and training; educational attainment; educational attendance; wellbeing; and health and fitness.

The Sportworks study found that for every disadvantaged young person participating in an S4D programme, society saved, on average, £4,174.12 a year. Participation had a positive impact across all areas, particularly substance misuse, with an average risk reduction of 19.2 per cent, and anti-social behaviour and crime, reduced by 15.8 per cent.

Sported also commissioned Substance to develop a Sportworks tool for individual organisations of all types and sizes. Matt Shaw, media and external affairs manager at Sported, explains: “In an area of work so varied in its delivery methods and objectives, a scalable and easy-to-use impact measurement tool was needed. Sportworks enabled organisations to demonstrate the value of their programmes and to identify how to increase delivery effectiveness across a range of social policy areas.”

From 2013 to 2017, Sportworks was used by more than 250 organisations, in many cases making the difference between receiving support or not. “Brentford used Sportworks in its planning application for the new Brentford Community Stadium,” says Shaw. “The £8.4m in cost savings [associated with the trust’s work] underlined its importance to the local community and helped win the green light.”

Despite this, Sported decided to redevelop Sportworks. “It was ahead of its time and significant investment is needed to keep its capabilities up to date and fit for purpose. In light of this and wider sector developments – most notably the publication of Sporting Future – we’re exploring opportunities to develop a new tool, based on Sportworks’ underlying principles, in collaboration with the wider industry.”

Focus on outcomes
The emergence of another SROI model may also be influencing Sported’s decision. In April 2016, Sheffield Hallam University’s Sport Industry Research Centre (SIRC) – funded by the Higher Education Investment Fund (HEIF), the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Sport England – published an SROI report focusing on England’s entire sport and physical activity landscape.

For the year 2013/2014, the study compared inputs to the sports industry (time/money) with outcomes: the effects on health, crime, education and social capital. In return for total inputs by individuals and society combined (£23.46bn) researchers identified £44.75bn worth of outcomes, or £1.91 of social impact for every £1 invested. Meanwhile, for every £1 the government spent it saw a return of £3.15.

In non-monetary terms, exercise was found to reduce individual risk for coronary heart disease by 30 per cent, breast cancer by 20 per cent, colon cancer by 24 per cent, type 2 diabetes by 10 percent and dementia by 30 per cent, as well as impacting positively on wellbeing, educational attainment and crime reduction.

The potential to scale down the national model for use by individual organisations was clear. One of the first to respond was SIV, the operating arm of Sheffield City Trust, which manages seven leisure centres, an ice rink and five golf clubs. Commissioning Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) to conduct a study, SIV showed that for every £1 the council invested in its facilities, it delivered £2.01 in value.

Social value
Also quick to respond was the DataHub, a virtual repository for the industry, which currently holds data from 220 operators on 300+ million visits. A collaborative project administered by consulting company 4 global, the DataHub gives operators access to standardised data that can be compared nationwide.

Building on the SHU model, 4 global partnered with the university and risk-profiling specialists Experian to develop the Social Value Calculator (SVC), which calculates the social cost savings delivered by a provider across improved health, reduced crime, increased educational attainment and greater subjective wellbeing – while allowing these figures to be compared across other organisations.

According to Chris Phillips, DataHub’s head of sales, it’s the first social impact reporting tool to be integrated (via the DataHub) with operators’ leisure management systems, meaning all data processing is automated.

“Understanding the value that operators deliver back to the community is essential to achieving and retaining contracts, accessing funding and ultimately growing the development of our sector,” says Phillips.

“The SVC automatically highlights progress in engaging hard-to-reach, high-risk groups, often from deprived areas. Fundamentally, it enables users to get a true reflection of the value they generate by getting and keeping residents active.”

Outcome management
While tools such as these may help providers demonstrate that they’re delivering value for money, they are only one part of the picture. SROI, by definition, deals in hypotheticals, and stakeholders need to be sure, not just hopeful, that an organisation can deliver real results.

This has seen the rapid growth of outcome management software, reflected in the launch of a tailored solution from software supplier Gladstone and the evolution of existing software from exercise referral specialist ReferAll.

“The annual report no longer suffices,” says Stuart Stokes, commercial director of ReferAll. “Commissioners want transparency and real-time updates in service performance.”

Launched in 2010, ReferAll’s online data collection system is now used by 171 services across the UK, representing more than 155,000 referrals. For each provider, three groups of data are collected relating to the initial referral, individual outcomes (such as changes in weight, BMI and blood pressure over time) and the performance of the service itself.

ReferAll is working with the ukactive Research Institute to build a pool of evidence from exercise referral schemes across the UK, to inform future practice and engage the support of bodies such as Sport England and Public Health England in rolling out schemes nationwide.

Hard evidence
Developed in partnership with community health provider Everyone Health, Gladstone’s solution is available to existing customers as Health and as a standalone product called iMPACT.

“Customers engaged by local authorities to deliver health intervention schemes need to provide hard evidence of their social impact,” said Georgia Dowdeswell, iMPACT’s business development manager.

The Gladstone solution combines planning and evaluation tools with management of service delivery. Mobile devices register attendance, complete questionnaires, capture videos, pictures and comments as evidence, and tag these to agreed contractual outcomes – from number of referrals and starters and completers to measures that change over time, such as weight, BMI and physical activity levels.

“When it comes to making the case for the social value of sport, outcome management and SROI are intrinsically linked,” says Dowdeswell.

As a DataHub partner, iMPACT is well placed to contribute to its growing body of outcome-based data and feed into the Social Value Calculator. ReferAll is also talking to 4 global about how it can support the initiative.

Quest for improvement
Operators can also demonstrate their social credentials by seeking accreditation. Quest, Sport England’s quality scheme, first embedded this concept into its facility management and sport development assessments three years ago with the launch of a ‘Community Outcomes’ module, and built on this with other modules linking physical activity and health.

But Right Directions – the team that manages Quest – raised the bar even further with two new assessments that focus on a commitment to social goals.

Quest for Active Communities, a two-day assessment, has a sharp focus on the five outcomes from the government and Sport England strategies. It features a number of modules aimed at the new agenda, such as ‘Increasing Participation’ and ‘Reducing Inactivity’.

The scheme has also partnered with Substance to launch Quest Sport for Development. So far, four organisations have achieved the award: Tottenham Hotspur Foundation, Millwall Community Trust, Brentford FC Community Sports Trust and the Positive Youth Foundation, a grassroots organisation in Coventry.

“More than 600 UK leisure centres have Quest for Facilities accreditation, reassuring their local authority investors that their money is in safe hands,” says Neil Watson, head of programmes at Substance. “Our aspiration is that funders of sport for development projects will view Quest Sport for Development in the same way.”

What success in sport looks like is changing – for the good of the sector and the communities it serves.

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