Together Active’s journey with open data began about 2 years ago. The percentage of inactive adults in Staffordshire was regularly around 27%, and Stoke-on-Trent fared far worse at close to 35%.
This level of inactivity was negatively impacting the health of our residents and putting an unnecessary burden on our health and social services. There were plenty of active opportunities available in the area, so why weren’t people getting involved?
Following a lot of conversations with providers, local authorities and residents, it was clear that the accessibility of information about what was available locally was a big barrier. Clubs and groups shared the information sporadically and inconsistently, through social media, flyers, posters and static listings on websites. This information went out of date quickly, and was difficult to find, so inactive individuals quickly just gave up.
When we learned about open data, we saw the potential it had for revolutionising how people accessed physical activity. We had already seen how open data had changed the online hotel booking landscape. We decided that the prize was big enough that it was worth investing in for Staffordshire.
And so we did.
- Developing an Activity Finder and Website
Following a tendering process, we began working with Played to develop our own activity finder. This was to be part of a wider website with its own branding; “Active My Way”. We decided to create a new brand because we wanted the site to be entirely customer facing, and our corporate site was just not appropriate for the look, feel and information we wanted to display. This also gave us the opportunity to gather tips, advice and guidance to populate the site, so that it could be a one-stop-shop for someone looking to be more active. We are also making a point to share success stories to motivate and inspire people who might feel that change is impossible for them.
- Supporting clubs and groups to open their data
Once the site was ready and the activity finder developed, the real work began; supporting clubs and groups to open their data. This would be difficult in normal times, but unfortunately for us, the process began in earnest in the middle of a global pandemic. Where before we would have brought groups together for talks and demonstrations, sitting next to them to walk them through the process, now we were able to communicate only via video calls.
In some ways though, this helped move things along. We were able to get large, diverse groups together that otherwise would have been a logistical challenge, talk them through the process, and screenshare to demonstrate. We were able to hold more meetings with more organisations and schedule them far easier than it would have been to try and meet in person. And it meant we had to develop resources such as a dedicated landing page, video walkthroughs, manuals and social media assets to ensure everyone had all of the information they needed.
We also hosted regular Zoom sessions and brought in peers who had already opened their data to tell people about the process, the challenges they had faced, and the results. We were keen to keep these sessions as open and honest as possible and did not shy away from some of the complications opening data can have. This was appreciated by our groups as they felt they were gaining a deeper understanding and could make a more informed choice.
- Appointed a single point of contact
On top of the resources and sessions, we also assigned Lottie Smith to be the single point of contact on all things open data. Lottie joined Together Active in September 2020, and quickly had to understand what open data was and how to recruit organisations to the cause. But she quickly built up her knowledge bank, and was able to resolve, explain or escalate issues providers were having when looking to open their data. This made the process far simpler for the provider, as they knew they had someone to contact should they face any challenges who would then find them a resolution.
One of her key learnings from trying to train providers on open data was that they needed far less detail than we originally thought.
They really did not need to know all of the background information about how data worked or the technology behind it. All they needed to know was why they should do it, the potential opportunity, associated costs and how to do it. Anything more made the process seem daunting and put a lot of people off. So, we stripped back what we were training out to the core information and immediately saw an uptick in engagement.
We were also looking to reach out to clubs, groups and personal trainers that we didn’t have links with. Again, with the pandemic restrictions still in full force and most sporting activity suspended, this was more of a challenge that it could have been.
- Used Facebook ads to target relevant people
We made the decision to use Facebook ads to target people within sport in Staffordshire, and with a relatively small budget, were able to reach 45,000 people. Raising the awareness of open data started to generate more enquiries about it, and we developed new relationships with groups that we have since been able to support with TIF funding.
- We have a growing number of activities on our activity finder and we are seeing more people using Active My Way by the day.
- We’re slowly building a social media following, and we’re getting interest from influencers who want to support our work.
- We are also building relationships with the health service and social prescribers to develop pathways into physical activity for their patients, using the activity finder as a live information source to find the most appropriate activity.
- We hope to develop this still further with more resources, training opportunities and clear referral pathways for specific conditions.
The process has not been without its challenges, in particular having the resources within the team to chase up clubs and have multiple conversations to get the process moving. And we still have a long way to go. But we’re incredibly proud of how far we’ve come, and are excited for the future.