Innovation and changeDigital TransformationOpen-source data initiative to help people get active

Open-source data initiative to help people get active

The sports and active sector needs to keep pace with changing lifestyles and the opportunities digital technology and open-source data presents

OpenActive, an ambitious initiative using open-source data, has brought together organisations from across the sports and physical activity sector to publish and use open data. These include technology suppliers, activity providers, data users, and national campaigns to encourage physical activity. More than 170,000 monthly activity sessions (including fitness classes and opportunities to book a sports court or pitch) are now published openly.

Sport England under the stewardship of the Open Data Institute, committed another £1.5 million of National Lottery funding to help providers innovate using open data.

The programme is now reaching a tipping point, where there is a good quantity of data being published, and people working with that data. When it does, the payoff will be huge. It will help to address the problem that there are currently 16.8 million people who aren’t reaching the threshold of 150 minutes of sport and physical activity a week to benefit their health.  They face ongoing barriers that open-source data can help overcome, including not knowing what opportunities to get active are available. This could include finding a new club after a house move, or finding out about classes and activities to keep families entertained on a Saturday morning.

Lack of easily discoverable information

Currently,  this sort of information is presented on flyers, notice boards, and activity centre websites. An individual needs real determination to get the information they need to take part in activities. Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign has highlighted the huge emotional barriers that many people (in particular women) face when trying to get active. The lack of easily discoverable information may contribute to this effect, so that people become discouraged and give up before they even get to an activity.

Tim Hollingsworth, CEO of Sport England, said: “There is a significant prize to be won here if the sport and physical activity sector seizes the opportunity to embrace digital innovation and open up their data. At the moment there are too many barriers to entry.  So, this is about giving the public the choice to find sport and physical activity in a way that meets the expectations they have in all other aspects of their lives. But it is also about creating the conditions for brilliant, creative young start-ups and innovators across England to come up with big digital ideas and solutions that are as diverse as the needs of the public.

“Twenty-seven pioneering organisations have joined the OpenActive movement and opened their data – we thank and commend them for their leadership in what is still a relatively new area in our sector. This is a real tipping point moment. Now is the time for the whole sector to collaborate to reach millions more people, remove the barriers they face and supercharge the number of people getting active in England for the health of our nation.”

In 2019, work to get more of the sector publishing and using open-source data is accelerating and OpenActive will now focus on tackling three key challenges:

  1. To show how open-source data can create value for different businesses in the sector. This might be by demonstrating how they can reach different people to the ‘traditional consumer’, or how efficiencies can be created in campaigns using data. It might also involve showing the value of new business opportunities and collaborations between different players in the sector. Ultimately OpenActive wants to make it easier for everyone to find and turn up to sessions, and to help people create and maintain healthier habits;
  2. To increase the geographical area covered by open-source data sets, so even more consumers across England can benefit from the innovation that’s taking place;
  3. To make it easier for people and organisations across the sector to publish or use data by creating tools, advice, and guidance that help explain what OpenActive is, and how to make it a reality in an area or organisation; making it easier for small and medium-sized organisations to take advantage of open-source data.

Demonstrate value through ‘use cases’ or practical examples

To address these challenges, OpenActive is asking organisations from across the sports and physical activity sector to collaborate with the initiative and help to shape it. It will  demonstrate value through a range of ‘use cases’ or practical examples including:

  • Demonstrating how activity providers can work with third-party booking platforms (including national campaigns, like Change4Life, #GetOutside or This Girl Can) to help drive new customers to activities and;
  • Test different guides, advice and other practical resources to help more people have better conversations and make better decisions about publishing and using open-source data.

Jeni Tennison, CEO of the Open Data Institute said: “Achieving lasting transformation in the use of open data in any industry requires cross-sector effort. OpenActive is providing the impetus and expertise to get the sports and physical activity sector working together to publish and use open data. It’s exciting that in the coming weeks and months, OpenActive will be working with some tremendous national campaigns, to achieve sustainable behaviour change. As more organisations see the value of using open data, and more citizens have access to information about sport and physical activity, the full potential for OpenActive to embed lasting innovation in the sector will be realised.”

Making it easier to work with open-source data

Alongside national campaigns, OpenActive will make it easier for the sector to safely publish and use open-source data. It’s doing this through developing a set of standards for data users, publishers and management systems to use when they publish data, as well as if they choose to create booking services (using something called APIs or Application Programming Interfaces). These standards ensure that different apps can be linked together, making it easier for consumers to find sessions and book onto them, whilst also ensuring that activity providers have control over which third parties can book their sessions.  To explore this, OpenActive will look to work together with activity providers and data aggregators (who pull together different data sets) to run pilots, which will explore different business models that could work in different scenarios. For example, PHE is keen to add a booking service to the Change4Life activity finder. This will make it easier for people to find and book sessions, and to measure the effectiveness of the campaign in changing people’s lifestyles.

Sean Maguire, CEO of Legend Club Management Systems said: We see OpenActive as a vital initiative that can help the industry on many levels. It is an opportunity for our industry to demonstrate to our wider stakeholders, including government, that our industry is technically advanced, and capable of producing open data standards and added value. The availability of open data and booking APIs will accelerate innovation in our sector by allowing smaller innovative organisations to easily and fluidly work with established providers to deliver fresh and exciting access to health and leisure facilities and opportunities. Open data provides greater opportunities for innovation, so we must embrace it, or get left behind as a sector.”

Legend Club Management System is one of the leading management systems for leisure operators and member of the OpenActive community.

Last week, the Minister for Sport & Civil Society Mims Davies had said that gyms and leisure centres should make booking fitness and sport activities online as easy as hailing an Uber.

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