Hacking Sport with Leeds City Council

Written by: Tom Forth, IMACTIVATE, 03/12/2014

What’s it like to take part in an internal data dive to help businesses understand the potential of their data? We asked Tom Forth to tell us tales from the recent Leeds City Council Sports Internal Data Dive.

From Wakefield, Bradford, and Leeds a team of West Yorkshire data wranglers assembled at the ODILeeds to hear about Leeds Let’s Get Active.

The people who make the scheme work explained how they aim to get people in Leeds to do more with their bodies by offering free sessions at council-run leisure centres. I’ve also seen new outdoor fitness equipment in parks around the city.

The first thing we learned was that it’s working! A huge number of people have tried the service. Many more than expected. And because fewer than feared have switched from paid to free sessions the scheme isn’t costing too much. If I was in charge, I’d be telling everyone this all the time! Thankfully, I’m not in charge and the Leeds Let’s Get Active team are getting on with their jobs without pestering you all.

New datasets uploaded to the Data Mill before the event showed where and when Leeds Let’s Get Active events take place. Some additional anonymised data showing how individuals make use of the scheme was available temporarily on the day but security concerns and the limited time available made it hard to use.

We started by talking about the challenges that the team were facing in three separate groups. Overhearing other conversations it quickly became clear that we were identifying a common problem.

The goal of the scheme is to get people more active but all we could reliably measure was when people came to a fitness centre. The academic surveys conducted to measure activity were too long, too infrequent, and too often ignored. And the personal microsites for each user weren’t being used, even after they were advertised by email.

So we started designing solutions to these problems. The prototype that @wetgenes built focused on adding value to emails sent to users. They added personalised event listings with clickable “add to Calendar” buttons to each email. It’s a simple idea, but one that would tempt people to click and join in. The prototype worked beautifully and I hope it inspires the Leeds Let’s Get Active team to keep opening up their schedules in the future and include an “add to Calendar” buttons in more places.

The prototype our team worked on is a bit different. We wanted to make it much easier for users to track their activity. More importantly, we wanted to give them a reason to do so. The first part of this was to simplify the Leeds Let Get Active microsite down to a single-function webpage and app and we did manage to make and present something in the time available.

Overall this was a really interesting chance to see how local government thinks about data. What impressed me most was that the team at Leeds Let’s Get Active had already thought about all of the issues we saw. They’ve even gone a long way to fixing them. I’ll be interested to see how these problems get solved. A big private fitness company would probably have the budget and centralisation to roll out a traditional IT solution nationally but unless Leeds merges with the rest of the North to become part of Greater Manchester I’m not sure we’ll ever the budget for that up here.

Instead I’d make use of the advantage we have – strong links to communities – and release as much of the data to the public to see what they can do with it.

And what does taking advantage of strong links with communities look like?

Well I think it might look a bit like this robot that Mark Haigh (@Thatmarkhaig) built with a bit of my help for March of the Robots. But our hack event was only a day long and it came to an end too quickly to make that happen so you’ll just have to wait and see.