The Kia Oval in London was the venue for a joint conference with the Football Foundation and hosted by Sports Think Tank Director Andy Reed OBE - looking at outcome-based approaches to sports delivery and what this means to grassroots organisations in the sport sector.
The presentations and a panel-discussion outlined the 'seven steps' for the sector: Plan, Measure, Evidence, Communicate, Diversify, Innovate and Collaborate. The context for the issues in question was made clear: sports and PA (physical activity) organisations in the UK are working in a funding climate that places new pressure on everyone to demonstrate their impact.
The opening speeches focused on planning: James Noble from NPC, followed by Yvonne Doyle of Public Health England. James described how to create an 'outcomes framework'. He emphasised keeping things simple, starting with a clear idea of the desired outcome from an intervention and invoking 'the Ikea effect': collaborating with stakeholders to maximising their motivations by giving them input and involvement.
Yvonne then addressed the daunting question of how small organisations, such as many in the sport sector, can meet the academic-style demands of public health bodies in order to access funding. Her welcome advice was that public health bodies may be more flexible than is thought and won't typically make unachievable demands on grassroots organisations to deliver demonstrations of their impact on an unrealistic scale. The headline recommendation was to try and create social movements: look for family solutions such as those that use a community hub like a school to attract parents and engage them in a physical activity, diet or nutrition initiative.
The conference then heard from Emma Heel on a shared measurement framework drafted by The Sport for Development Coalition. The framework is available for reference and can help meet challenges of measuring development outcomes through, among other things, achieving consistency in terminology and making sure that desired outcomes chime with funders and government bodies.
Tackling the 'evidence' step, one of the conference hosts, Upshot sent a team to present an online management system they have created for organising evidence data along whatever activities are run and the outcomes to which they are tied. This system is already in use by The Football Foundation, among other organisations in the sector.
Simon Lansley, a former journalist, from Connect Sport, spoke about the communication aspects of sport for development. He stated the problem that grassroots sport doesn't readily attract media interest. He posed questions on the language used to communicate grassroots sport and how it might be harnessed to better spread the desired message and gain greater audiences. Simon used examples like #ThisGirlCan to illustrate the unprecedented way in which brands are acting as media-owners. He also advocated a 'bottom-up' approach to creating viral ideas and brands in the mould of ParkRun or 'The Daily Mile, stressing the importance of making every member of staff and participant part of the communications strategy, getting everyone to pass on the message utilising every available channel.
Adam Walker then gave a business-focused presentation on the current economic situation and how more players in the sector are competing for less money. This over-crowding brings with it some daunting skills and capability issues, a strategy to deal with which will be addressed by the forthcoming CIMSPA workforce report for DCMS. In the meantime, Adam makes clear, not enough are adapting to this situation in a business development sense.
All these issues reinforced for delegates how resilient sports organisations need to be in the present and forthcoming funding climate. There will be rewards for effective intervention, but the sector will need to show evidence with greater uniformity and efficiency.
For STT the day started to bring together some of the main challenges facing the sector as it grasps the sport strategy. Can we work together as a sector? Who is providing the collective leadership that is needed to drive forward change in the sector? Much change is needed, whether it is in how we get the right balance in our monitoring and evaluating of social outcomes, opening up data to others for the greater good, and will these innovations actually lead to the increased partnerships with the private sector, partnerships we have been told have been available for years?
What we do know is that the sector needs new people with the right skills and experience to create the innovation our sector needs to be more efficient and effective. We also need to hold on to talent, by supporting this talent with excellent training and development, and in creating challenging career paths for all. As we all know, sport has a unique mix of the highly valuable commercialism loved by the private sector but also a strong and vital public policy value loved by Politicians: these two are never easy bed-fellows, but our challenge is to ensure we find the best way to work together and hold together the sporting pyramid we so deeply believe in.
See http://inspiringimpact.org/ for a research hub and impact tools and resources.