Get Active London is an online activity finder bringing together the capital’s sport and physical activities ‘in a one stop shop’ led by London Sport. The activity finder, powered by open data aggregator, imin, supports its target to get 1 million Londoners physically active by 2020 and commitment to drive openness and tech innovation across the sector.
Get Active London is designed to make it easier for people to find London sports and physical activities to participate in and is fed by Open Sessions, a data publishing platform for grassroots activity providers to publish activity information as open data which can be used by any website or app that accesses Open Sessions data.
Although Get Active London is a great idea in principle, to make it universally useful London Sport had to overcome many management and data infrastructure challenges to make the activity finder:
- attractive to providers wanting to promote their activities
- useful for people interested in finding activities to participate in, and;
- scalable for other organisations who may want to adopt the finder for their locality
The legacy version of Get Active London required a great deal of effort to keep activities up to date, publish new ones and ensure it was easy for people to use. This needed to change if it was to become sustainable. Tackling these challenges by rebuilding the platform with open data and open principles at its core has significantly improved the activity finder’s user experience and eased pre-existing maintenance pressures.
Overcoming data infrastructure barriers to share good quality information Get Active London derives from a wider Get Active product, created so that County Sports Partnerships (CSPs) and city councils can adopt a local solution served to reshape the activity search experience and help communities get moving. Scaling Get Active across the country could bring together and to light the breadth of physical and sporting activities available to the public, and form a key part of the sector’s data infrastructure — required to make data as usable, connected and maintained as possible so that it reaches those who need it.
Activity providers “wanted to promote their sessions more widely on the web but found it too time consuming to create listings in several different places” says Dominic Fennell, Co-Founder at imin who redeveloped Get Active London. Image source: London Sport
Across the sector (and common in many other sectors) activity information is often held in different places — on and offline, digitally or printed — and published in formats — such as PDFs and personal spreadsheets — that made it time consuming for activity providers to share activities online. The same was true for providers attempting to list activities on Get Active London.
Relying on repetitively uploading activities and updates onto different websites put pressure on providers to manage their listings and sometimes resulted in information being out of date and poorly input. Before the website was redeveloped activity providers found it difficult to use the listing upload form so Get Active London listings often required London Sport itself to publish activities on a provider’s behalf, creating another maintenance layer that slowed down the process of updating activities.
These maintenance issues erected a barrier for people searching for activities who were unable to find the right information. Poor activity information risks people failing to find the activities they are looking for and as a result halts their active journey. London Sport needed to solve this issue if it was to meet the needs of both the activity provider and people searching for activities.
Improving the customer search experience with open data Introducing open data was crucial to host great quality activities with reliable information on Get Active London and inspired a fresh vision for the activity finder. “The finder can only be as good as the data behind it” said Dominic Fennell, Co-Founder at imin and a London Sport technical partner, whose team redeveloped Get Active London to improve the user and publisher experience. “If the activities aren’t of a decent quality and up to date, people will not use it.”
“We want to remove barriers so that developers can easily build exciting new technologies to motivate people to be active.” says Nish Desai, Co-Founder at imin, medium.com Image source: London Sport
The legacy Get Active platform featured an upload form to manually submit listings. However Get Active’s relaunch saw this feature removed with the conception of Open Sessions, an entirely new platform giving grassroots sport and physical activity providers a means to share activities. Open Sessions automatically feeds all websites that use its open data in real-time, meaning activity providers were only required to submit information once for their sessions to appear in multiple places, including Get Active London.
Identified in user research, imin found activity providers “wanted to promote their sessions more widely on the web but found it too time consuming to create listings in several different places” explains Fennell, so making it easier for providers to share their data where needed while removing the burden from London Sport to update listings on their behalf improved the overall user experience.
The first open data example in action for the sector and tackling bigger health questions Fennell believes that Get Active London has become an illustration of how open data can benefit the sports and physical activity sector in practice. He reports its early success has instigated others in the sector to improve activity search, and the redeveloped version has been white-labelled by Get Active Essex, Get Active Hampshire and Get Active Isle of Wight.
The next step for imin is to power the “one-click booking” of physical activities directly from the Get Active activity finders and other innovative digital solutions emerging in the sector. It has also encouraged other areas of tech innovation including chat bots and reward platforms.
“The beauty of open data is we’ll learn what’s important as we encounter problems and solutions” says Chris Scott, Corporate Communications Manager at London Sport. Image source: London Sport
The development was made possible with key leadership from London Sport CEO Peter Fitzboydon, who was a vanguard for exploring the potential of technology and open data solving systemic sector challenges and established London Sport’s commitment to build openness across the sector.
London Sport also acknowledged Get Active London could not have been accomplished without its technical partnership with imin who provided the necessary skills and fresh perspective that challenged the traditional expectation to “build their own app”, said Chris Scott, Corporate Communications Manager at London Sport. Chris urges other organisations to look openly towards startups and external technology expertise to realise potential benefits waiting to be discovered.
“As a sector, we are playing catch up. The travel, hospitality and e-commerce sectors have been reaping the benefit of better use of data for years. In our favour, though, is that the model is already there, tried and tested for us to use.” SayaPeter Fitzboydon, CEO at London Sport sportandrecreation.org.uk
London Sport’s vision for the future is to encourage others to initiate Get Active anywhere data can be made open, and will be continuing to engage with the sector to lead progression. Chris feels the OpenActive initiative coordinated by the Open Data Institute, to apply its independent open data leadership and expertise, has taken a significantly positive step forward, giving “real credibility to the initiative” and has allowed London Sport to “focus more on engaging with grassroots community initiatives.”
Scott shares London Sport’s long term interests are:
“focussed on the broader role of physical activity and sport in supporting Londoners’ lives, including positive impacts on public health, community inclusion and social integration. Around open data, there are ambitions to explore its role in contributing to the public health agenda, particularly the potential for identifying local activity opportunities to assist in preventative health interventions.”