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Open data programme OpenActive ramps up efforts to get people off the sofa

OpenActive, a programme run by the Open Data Institute and funded by Sport England, is intensifying efforts to get nearly 17 million Britons off their sofas and into sport and fitness

OpenActive, a programme organised by the Open Data Institute and Sport England, is stepping up efforts to get Britons off their sofas, partly thanks to £1.5m of National Lottery funding.

The funding, allocated by Sport England, is to be announced at a Wellcome Collection event in London today by the minister for Sport and Civil Society, Mims Davies, speaking alongside Sport England chief executive Tim Hollingsworth. 

At the same time, Sport England will declare that a survey of 1,815 people, conducted by ComRes on its behalf, found that it is twice as easy to order a takeaway than to book a sports or fitness class online. One in five adults, the survey found, have been deterred from taking part in a sport or physical activity because they found it too difficult to find or book online. And 62% of inactive adults said they don’t know how easy or difficult it is to book sports or fitness classes online.

OpenActive has been making data about where and when activities happen openly available since 2016, enabling organisations to build apps and services that help people find things to do of a weekend, perhaps after a house move to a new area.  

It comprises a project team of five people – three from the ODI and two from Sport England – as well as “a much wider community of really committed organisations”, according to an institute spokesperson.

OpenActive said it had 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 sports courts or pitches for hire, are now published openly, it reported.

At present, 16.8 million people are failing to do the recommended 150 minutes of sport and physical activity a week, according OpenActive, which suggested this was because people did not know where to go for what.

It cited the example of Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign, which highlighted the “huge emotional barriers that many people (in particular women) face when trying to get active”.

And it is calling for more sports and fitness organisations to open up their data more than they do currently.

“Ultimately, we want to make it easier for everyone to find and turn up to sessions, and to help people create and maintain healthier habits,” said OpenActive.

In addition, it wants to “increase the geographical area covered by open datasets” and to “make it easier for people and organisations across the sector to publish or use data by creating tools, advice and guidance”.

The organisation said it was aiming to make it easier for the physical activity sector to safely publish and use open data by developing a set of standards for data users, publishers and management systems to use when they publish data and create booking services using application programming interfaces (APIs).

“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,” it 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 its data. At the moment there are too many barriers to entry”
Tim Hollingsworth, Sport England

Sean Maguire, CEO of Legend Club Management Systems, one of the management systems for leisure operators and a member of the OpenActive community, 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.”

Tim Hollingsworth, CEO of Sport England, said: “There is a significant prize to be won here if the sports and physical activity sector seizes the opportunity to embrace digital innovation and open up its data. At the moment there are too many barriers to entry.  

“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.”

Mims Davies, minister for Sport and Civil Society added, in support: “It should be as easy to book a court, football pitch or exercise class as it is to order your favourite takeaway or hire a cab. Not being able to easily plan and book online potentially puts many people off doing more physical activity. By opening up data we can remove barriers to taking part, make it much easier for people to get active and promote much-needed digital innovation.”

ODI CEO Jeni Tennison added: “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.”

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