May 1, 2023

OpenActive Powered Physical Activity in Hertfordshire: Local Challenges require an iterative approach

In the he(a)rt of Hertfordshire, the Active Partnership (Herts Sports & Physical Activity Partnership, HSP) was wrestling with a dual challenge. They knew that one of the biggest barriers to residents being more active was that people did not know what was available to them. Health professionals also had a lack of awareness of suitable physical activity opportunities for patients. At the same time, HSP were trying to overcome the limitations of static directories and databases, which often led to disappointing first experiences for those new to physical activity.

Previous attempts to tackle these issues, such as manually mapping older adult activity sessions or early versions of activity finders, had mixed results. These efforts were hampered by delays in data updates and a lack of support for emerging physical activities. Will Slemmings, Strategic Lead for Health at HSP, told us:

"This initial tiptoe into the activity finder world had mixed results. For those it worked for, it worked well. For those it didn’t work for it built mistrust and a lack of interest in engaging with the tool going forward."

Could OpenActive solve these problems?

Using an OpenActive powered approach appealed to HSP, because it eliminated the need for activity providers to upload session details to multiple platforms, and removed the need for internal resources to constantly keep activities up to date. Together with specialist support, resources and technical assistance from OpenActive specialists imin and Played, HSP decided that using OpenActive could be the way to address challenges encountered previously. Crucially, it was about trying things out and iterating with what was and wasn’t working, tailored to local needs. This was brought together under the Moving More health brand for the county.

"The use of open data & OpenActive makes complete sense when you look at how it has benefited other sectors. Before now (and in many cases ongoing) activity providers would have to upload their session details to multiple platforms around the county in order to reach their target participants; using open data to advertise their sessions negates this"

HSP's Moving More Platform has successfully used OpenActive to help local activity providers reach more people

HSP found immediate success when engaging with partners who understood and embraced the value of open data. For instance, Saracens Sport Foundation is one of the largest delivery organisations across the county - and recognised OpenActive as an unrivalled opportunity to increase visibility of their community activities and get more people active, especially older adults and those with disabilities. Saracens opened their data quickly and easily through their existing booking system, and have reported ongoing benefits - including increased participation figures and reduced admin time in answering phone calls and emails.

“Since opening up our data in Oct 2021 up until Jan 2023 we have seen clear growth in the majority of our Herts classes. For example our Watford L2D class at Wellspring Church has increased by 40% and our class in Potters Bar by 28%. All other classes have seen increase of at least 10% attendance. Whilst we recognise this could be due to a number of contributing factors, we are confident that opening our data has made a significant difference to this. Especially considering a post pandemic world where return to our classes for this more vulnerable demographic has been slow; the activity finder has played a part in reaching a new audience who have perhaps acknowledged the importance of being social and physically active post lockdown.”

Jess, Saracens Foundation, taken from Moving More Saracens Case Study by HSP

However, the journey with OpenActive had lows as well as highs. HSP discovered that some health colleagues and activity providers were hesitant to engage with OpenActive and Moving More. Reasons varied, from sessions not being appropriate to “widely advertise” (such as referrals) to health colleagues requiring more rigorous statistical feedback on efficacy for their patients.

HSP have realised the key to success is to always be looking to iteratively improve the approach to better meet the needs of residents and stakeholder. To this end, with the support of a new full-time staff member, HSP plan to launch a new marketing campaign, assist even more providers in opening their data, and strive for deeper integration of the tool within the health system.

For those facing similar challenges, HSP's journey offers valuable lessons:

1. Leverage the resources available through specialists like imin

2. Celebrate successes to inspire others

3. Focus on both larger providers with open booking systems and smaller deliverers

4. Remain committed, keep learning - the successes will come!

In conclusion, HSP's iterative journey with OpenActive underscores the transformative potential of open data in enhancing physical activity awareness and participation. Despite the challenges, their commitment to refining the tool and broadening its reach promises a more active and engaged future for Hertfordshire's residents.

Nishal Desai

Nish is a co-founder at imin.