How do we know how good we are?

15th Mar 2018 | Written by Jane Moncrieff

At a time when our current sporting year (2017-2018) is coming to a close, and we are busy planning for 2018-2019, it seems more topical than ever to talk about measuring the impact of what we do.

When hard budget decisions need to be taken; how monies are to be raised, and funding spent, so are the associated targets of our organisation. But, as a small-medium sized Governing Body of Sport, are we presenting the impact of achieving our targets in the right way to ensure that we can compete against larger organisations (that are better resourced to present their own impact) in order to get the best share of public funds to do our work? Herein lies the challenge!

As sport developers, over the years, and as a general rule, we have never been very good at evidencing the impact that sport has on people’s lives. I think this is partly due to the fact that the people who work in sport do so because they want to make things happen. They anecdotally see and experience the benefits of their efforts, such as a smile on a participant’s face when they achieve something they didn’t think possible. The collection of more robust data, researching people’s views, thoughts and feelings and then making sense of it to encourage more participation, is probably where we generally fall short.

The starting point of course needs to be deciding what are we measuring, why we are measuring it and how this will help us plan to deliver what we do more effectively, in order to attract the widest audience too our sport.

It seems as if the days of sport for sport sake are a thing of the past. It doesn’t seem good enough any longer that sport can just be enjoyed for the sheer pleasure, or challenge of learning new skills, or competing at what ever level suits you. It feels as if we now have to justify taking part in sport in all of these ways, and also because of the physical and mental health benefits sport can bring if done regularly.

I perceive that the measurement of physical and mental wellbeing in sport is all about justification of spending the public purse. The National Health Service is under ever increasing pressures financially and it would seem that if we evidence that sport, and our sport in particular can prevent and decrease this spend, then we might be taken more seriously?

It’s ‘the what’ we are measuring that seems to be the conundrum. If we are trying to evidence the health benefits that we know regular activity can bring, then for Sports Governing Bodies this is quite challenging and most of our small to medium organisations are not resourced enough to do it on their own.

The starting point of course needs to be deciding what are we measuring, why we are measuring it and how this will help us plan to deliver what we do more effectively, in order to attract the widest audience too our sport.

Is it that we want to show doing x number of hours of sport per week will help children become more physically literate, ultimately physically and mentally stronger and therefore more likely to participate in life long activity? Or are we measuring the cost reduction on the NHS budget if we have a healthier more active population? Some clarity on our actual perceived purpose would be really helpful or we risk trying to be all things to all people and master of none…

So it’s ‘the what’ that is not clear which is probably why as sports developers we get back to the day job again and just do the doing because that’s what we do best! There seems to be enough evidence to suggest that if we do what we do best in sport then we are highly likely to have some positive impact on at least some people’s lives, as long as they continue to make healthy choices (and we have all heard the old adage you can lead a horse to water but…)

I recently attended the Sport and Recreation Alliance Fit For the Future convention and it couldn’t have been more topical. Its aims were to bring the sector together to discuss how you can demonstrate impact to prove that sport and recreation make a positive contribution to society and is therefore worth investing in.

My takeaways from this day were simple:

  • What is your organisation’s vision and mission – be clear about that and then work out what you need to measure to prove that you are achieving your mission.
  • It is clear that future funding for sport is likely to be tied much more closely to outcomes. Delivering better value for money means that there is an increasing demand to evidence how participation in sport contributes to achieving wider public policy goals.
  • Measuring bums on seats and numbers taking part is only a part of the jigsaw, as above a shift is coming where numbers will only tell a bit of the story.
  • It sounds as if the sport sector is having to change focus from sports for sports sake to being providers of sport for social good. This means providing evidence of impact in these areas through more robust and sophisticated measurement tools.
  • As a result of the above, working in closer partnership and leveraging expertise from the private and third sector to deliver shared objectives at lower cost seems to be a good way forward.

My main worry is that we lose focus on ‘the doing’, and in particular our partnership work to facilitate the delivery of successful swim-bike-run opportunities. If we lose this focus it will be because we are spending too much time working out how to measure and articulate its impact. And whilst we might be more able to articulate the impact we are having, we might end up with less time to do it!

Do you have any thoughts on this topic to help us to progress?

Let’s talk, so that we can be positively impactful.


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