At times, one of the biggest challenges facing our sector seems to be to convince those outside of it on the power of sport and physical activity. Too many decision-makers still do not seem to get what we consider obvious: sport changes lives and physical activity is the magic pill to solve many of the nation's health issues.
In trying to prove its worth, I feel that the sector has at times chased the wrong KPIs and targets at the cost of delivering what it is supposed to. Thankfully, there has been a gradual move away from the traditional approach of simply counting outputs. It is being replaced with an increased interest in data collection and a push towards measuring the sector's impact.
But while it might be better to measure outcomes, I would question why and how the sector is doing it?
The matter was brought to the fore during February with the launch of various new services – such as State of Life – designed to measure the sector's impact. There is a fundamental point to collecting data, of course. But why are we doing it? To learn or to make further funding bids? To ‘prove’ to a funder that we are making an impact?
MEASURING THE RIGHT THINGS
There is no escaping the fact that, on a national level, resources remain limited and we are competing for public and private spending with those outside our sector. The sector's response seems to have been to create multiple, confusing platforms for collecting data and showing it in the most attractive format. But why? Is it the outcomes, impact or value we want to measure? And how much can we really claim to be due to our work?
While measuring impacts is fine, I believe that if we really want to make the case for the sports sector – and ensure it is taken seriously in the corridors of power – we need to create hard economic evidence about the efficacy of the investment we receive. We might know it ourselves, but we need to convince government departments that investing in physical activity might be preferable to ploughing money in treating preventable, life-style diseases through the NHS.
We need to think really carefully about what we measure and why. It needs to be more than just for our funder. We really need to know at project and ecosystem level what is working and to keep it as ‘live’ as possible.
One thing is for sure. In the government's eyes, the Treasury's Green Book is what will ultimately determine our monetary value. While the book is not a mechanical decision-making device – but rather provides approved guidance and methods – it helps officials develop evidence-based advice for decision making that is consistent across government. And has done so for nearly half a century. The sector's evidence better stack up to the book's demands – or the evidence runs the risk of being ignored.