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The current approach to increasing participation is too expensive

The current model in sport and activity is to put on new activities for beginners. It seems intuitive that if we want inactive people to get more active then we should put on more activities aimed at getting people into activity. However this approach is much more expensive than you realise.

Exercise on Referral costs over £650 per person more active

According to NICE the cost per participant of an Exercise on Referral scheme is £217.  And according to research from Loughborough University and the BHF Centre for Physical activity and Health only 33% of people referred complete 11 out of 12 sessions.

  • £217 per participant
  • 33% of people who are referred attend 11 out of 12 sessions = £657 per person completing sessions (not all of these will stay active, so the cost per person more active is probably even higher).

Sportivate costs over £550 per person more active

According to the Sportivate Programme Evaluation 84% of people who start attend 5 out of 6 sessions – which is good. But the evaluation also shows that only 15% of people are more active 3 months after the sessions finish than before they started.

  • £36 million divided by 416,500 participants = £86 per participant
  • 15% are more active 6 months after starting = £576 per person more active

Get Healthy, Get Active costs over £1000 per person more active

Get Healthy, Get Active is one of Sport England’s projects to increase participation in inactive people. According to Sport England they’ve invested over £25 million in this programme and have had 36,000 participants with more than 50% of those people more active 3 months later.

  • £25,400,000 divided by 36,000 participants = £700 per participant
  • 60% are more active 3 months after starting = £1175 per person more active

This is too expensive per person more active. It was possible to gloss over this when the funding was focused on throughput, but Sport England and Public Health funding is moving from a focus on throughput towards a focus on long-term behaviour change.

Why is this so expensive?

It seems intuitive that if we want people to get more active then we should put on more activities aimed at getting people into activity. So why doesn’t this work?

There are three main reasons:

  1. Putting on new activities is expensive
  2. People don’t want to change activities
  3. Signposting is harder than it seems

Putting on new activities is expensive
The cost of putting on new activities is often hidden because it comes from multiple sources. The leisure trust provides the facility at a discounted rate, the council pays for the Sports Development Officer or Wellbeing Officer to manage them, and the project funding from Sport England or Public Health pays for the activity provider. But all of these things add up.

People don’t want to change activities
The people who complete most of the 12 sessions presumably like that activity and find it convenient to attend at that time, on that day and at that place. However at the end of the 12 weeks we tell those people that they can’t come to that class anymore – they can attend a different class with a different instructor on a different day, at a different time and maybe even in a different place. It’s no wonder that most people drop out at this point.

Signposting is harder than it seems

The idea is that we signpost them to other local activities, however there are three main problems with this approach:

  • the people doing the signposting are not measured or incentivised based on the number of people who get more active
  • the people doing the signposting don’t have a database of places people can go to get more active – so it’s based on their personal knowledge, which might be great, or it might be poor.
  • if the person tries this other activity they might not like it – for example they might not like the instructor or it might be too easy or too hard for them. There’s no long term follow up to help them find something else instead.

There is a better way to increase participation and it’s engagement campaigns.

There is a better way to increase participation.

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