What’s All This Insight Stuff?

Rewind five years and most people in our sector wouldn’t have heard the term ‘insight’; now you don’t seem to be able to have a conversation without terms like ‘insight driven’, ‘insight led approaches’, or ‘evidence based practice’.

This is the first of a series of blogs about insight. It’s insight about insight, if you like. Through this series, the aim is to drive a little more clarity into what we mean by insight, what London Sport is doing in this area and why we think a greater focus on insight is a good thing. We also want to demystify the world of insight and make clear that everyone should, and can, ‘do insight’ to improve their impact.

This first blog focuses on what we mean by insight, where this increased focus on insight has come from and who should play a role in the insight process.

Insight: ‘The capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of someone or something’ (Oxford English Dictionary).

This dictionary definition is a useful starting point. In the context of London Sport’s work, for us, it’s fairly simple. It’s about creating new and useful understanding and using it to make the best possible decisions to improve our impact. ‘Insight led approaches’ or being ‘insight driven’ is about having the systems and processes in place to gather, store, and analyse information so that new understanding is generated and fed into organisational planning and decision making processes in an ongoing and timely fashion.

Insight is not new!

Despite it appearing in the sport development lexicon in the last few years, insight is nothing new. It’s bordering on the ridiculous to suggest that up until a few years ago we didn’t aspire to use the best available information to make decisions; we just didn’t it call it insight.

What has changed however, is a push to make our use of insight more systematic and improve the quality of the information at our disposal to make better decisions. Arguably there have been three main drivers for this.

Firstly, there’s a natural consequence of our sector, by and large, failing to make a significant progress on activity levels and reduce inequalities. It has forced us to look at the reasons for this and to take a more customer centric approach; to think in terms of participant needs and preferences (demand) and the extent to which opportunities (supply) cater for the needs of populations.

The second main driver is linked to the first. While we (the sector) have tried many initiatives to increase physical activity and sport levels, the extent to which we have extracted learning from the initiatives and understood their impact has been limited. It’s fair to say we are playing catch-up with other sectors in this regard. Too often interventions have been based on the ISLAGIATT principle*. Quite rightly, in these more challenging financial times, there is now greater need to demonstrate a return on investment. This, coupled with a galvanised sense of finding out what works and what is impactful, is leading to improved monitoring and evaluation approaches.

The third is associated with digital technology developments and the associated improved capability to collect, store and analyse large data sets. While we may be still relatively ‘data poor’ compared to other industries, we are increasingly able to access greater volumes and better quality data to make more informed decisions. The Active People interactive tool (soon to be replaced by the Active Lives digital platform) is an obvious example where we now have the capability to quickly analyse large data-sets.

Insight is not scary – we all do insight!

Insight is not the exclusive realm of insight or research specialists. Everybody can and has a role to play in ‘doing insight’ – whether as a collector of information or using insight to make decisions and act.  A club volunteer asking participants what they enjoyed about a session or when the best time to hold a session is useful insight…so long as it is then used to inform how and when to deliver the sessions.

At London Sport we are on a mission to improve and have high quality insight processes. Equally though, we are here to support our partners to amplify their impact through using insight.  I’ll end this blog with a two-fold plea:

  • Let’s keep the insight discussion simple and use plain English. If it is to be applied, insight needs to be accessible and digestible to those that need it.
  • Only collect the information and data we need and make sure our analysis leads to new understanding that can be applied to improve what we do.

Watch out for the next blog which will take a closer look at what working in an insight led organisation looks and feels like.

*ISLAGIATT principle: the principle of ‘It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time’. As discussed, slightly tongue-in-cheek by Dr Lou Atkins from the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change at a British Heart Foundation conference I once attended.


About the Author:

Tim Copley is the head of London Sport’s insight function. Tim worked at Sport England when the Active People Survey was launched and has made use of the data in his career for the whole 10 years! Tim has worked on a range of sport related insight projects; a key driver of his is supporting other organisations to make better use of insight to enhance their impact.