Improving community and service-based physical activity provision

Our distinctive perspectives on promoting lifestyle change allow us to create tailor-made approaches. These activate the adaptive capacities of individuals, groups and services. We aim to identify and then modify the underlying causes of under-activity. Then, using innovative methods, our approaches activate the most powerful influences on day-to-day behaviour. Our methodologies produce effective, context-specific interventions.

Students playing hockey on the blue outdoor pitch

Current projects:

This work is headed by Dr. Andy Daly-Smith. It has already established strong links to a range of local, regional, national and international research projects, up to, and including the EU-funded project (link to web page).

One of the principle initial achievements of this work is a UK ‘first’. We developed a whole-school PA schema - the Creating Active Schools (CAS) framework. This work is important because it was based on a co-production approach. Importantly, our approach integrated the real world understanding and previously unrecognized priorities. CAS is already shaping policy, research and practice. CAS embeds sustainable interventions that help more inactive children become more active.

In this work we are collaborating with Leeds City Council (LCC). The work links unique community-level insights to powerful system-wide change frameworks. This is helping LCC meet their priority to become a highly active city community. Our recent city-wide ‘conversation’ is already identifying important and exciting promotional opportunities. 

From August 2019 – December 2019, PA-related data were collected through a bespoke website. This generated 2,437 responses, with at least 50 responses from 20 of Leeds’ 28 postcode areas. Separate focus groups involved 1,810 residents. Results from both data capture approaches align. Existing provision does not support the large numbers of under-active residents. This lack of support is linked to the places where they live. Meeting basic needs was an unrelenting problem for many under-active respondents. Top priorities for making Leeds a more active city included:

  • linking PA with social opportunities
  • improving accessibility (i.e. reduce costs, offer family sessions, provide adapted equipment and/or tailor opportunities for people with specific health needs)
  • making local green spaces accessible and safe.
This approach has generated unique insights. Individual competency was especially important for helping underactive residents. Further, cluster analysis identified three new PA-based groupings each with ~600 respondents.

Importantly, these insights are behaviourally-oriented and context-specific. Now were working with local stakeholders and decision makers to plan new PA provision. This is down to the level of specific postcodes. It is being delivered by Prof. Jim McKenna and Alex Christensen (post-doctoral researcher) and follows prolonged engagement with the citywide ‘Let’s Get Active’ intervention.

This work focuses on how iconic sports event can promote community-based PA. 

In 2018 and 2019 we explored how Tour de Yorkshire was used as the springboard event for on-the-day PA promotion in a range of communities in Doncaster (link to both Tour de Yorkshire reports).

In another funded, follow-on project, using a Behavioural Economics model we identified that engagement in high quality local PA provision - in two of the least active Doncaster neighbourhoods - was impeded by two powerful ‘friction’ factors. These were; (i) the ‘scarcity mindset’ emerging from prolonged instability around income, housing and employment and (ii) low quality green spaces (link to 6-monthly report). Based on these experiences our group is currently being funded by Sport England to develop a ‘best practice’ report of how to optimise programme development across the UK. 

On-going work is currently exploring how the 2021 Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) can innovatively apply ‘gamification’ to community PA planning, provision and evaluation (link to report). Uniquely, in RLWC pre-event PA is the principle PA target. The work is supported by Doncaster Council and Sport England. In the School of Sport it is headed by Prof. Jim McKenna and features a strong collaboration with academics in our sister School of Events Tourism and Hospitality Management.

This work investigates how PA uptake can be increased by aligning evaluation and delivery using a common framework. It builds on our previous work around whole systems approaches. Aligning the local PA system around the ‘influencer’ model, the LDP intends to help more under-active locals become more active. 

Based on numbers and stories, our work represents a ‘deep dive’ into daily lives of Calderdale residents. Consistent with systems science, we are using a developmental evaluation (DE) approach. DE requires careful alignment between evaluation and improvement. Done well, DE releases adaptive capacity in the local system. 

Our approach aims to ensure alignment at three levels’ systems, users and deliverers. Comparing waves of ‘scoring’ from stakeholders, users and deliverers will indicate system change. User perspectives will describe and predict change, and its activating agents, over time. Deliverers’ on-going self-assessments will show change and compatibility with users’ needs and preferences. 

The pilot is based around priority areas and services. Interventions are generated by local, design-trained, PA ‘champions’. ‘Champions’ were coached to use the Double Diamond design approach. Through that process, they developed bespoke interventions for their target audiences and areas. 

Sport England are funding this evaluation as part of a nationwide commitment to improve community-based promotion of PA. Led by Prof. Jim McKenna, Dr. Alexandra Potts is the Research Fellow undertaking the extensive field work associated with the project (link to initial proposal).

Professor James mckenna

Jim McKenna is Carnegie Professor of Physical Activity and Health and Head of the Active Lifestyles Research Centre in the Carnegie Faculty.