Sportworks

By Tim Crabbe, Substance

Sport is all about moments of skill, spontaneity, emotion, passion and the unexpected outcomes that keep us coming back for more… right?

Err well, sorry to disappoint, but whilst there might not be any catching Usain Bolt for a few more years the truth is that elite performance sports are increasingly data driven. At the Soccerex convention held in Substance’s home city of Manchester this month Chris Anderson, drawing on his book The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Football is Wrong, will tell football clubs what they should and shouldn’t do with data. His work was itself inspired by Michael Lewis’ bestselling book Moneyball which tells the story of how a baseball coach on a tight budget recruited players purely on the basis of performance statistics, regardless of whether the wider world considered them to be past it or sub-standard.

“Moneyball was all about finding new ways of winning with new technology on a low budget” says Anderson. Through the use of sabermetrics, or the search for objective knowledge about baseball, “they changed the way they recruited players, trained them, looked after them.”

In essence what these modern day sport technicians do is study the data rather than the aesthetics of sport to help them understand ‘what works’ and get the best results. When we were approached by Sir Keith Mills, who knows a thing or two about the power of data as the founder of Air Miles and Nectar, to help his sport for development foundation sported assess the power of sport to change lives we wondered whether similar principles might be applied in the field of social impact.

For too long those that have used sport as a vehicle for social change have relied on people’s innate sense that sport is a ‘good’ thing and have used individual testimony and anecdotes to illustrate personal transformation. What has been less in evidence is an understanding of the overall impact of programmes, what elements are the most important and how good practices might be replicated.

In response we developed an impact assessment application for the UK sport for development sector that is designed to predict the likely impact and value of specific interventions based on:

  • Best practice in defining which young people are most at risk of facing specific social problems
  • Review of existing knowledge and practice about ‘what works’ in protecting young people from those risks

On the basis of evidence of the interventions’ effects, the Sportworks application compares projected and actual impact, value and associated costs to enable more informed investment decisions to be made. Critically, as well as revealing the likely and historic impact on a specific social problem, from the same set of data, Sportworks will generate impact scores across a range of social policy themes to give a sense of the overall worth of an intervention. It also reveals which elements of provision are generating low scores, enabling capacity building and remedial action to be taken.


Tim Crabbe is the founder and Chair of Substance and will be talking more about Sportworks and the joys and pitfalls of data driven approaches to social impact analysis at The Social Impact Analyst Association’s Annual Conference in Toronto on the 3rd November 2014. Read more about Tim’s workshop here.

This blog was originally published on the Talking Data website here.

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