28 June 2017

Summer of enthusiasm

I am not the most enlightened or engaged London Youth digital champion but I certainly began this project full of enthusiasm. I even bought a Fitbit HR Charge to demonstrate my commitment  and – despite two very sore Achilles tendons  – I ploughed on into the mysterious world of wearable technology.

The summer heat helped the vision in my head  grow from a small pilot, to us leading the way in digital mastery among the community sport world, offering advice and counsel to others, with funders tripping over themselves to get involved. (Thankfully, I’m always quick to reign in my imagination.)

Autumn of hope

So a pilot programme was born to test the following hypothesis: young people engaging in our sports development programme within their local youth organisation are far more likely to access additional sports opportunities elsewhere, thus increasing their activity levels further. The subsquent argument to funders being pay for one hour of sport a week and this will lead to young people increasing their activity levels (by…insert a reliable and statistically significant number here) as a direct result. Surely a winning formula however you look at it.

The pilot involved four of our member organisations of similar demographics, size and facilities. Working with their youth workers, 90 young people were assigned to the programme and each provided with a wearable device (very kindly lent to us). They were to wear the device for a two-week baseline data gathering period and then two of the youth organisations would be part of our sports development programme for the following ten weeks. The remaining two youth organisations would join the programme immediately following the pilot.

It was so simple  I couldn’t  imagine it wouldn’t run perfectly  and deliver mouth watering activity data.

Winter of denial and doom

The technology was the first of many aspects to go wrong: 10% of the devices didn’t work at all, another 10% required new batteries and the remaining were rather hit or miss.

Our trusty sports officers Jas and Andy ran introductory sessions on how to use the devices, how to keep them safe, and how to register them and sync to a phone app. In all four sessions, the system froze and young people were unable to register. Out of 90 young people, just over half made it through registration and onto the next stage.

The next massive hurdle was to sync the device to young people’s phones. This required phones to have sufficient battery life to accommodate bluetooth and the syncing process – and of course for the device to actually work during the syncing process.

It also required that the device had been worn during the data collection period – and not stolen, forgotten, disliked and discarded, swapped, worn and broken in the shower or strapped to a dog. These were all popular outcomes we had not previously considered, but good learning all the same?

Having collected a worryingly small amount of data from the baseline period, we decided to keep calm and carry on, albeit with dramatically lowered expectations.  After all the time and effort that had gone into the preparation, alongside the hype I’d falsely created, to fall at the first hurdle really didn’t feel like an option.

Spring of reluctant acceptance

Sadly, the story doesn’t improve. We completed the pilot before Christmas 2016 with data analysis due to take place shortly after. Not only was zero data collected, we then had the arduous task of trying to retrieve all the devices and return to our kind lender

So what did we learn?

Borrowing equipment is never a good idea – especially when it’s then passed onto others. Wearable technology is hugely popular but when it doesn’t work immediately, young people understandably lose interest very quickly. Ideally if we ever ventured down this road again, we would have to partner with a tech company to ensure the process for collecting data takes the young person out of the loop – so automatically captured without relying on young people having to sync. And we would need more buy-in from the young people initially so they would be more likely and willing to wear the device as was intended.

But I am pleased we gave it a go. And I stand by my hypothesis – our programme does get inactive young people playing sport and it does act as a catalyst to them being more active in their daily lives. We know it happens, we see it first hand, but we just need to find a statistically significant way of proving it.

– Zoe Mellis, Head of Sports

To find out more about our sports programme, click here.

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