Active Places is a Sport England funded initiative, bringing together partner organisations to promote physical activity in Shildon and the Deerness Valley. Active Places supports these communities to fit more movement into their lives, by understanding and influencing the complex web of factors which affect physical activity.
The factors affecting physical activity range from individual-level influences (like age or gender), to social influences (like friends, family and culture), to the physical environment (such as parks and cycling routes) and even policy influences (such as local strategies and public health campaigns). Together, these factors can be called ‘the system’.
Trying to influence the whole system is clearly an ambitious and complex task. To truly understand the impact of Active Places, we need new and innovative methods. Traditional evaluation methods (such as measuring physical activity levels) cannot tell us how or why changes occur. They cannot tell us how the different parts of the system influence one another. And, they cannot tell us about changes in the physical activity system which were unexpected or unpredictable.
To understand, capture, and reflect on the impacts of Active Places, we are using Ripple Effects Mapping. This involves collaborative workshops, where we map out the ways in which Active Places has tried to influence the system. We can then map the ‘ripples’ – the chain of events which follow an intervention. Ripples can be the intended consequences of an intervention, or completely unexpected outcomes.
The first Ripple Effects Mapping workshops were held in late March and were led by Wavehill. Here’s what Active Places Coordinator, Katy Thompson, had to say about the workshops:
Why did you choose Ripple Effects Mapping?
Ripple Effects Mapping captures the wider impacts of an intervention that traditional impact evaluation frameworks may not capture. This is useful to evaluate a whole systems approach initiative, like Active Places.
What were the biggest benefits of the workshops?
Ripple Effects Mapping is a new approach to evaluation for the Active Places partners – the workshops were a great introduction to what it is and how to do it. It provided a space for partners to:
- Reflect on their involvement in Active Places so far
- Reflect on the main successes from their perspective
- Highlight where the impacts are and who has been impacted by Active Places
- Identify who else should be engaged in Active Places going forward.
And it really highlighted the value of collaboration!
What key themes were discussed at the workshops?
At the Active Shildon workshop, we mapped the Park Play initiative: the successes, impacts, and the ‘ripples’ which led to these. At the Active Valleys workshop, we had two groups of partners. One group ripple-mapped walking pathway improvements in the Deerness Valley. The second group mapped the different physical activity opportunities in the Active Valleys area.
How did people react to the Ripple Effects Mapping?
There was great engagement and partners really enjoyed it. Everyone was positive about using this approach and saw the benefits. One partner commented that this method would be effective in showing impact of another project they are working on. Partners highlighted the value in working collaboratively and could see where their wider work was contributing to positive change.
These workshops were just the first in a series of workshops. Over time, we will build detailed maps of how Active Places has impacted Shildon and the Deerness Valley. By analysing these maps, we will identify common stories about how to create positive changes in physical activity participation.
Article by Dr Rachel Mowbray, Insight Coordinator.