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WHAT IS AN EVIDENCE BASED APPROACH?

AN EVIDENCE BASED APPROACH TO PHYSICAL ACTIVITY: GOOD PRACTICE GUIDE

The information in this guide will support you to develop and deliver sport and physical activity initiatives in an evidence-based way.

WHAT IS EVIDENCE?

There are three broad types of evidence:

  • Research evidence: Information gathered through formal research – for example an evaluation of an intervention or project.
  • Contextual evidence: Information about the people, place, or circumstances surrounding you and your work).
  • Experiential evidence: Information about people’s feelings, experiences, histories and perceptions.
Evidence based approach diagram

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WHAT IS AN EVIDENCE BASED APPROACH?

An evidence-based approach means making decisions about a programme, practice, or policy which are grounded in the best available evidence. This includes research evidence, contextual evidence, and experiential evidence.

An evidence-based approach helps you to avoid ineffective or outdated approaches – in favour of effective and up to date approaches. In an evidence-based approach, we shift from making decisions based on tradition, intuition and anecdote to making decisions based firmly on the best available evidence. This helps us to achieve the best possible outcomes.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF AN EVIDENCE BASED APPROACH?

An evidence based approach helps to:

  • Define what you are trying to achieve, why, and for whom.
  • Build sustainable initiatives which meet the needs of communities.
  • Build trusting relationships with communities by responding to their needs .
  • Ensure the best possible outcomes within the time and resources available.
  • Develop an understanding of what works, what doesn’t work, and why.
  • Secure funding by giving you the evidence to demonstrate local need.
  • Raise the profile of your organisation by demonstrating the impact of your work.
  • Show a commitment to sharing learning with others in your community.

HOW CAN I ADOPT AN EVIDENCE BASED APPROACH?

The evidence-based approach is by no means a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Whatever stage you or your organsation is at, this guidance will help you understand some of the key principles and will signpost you to further information, help, or advice.
The evidence-based approach can be broken down into 5 key elements or stages.

OUTCOMES : Develop Shared Outcomes For Your Place

Before starting any intervention, it’s important to be really clear about the outcomes you are trying to achieve. To make the biggest positive impact, it’s also important that these desired outcomes are shared by all of the organisations and individuals involved.

Taking a wide view of the whole physical activity system will help you understand local needs and priorities. Focusing on what’s really needed in your local place will allow you to develop more effective and sustainable interventions.

You can improve ‘buy-in’ from other stakeholders by clearly communicating how sport and physical activity can support wider local goals and challenges. By working together with others in the local system, you can also develop broader and more detailed insight into the needs, challenges and opportunities in your local area.

What is ‘The Physical Activity System’?

Physical activity is a complex issue. Our physical activity is influenced by many different factors. These include:

  • Personal factors (age, gender, ethnicity, health, sexuality etc)
  • Economic factors (our personal income/wealth as well as that of the community we live in etc)
  • Social factors (culture, norms, family, friendships etc)
  • Environmental factors (the built environment, housing, infrastructure etc)
  • And many others!

All of these factors together make up ‘the system’ – a complex web of factors which influence our lives and behaviour.

Many different organisations operate in different parts of this system (healthcare, social support, employers, charities etc).

You can find further resources about whole-systems approaches here:

Reading List Local Delivery | Sport England

 

Develop An Understanding of the Wider Local Goals and Challenges

Why is this step important?

Try to speak to other organisations within your local system. This might include other sport/physical activity organisations, but also think wider! Organisations from other sectors (like health, education, volunteering, transport etc) might also have valuable insights to share.

Things to Consider

  • Come up with a list of people/organisations who you could connect with and share ideas with.
  • Can you identify and review relevant local strategy documents (e.g. from your local authority or health service)? This could help you understand local strategic goals.

Outcomes

  • By connecting with other people and organisations you will have a better understanding of local challenges and opportunities – from a variety of perspectives.
  • Reviewing local strategy documents will also help you build a better understanding of local strategic priorities.
  • Together, this will help you identify the broad outcomes which you want to work towards.

Identify Specific Needs and Priorities of the Community You Work With

Why is this step important?

Before starting any intervention, it’s important to understand the communities you will be working with. This will allow your work to be driven by real local needs.

Things to Consider

  • Do you have access to local data on current physical activity and sport participation?
  • Could you consult residents, community leaders and local organisations to understand their needs?
  • Could you speak to people from groups who have traditionally been under-represented in sport and physical activity?
  • Make sure to consider the wider social, economic and environmental issues which might prevent people from participating in sport and physical activity
    • Can you look at local health data to understand local health challenges and inequalities?
    • Can you look at local socioeconomic and demographic data to understand the wider factors affecting people’s lives and health?

Outcomes

  • By looking at local data, you can get an objective, population-level view of your area.
  • By speaking to residents and/or local organisations you can understand the key challenges and opportunities from a community perspective.
  • Together, this will help you understand what might be getting in the way of participation in sport and physical activity (barriers). It will also help you to identify ways in which you might support increased participation in sport and physical activity.

    What Contribution can Sport and Physical Activity Make?

    Why is this step important?

    Now that you understand the local challenges and opportunities, think about what difference sport and physical activity can make.

    You may need to convince other stakeholders to support your work. Highlighting how your work in sport and physical activity can positively impact the local area can help to convince others that your work is valuable.

    Things to Consider

    • Think about all of the ways in which sport and physical activity might make a positive difference in your local area.
    • Will your work contribute to wider strategic goals in your area? (e.g. to improve public health, reduce crime, or community cohesion).
    • You might consider writing some case studies which tell the story of how sport and physical activity can make a positive difference.
    • You could also build an outcomes framework – which explains how your work will lead to positive change.

    Outcomes

    • You will be much clearer on how sport and physical activity can make a positive difference to local people and the wider system.
    • You will have some outcomes to work towards which are aligned with local needs, and strategic priorities.
    • By developing an outcomes framework and/or case studies you will be able to clearly communicate to others how sport and physical activity can make a positive difference.

    Further guidance and resources

    These resources might help you in defining and articulating your desired outcomes:

    Here are some example case studies (highlighting the benefits of physical activity):

    Guidance on community consultation is available here:

    You can access local strategy documents for County Durham here:

    You can access local data for County Durham here:

     

    INSIGHT : Understand Your Community & Place

    To develop the most effective and sustainable interventions, it’s important to have a detailed, evidence-based understanding of the people and places you are working with. This stage is all about exploring local knowledge and data to build an understanding of what might work well in your place.

    Gather Insight From Local Residents & Stakeholders to Identify Barriers and Opportunities


    Why is this step important?

    It’s important to understand specific challenges and opportunities in a local place. Where there are lower levels of physical activity in a particular community, it’s important to understand why this might be the case. We must consider all of the wider factors which might affect people’s lives (including inequalities in health, wealth, and access to services).

    We must consider this wider, whole-systems approach if we are to tackle complex issues like physical inactivity.

    Things to consider

    • Think about people and place: who is it you are hoping to work with? And where (geographically) are you going to be working?
    • What are the specific local barriers to participation in sport and physical activity for the people you are working with?
    • Can you identify some opportunities to make it easier for these people to engage with sport and physical activity?

    Outcomes

    • You will have a more detailed understanding of the people and place you are working with.
    • This will help you prioritise ideas, identify opportunities, and find potential solutions to make it easier for people to engage in sport and physical activity.

    Consider The Wider Context


    Why is this step important?

    It’s important to understand the local context – the social, economic, and environmental factors that all impact on our lived experience.
    This local context influences the types of approaches which will be effective for increasing participation in sport and physical activity.

    Things to consider

    • Build an understanding of the socioeconomic environment. Our social and financial circumstances, as well as our social norms, all have an impact on our likelihood of being physically active.
      • Are you working in an affluent community or one facing economic challenges?
      • What activities (including events and campaigns) are already happening locally?
    • Build an understanding of the physical environment. The characteristics and design of the environment we live in can have positive or negative impacts on how people perceive and use public spaces (like parks, gyms, or cycle routes).
      • Are you working in an urban or rural setting?
      • What physical infrastructure is in place which may support or hinder opportunities to be active?

    Outcomes

    You will build a detailed picture of your local context. This will help you understand the potential barriers to participation in sport and physical activity. It will also help you identify opportunities for positive change.


    Establish Where You Are Now and Where You Want To Be


    Why is this step important?

    Establish where you are now (the current situation) and where you want to be (what you want to achieve). This can be very powerful in communicating the current strengths in your local area, as well as identifying opportunities for improvement. This paves the way for deciding more specifically what interventions will help you achieve your desired outcomes.

    Things to consider

    • Consolidate all of the research, consultation, and planning you have done so far.
      • What are the key messages?
      • What is it telling you?
    • Based on this insight, develop a list of specific priority issues/areas you want to tackle.
    • Based on the insight and your priorities, develop a set of clear, measurable objectives. Make sure your objectives are aligned with the wider issues and strategic goals in your local area (see ‘Outcomes’).

    Outcomes

    • You will have a clear picture of the local context and local need. You might collate this information as a report, presentation, or in some cases a ‘Needs Analysis Report’.
    • You will have clarity about the specific, evidence-based objectives you need to work towards, in order to create positive change in your place.

    Further guidance and resources

    Guidance on community consultation is available here:

    You can access national data and insight from Sport England here:

    You can access local data for County Durham here:

    You can access the County Durham Joint Strategic Needs Assessment here:

    INTERVENTIONS : Identify How the Outcomes Can Be Delivered Sustainably

    You are clear on the outcomes you want to work towards. You have also identified some specific, evidence-based objectives which will contribute to these wider outcomes. Next, you need to work towards a specific plan of action – what intervention(s) will work in your place to increase participation in physical activity and sport?

    By considering a wide range of different interventions, you can identify the intervention most likely to have a positive and lasting impact.

    Consider a Range of Different Interventions


    Why is this step important?

    Understanding the current sport and physical activity facilities, services and opportunities will help you see where the gaps and opportunities lie.
    Are there existing opportunities which you can build on? Or is something new required?

    Things to consider

    • Think about what facilities, services and opportunities are already available, for example:
      • Indoor and outdoor leisure provision (leisure centres, swimming pools, climbing centres, gyms etc)
      • Open green spaces and playing pitches (playgrounds, football fields, woodland sites etc)
      • Community and education facilities (school halls, community centres, local clubs etc)
      • Sport and physical activity groups (running/walking groups, sports clubs, dance classes etc)
    • Think about whether anything is missing from the current provision. What is needed to meet the objectives you are working towards?

    Outcomes

    • You will understand what needs to change locally (in terms of facilities, services, or opportunities) in order for you to work towards your desired objectives.
    • You will have ideas about the types of interventions which might be appropriate and effective.

    Refine Your Intervention


    Why is this step important?

    This step focuses on refining the list of possible interventions to determine the optimal approach. You need to choose the intervention(s) which will best support the objectives you are working towards.

    Things to consider

    • Think carefully about which type of intervention is most appropriate – is it a change to facilities, services, opportunities or a combination?
    • Think carefully about what you have the time, resources, skills and finances to deliver.
    • If you have the time, resources, skills and finances you could consider running a trial or feasibility study to test out your idea(s) at a smaller scale.
    • Work towards a detailed plan which outlines exactly what your intervention will involve.

    Outcomes

    • You will have a detailed intervention plan – which outlines exactly what you intend to do.
    • You may tweak this plan following a feasibility study (if you have the time, resources, skills and finances to do so).

    Further guidance and resources

    You can find guidance on facilities and planning here (if relevant):

    Planning for Sport | Sport England

    Facilities and planning | Sport England

    You might find some inspiration for your intervention here:

    Active Design | Sport England

    Case Studies | Sport England

    Campaigns | Sport England

    Local Delivery Pilots | Sport England

    COMMITMENT : Secure Investment Commitment to Outcome Delivery

    Its important to be clear and confident that your planned intervention is affordable, achievable and sustainable.

    Ensure You Have a Realistic & Sustainable Financial Plan


    Why is this step important?

    Be really clear about the financial costs, risks, and benefits associated with your intervention. It is crucial that you have the funds to see your intervention through. Your work must bring benefits (which may be social, economic, health-related, or environmental) to justify any costs.

    Things to consider

    • Carefully consider the costs, risks and benefits of your intervention.
    • If you are looking for funding support from an external organisation, you may be required to convince them that your intervention represents good value for money.
    • You may be asked to produce a ‘Business Case’ for funders or collaborators.

    Outcomes

    • Having considered all of the costs, risks and benefits associated with your intervention, you can be confident that your plan is realistic and sustainable.
    • You will also be in a strong position to seek funding and collaborative support from other organisations.

    Secure Commitment From Other Relevant Stakeholders & Start The Intervention


    Why is this step important?

    Many interventions in the sport and physical activity sector involve multiple organisations working together. It is important that all stakeholders are clear on the objectives and outcomes. Everyone must be clear about what is expected of them, what is within the scope of the project, and what is not within the scope of the project.

    Once everyone agrees, it’s time to start your intervention.

    Things to consider

    • Work towards an agreed set of outcomes, objectives, and actions.
    • Ensure that everyone involved is happy with the proposed intervention approach and the time, skills, funding, or resources they are required to contribute.
    • In some cases, you may require formal written support from funders or collaborators – to confirm their commitment to the project.

    Outcomes

    Once you have a plan agreed with all of the relevant stakeholders, you are in a strong position to move forwards in implementing your intervention.

    Further guidance and resources

    The Economic Value of Sport | Sport England
    Social and Economic Value of Community Sport | Sport England

    EVALUTION : Understand the Impact of Your Work

    This stage is all about Measurement, Evaluation and Learning (MEL). It is important that we measure performance against our objectives so that we can determine whether or not an intervention was successful. It is equally important to reflect and learn from the process as we go along – so that we can understand how and why things have happened. Good MEL allows us to improve our work for next time. And if we share our learning with others, we can support the whole system to work more effectively.

    Decide on Some Priorities for Measurement, Evaluation and Learning (MEL)


    Why is this step important?

    Measurement, evaluating and learning (MEL) is a crucial part of the process. MEL allows us to understand:

    • Are we are meeting our objectives?
    • Which aspects of the intervention have been effective (and which have not)?
    • What has gone well and what has been really challenging?

    We can use the understanding that comes from project evaluation to inform future work. We can learn from what works well (and what does not go so well) and improve going forwards.

    We can also learn as we go along, and adjust the project as needed to ensure it if as effective as possible.

    Things to consider

    • How are you going to measure progress against your objectives?
      • Remember that there are many ways to measure progress against an objective – this does not have to involve numerical data (though you may wish to adopt a quantitative approach).
    • How are you going to reflect and learn throughout the intervention?
      • Ongoing reflection is important for understanding how and why things happen. This is especially important when we are working on complex issues like physical inactivity.
    • Who might be interested in hearing about the evaluation?
    • Make sure that your MEL approach is appropriate for the scale and scope of your work.
      • MEL takes time, skills, and resources. Be realistic and remember to keep it simple.

    Outcomes

    • You will have clearly defined how you are going to measure progress against your objectives.
    • You will have planned some ways to reflect and learn throughout the intervention (not just at the end).
    • You will have considered who might be interested in hearing about your MEL work – meaning that you will be prepared to share your learning when the time is right.

    Decide the Level and Scale of Measurement, Evaluation and Learning (MEL)

    Why is this step important?

    Make sure that the Measurement, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) approaches you choose are right for you (consider whether you have the time, skills, resources and funding required).

    You don’t need to measure everything, only what is relevant to your objectives and what is feasible with the resources you have available.

    Remember that reflecting and learning as you go along is just as important as measuring against your objectives.

    Things to consider

    • Decide the ‘level of measurement’ – how in depth and resource-intensive does your MEL need to be?
    • Ensure that you have the time, skills, resources and funding needed to complete the MEL activities you have planned.
    • In some cases, you may wish to appoint an independent evaluator (if you have the funding required). An independent evaluator may be useful if you don’t have the skills or time to complete the evaluation yourself. Or, in a scenario where conducting the MEL yourself might represent a conflict of interests.

    Outcomes

    Once you have considered the level and scale of measurement required, you will be in a strong position to decide on the specific methods and tools you will use.

    Choose Data Collection Methods and Tools


    Why is this step important?

    Clearly defining the data that you need to collect will enable you to effectively measure the impact of your intervention. The type of data you need will determine the methods and tools you need to collect it.

    Remember that data does not have to be numerical (quantitative). Qualitative research methods (stories, case studies, interviews and focus groups) are equally useful tools.

    Things to consider

    • Decide what data you are going to collect and which tools or methods are needed (this depends on your objectives – what are you trying to measure?)
    • Come up with a data collection plan – how are you going to collect the information?
    • If your data collection involves participants, you must think carefully about ethics and data protection.
      • How will you ensure that participants are safe and treated with respect?
      • How will you ensure that their information remains confidential?
    • Don’t forget to plan in methods for reflecting and learning throughout the intervention process.

    Outcomes

    Having considered your data, methods, tools (and – if appropriate – ethics/data protection) you will be able to clearly articulate your MEL plan.

    Collect and Analyse Your Data

    Why is this step important?

    Carefully implement your Measurement, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) approaches.
    Then, it’s really important that any data you collect is collated and analysed. Bringing all of the data together and looking for key themes, trends and patterns will allow you to assess whether you have met your objectives and to extract some ‘take home messages’ about the intervention.

    Things to consider

    • Collect your data using the methods and approaches you have planned.
    • Collate the data – bring it all together.
    • Analyse your data.
      • What are the key themes, trends and patterns?
      • This stage might involve quantitative analysis (if your data is numerical) or qualitative analysis (if your data is richer information from stories, case studies, interviews or focus groups for example).

    Outcomes

    Once you have collected, collated and analysed your data you will be able to understand whether you have met your objectives.

    If you have planned for reflection and learning throughout the intervention – you will also be able to understand how and why things have turned out the way they have.

    Reflect on Learning To Adapt and Improve


    Why is this step important?

    Thinking about what has been learnt from Measurement, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) helps us to adapt and improve – both now and in future.

    Sharing your learning with colleagues and other organisations can help them to be more effective too.

    Having clear evaluations can also give your work credibility and help you showcase the impact you have had.

    Things to consider

    • What are the ‘lessons learned’ based on your MEL findings?
    • What might you do similarly or differently next time?
    • Which other organisations might benefit from this learning?
    • How can you share it with them?

    Outcomes

    • By extracting key learnings and sharing these with other organisations you can contribute to positive system change.
    • By working together – to measure, evaluate and learn from our work – we can create a system where engaging in sport and physical activity is an easier choice for everyone.

    Further guidance and resources

    There is lots of further guidance available from the Sport England website:

    Identifying your Measurement and Evaluation Priorities | Sport England

    Decide the Level of Evaluation | Sport England

    Select Data Collection Methods and Tools | Sport England

    Implementation Phase | Sport England

    Data Collection Guidance | Sport England

    Learning Phase | Sport England

    Tools and Resources | Sport England

    This guidance was developed by the County Durham Evidence Based Approach Group (County Durham Sport, Durham County Council, Durham University, Public Health, Sport England, Area Action Partnerships).

    Click here to read about how other organisations have used an evidence-based approach to create healthier, more active communities.