Open Data - What is it and why should I care?

Richard Hall - Head of Marketing, 02-09-2019

This month the Active Humber blog gets a little techie with a focus on all things Open Data from our Head of Marketing Richard Hall.

When I sat down to look at what we might talk about in relation to this month's blog, I had 2 words rattling round my head: Open Data.

What is Open Data I hear you say? And why should I care? Keep reading, and hopefully I can make some of those connections in something of a coherent manner.

What is it?!

In the time I have worked for Active Humber, the phrase Open Data has popped up consistently, and more relevant to us, the Sport England backed initiative OpenActive (backed by the Open Data Institute) has also been on our radar.

Open data refers simply to data that anyone can access, use or share. It's dead easy. OpenActive's goal is: 'to make data on what, where and when physical activity sessions happen openly available.'

If you want all the detail there's some handy info here which explains it all in detail

So this is all about transforming the health and fitness industry, to make physical activity information freely available to more people, so more people can see, and make use of it.

So how do we use it?

The analogies I hear often compare how simple other industries have made it for you to use their product, and the role Open Data plays in that. E.g. All the bookable holidays in the UK are contained in one of 2 main 'open' databases, yet you can buy or access these through no end of providers: Trivago,, Expedia, Travelsupermarket...the list goes on. Try to find and book a zumba class in your local area however, or search for something else physical activity wise that appeals to you, and the chances are there's a lot less information freely available, and the online/mobile booking experience makes you want to throw your phone out of the window! Right?!

Open Data Utopia!

The Open Data utopia is one where all providers of health, sport and physical activity make all their session and booking information open and available via the web or an App, but also allow other companies or innovators access to that non personal information, to do with as they wish. Ultimately more people are spreading the good word, and more people are getting physically active. In theory.

And I get the concept. Imagine a place where all the millions of lapsed (that's me), unfit, obese, long term unwell people have access to a HUGE database of local opportunities at their fingertips just waiting to be accessed, to help make their lives better and improve their health! Wouldn't that be great. Everyone would just know about this vast database, and physical activity rates would soar, and we would all be healthier and happier...

There's also the innovation factor to take in. With holiday booking information freely available, different companies have come up with different ways to package, market and sell that service. Competition is hot between such companies meaning they have to raise their game to attract customers, and sell more holidays. Even just the explosion of mobile tech away from Open Data has driven innovation, think about Uber and Amazon as great examples of the evolving of fantastic service for customers on a mobile device. Or for Uber in particular they have disrupted the traditional taxi service with a new business model which suits the digital age.

There could be all sorts of opportunities in the sport/physical activity/health sector using Open Data that none of us have even dreamt of yet which this innovation could bring.


To me there's a 'but'. And it seems to be a big one.

Whilst I'm totally on board with making as much activity data as open as possible, making it available for others to share, and seeing what innovation could take place to drive participation, and the related health benefits (I really am!), I just can't help thinking that even with all that in place, all it will really do is make life more simple for those people who are already active, want to get active, and have an idea of what it is they want to do already.

What about those people who have never done any formal activity, or don't have a clue what they want to do, or lack the confidence to even start searching for something to take part in and diving straight in?

How will they find the app/data, and where are the big budget marketing and activation plans from partners to drive people online to utilise the brave new Open Data world?

Are we in the physical activity industry kidding ourselves that it's purely a lack of knowledge that is holding people back?

I am not all doom and gloom however. My gut feeling is that utilising Open Data in our field is definitely a great idea. The more information in the public domain the better. But the truth is, even with national initiatives tapping into the data such as Change4Life and governing bodies of sport, we are a long way from a tipping point, and any studies on the effectiveness of the new approach are a long way off - we're just getting started.

Inactivity is a much broader issue than just a lack of information, and as we most likely know from our own work in the field, behaviour change is also very complicated. If we already had the answer to how we tackle inactivity and change behaviour we would all be merrily doing it!

A new hope...

My hope is that Open Data in our field does become the norm, and we keep opening up opportunities and spreading that information across digital platforms, to help make people's lives that little bit easier to book that Zumba class or Couch to 5K session. I hope also someone very clever comes up with an innovation that can literally transform the industry in the way that perhaps Uber have shown it's possible to do.

At Active Humber we have been, and continue to talk to various partners about how we can engage with Open Data, and what opportunities might exist to push the OpenActive agenda in the region. Our website will be a focus for this, so watch this space for something in the pipeline coming soon.

I'll leave you with this thought: Since takeaway chains have embraced Open Data and 'middle men' apps such as Just Eat or UberEats have been up and running, the takeaway industry has seen a 34% growth in only a few years. A 34% increase over a short timescale is enormous!

So Open Data might be somewhat responsible for increases obesity on that front (!) all we have to work towards is finding the right tool or utilisation to make Open Data just as effective in raising activity levels as it has been in helping people eat more fast food.


Since utilising Open Data through Just Eat/Uber Eats type Apps, the takeaway industry has seen a 34% growth...