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Innovation and digital support

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Times are changing, and so are people’s expectations.

In the face of significant opportunity and change, it’s critical innovation, including digital, is applied to the big issues that are holding many more people back from being active.

What is innovation?

Innovation is applying a creative mindset, generating ideas and experimenting to make positive changes that improve people's experiences of physical activity. It is an approach that puts people’s needs at the heart, continually learning and adapting to remove the real-life barriers they are facing.

What do we mean by digital?

The use of technology and data to meet raised consumer expectations and drive innovation, actionable insights and value, covering:

  • Capabilities and culture
  • Processes and systems
  • Services and experiences; online, in places, and in the community.

At Sport England, our innovation efforts are focused on applying innovation and digital to address inequalities.

Two boys jumping as they follow along with a Joe Wicks workout playing on the TV behind them.

Why is it important?

Innovation, including digital, is essential to Uniting the Movement. We know that old approaches haven’t reduced inequalities, and that new ideas are needed. As both a catalyst to drive change, and a value we hold to, learning how to apply innovation and digital is critical if we are going to make sport and physical activity accessible and relevant to many more people.

What is Sport England’s role?

At Sport England, our efforts are focused on learning how best to apply innovation and digital to address inequalities.

To help clarify the role that Sport England should play to enable innovation, between 2021 and 2023, we worked with our innovation learning partner, the Innovation Unit, to explore innovation and its role in delivering Uniting the Movement. You can read more about our innovation learning journey by downloading the file below.

As a result of this journey, we have developed some practical guides to help partners and their teams to build your confidence and skills in applying innovation.

Best practices

This is a set of eight key practices to guide your approach to work, which we believe will enable great innovation to happen. These are as much mindsets as they are regular behaviours, and have been inspired by similar principles from UK Government Design, Design Council and CAST.

The associated illustrations help to reinforce the link between innovation and creativity. Read the descriptions below to find out more about each practice.

A graphic of illustrations, showing eight best practices for innovation and digital: a heart-shaped jigsaw, text is 'put the problem first'; a group of people, text is 'be people centred'; pencils, text is 'value skills and experience'; three blocks of increasing size, text is 'take small steps'; an open door with light shining through, text is 'be open'; an archery target, text is 'embrace failure'; binoculars, text is 'look to the future'; a flashlight, text is 'embrace the uncertainty'

  • Put the problem first

    Love the problem, not the solution.

    What it means

    It often feels easier to visualise the solution (“let’s create an app!”), but by starting with the problem, and asking questions to delve into why that problem exists, and what the needs are of your users, you can ensure you are solving the right problem for the right people or community

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  • Be people-centred

    Put real people's need at the heart of everything.

    What it means

    To effectively understand why inequalities exist and how they can be addressed, you need to hear from the people experiencing them. You need to truly understand barriers and their needs from their perspective. Involving people in the design and delivery of a solution means you can be sure that what you deliver is rooted in real needs.

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  • Value skills and experience

    Assemble a diverse, multidisciplinary team.

    What it means

    It’s important to have the right mix of skills, expertise and experience working together as one team to solve the problem you’re addressing. Partners, local organisations and end users should be part of the team where relevant. By having a balance of perspectives and creating the space to work as a collective, you can feel empowered to make decisions rapidly.

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  • Take small steps

    Continually adapt.

    What it means

    Nothing follows a linear process. Flexible methodologies can help you be clear in your purpose, but agile in approach, as well as creating space to fail in a controlled way. By working in an iterative way you can adapt as you go and make sure you’re having the maximum impact on solving your problem.

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  • Be open

    Share as you go.

    What it means

    Change can’t happen in a vacuum; being open helps us learn about change by learning from those that have gone before us. By welcoming in inspiration and sharing as you go, you can also help improve collective practice and transparency across the sector. Working in the open is reciprocal – just as you benefit from others’ work, they benefit from yours.

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  • Reframe failure

    Prioritise learning when things don't go to plan.

    What it means

    Solving problems involves trial and error to get to the best result. Every time something doesn’t work is an opportunity to learn, adjust and try again, knowing that you’ll get closer to solving the problem you set out to solve. Find comfort in failure – it means you’re being brave!

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  • Look to the future

    Think long-term, prioritise all forms of sustainability.

    What it means

    Whilst it’s important to take small steps, you also need to keep the longer-term goal in mind. Be fixed on your outcome, but flexible on how you get there. Consider questions about longer term impact and sustainability, to ensure everything you do improves things in the future and minimises short-term thinking or unanticipated consequences.

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  • Embrace the uncertainty

    Welcome new approaches.

    What it means

    The only certainty when trying to do things differently is uncertainty. This is something you’ll need to get comfortable with. Seeking to solve entrenched problems means moving into new spaces, at the edge of our current understanding, without knowing exactly where you’ll end up! 

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Innovation playbook

This is a growing set of tried and tested tools and approaches to embed innovation in your everyday work. It's categorised by the different types of activities you may want to use on your innovation journey and includes tools, examples and templates.

Just like an innovation journey, the playbook isn’t designed to be linear. You can choose the parts that best suit your needs – from gaining rich insights using personas, to capturing learning using reflective rollercoasters.

View the playbook

Two smiling women walk with their children in prams in a park.

Digital support

We've worked in partnership with other organisations to develop tools to support digital skills and enable digital transformation, including:

Digital maturity and effectiveness tool and Digital Futures report

We’ve worked with ukactive to develop a benchmarkable measure and report to help organisations assess their current digital maturity levels. We believe this is an essential step to prioritise efforts to undertake digital transformation.

Access the digital maturity tool

Digital marketing hub

We’ve worked with the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity to provide the hub, aimed at improving the digital marketing skills of the sector.

The hub includes free access to expert speakers, live and on-demand webinars, 1-2-1 mentoring, a Facebook group, guides, resources and modules, making it easier and quicker to reach your target audience.

Visit the hub


We’ve funded the Open Data Institute to coordinate this community initiative since 2016 to create the data infrastructure required to support people in local communities to find relevant sport and physical activity information online.

The OpenActive team can help you standardise the data you have about physical activity opportunities (the time, place, description, cost), and help you to publish it openly so that it can be easily used by innovators to drive more awareness of these opportunities locally.

Visit OpenActive

Contact us

If you'd like to find out more or get support, you can get in touch with the innovation and digital team.

Email us

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