Sport England Active Lives Online Interactive visualisation of complex data sets
Sport England (formerly the English Sports Council) is a non-departmental public body answerable to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. It is funded by central government and the National Lottery, and its focus is community sport. Sport England asked OCC to develop an interactive web-based tool to make their sports participation data publicly available. For more than 10 years, OCC have worked with Sport England iterating and improving multiple published versions of this tool.
Active Lives Online helps Sport England by allowing organisations that rely on their data to analyse the data themselves. The Active Lives Online platform has provided substantial time savings, for Sport England, as they can now freely reset their focus to resolving more complex queries which need their support.
The goal of this project was to streamline the ease of use of the Active Lives Online tool so people would engage with Sport England’s data via the site first, instead of sending an email requiring further action. OCC’s User Experience (UX) Team were key to making this happen.
The OCC approach began with conducting user research to uncover user insights while considering priorities and technical feasibility. We ran workshops with users and stakeholders to understand the different ways they used the tool, what pain points they experienced, and the user needs for the next phase of development.
OCC’s UX Team produced a report generated from the workshop, and also produced personas outlining the primary users of the Active Lives Online Tool. These UX artefacts were referenced throughout the design process to ensure that the Active Lives Online Tool was designed with the user in mind.
OCC use Zeplin to enable us to share our designs with our clients, so that we can annotate and iterate the designs in a tool that supports active client engagement.
As a government funded organisation, it is important that Sport England’s websites are accessible to as many people as possible. As such, OCC’s internal test team check every update to ensure that we have browser compatibility across both desktop and mobile devices, and that we maintain our WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility standard.
The greatest challenge on the Sport England project was the scale of the data Sport England have available to them, while enabling the user to create their own custom queries. Each Active Lives Adults survey dataset (e.g. November 15/16, November 16/17 etc.) contains around 180,000-200,000 individual responses. Each response included questions related to 193 different activities the person may have selected on the survey.
In Active Lives Online this data is able to be viewed as an aggregate grouped by:
• Activity (e.g. badminton, walking, water polo)
• Location (e.g. country, region, active partnership, local authority)
• Demographic (e.g. social status, gender, age)
• Measure (e.g. participation in the selected activities, volunteering, club membership)
Website performance is key to a good user experience. In order to make the website fast, OCC implemented 2 key features.
#1 the website will store, in-memory on the server side, any query that has been run before. This means that if the same query is run twice, either by the same user or different users, the website will provide the results without requiring the query to be run again on the database.
#2 the production database has all the possible website results calculated in advance, because calculating results at run-time was too slow. Early on we calculated that there would be billions of possible results returned. Working with Sport England, we identified which results were required on the tool, and we were able to reduce this to only 65 million results per time period. We now have 7 time periods, and 455 million possible results.
This query engine was implemented in the precursor to Active Lives Online (Active People Interactive). Whilst the data set has changed multiple times and the website completely replaced, the engine was made in a way that it could be reused for each new data set, enabling OCC to react to Sport England’s changing requirements over the last decade, including expanding the scope of the Active People Interactive to include data from Public Health England in 2016.
A key change for us over the last decade has been the emergence of Microsoft Azure as OCC’s preferred hosting platform. When we deployed Active Lives Online, we migrated our Sport England websites to Microsoft Azure. This has enabled OCC to continue monitoring the performance of the website and we can now increase its processing power to meet demand with no interruption to service.
Moving to Azure has also allowed our development teams to deploy website updates automatically from Microsoft Azure DevOps. Furthermore, Azure provides us with “slots”, whereby OCC can deploy the next version to a test slot, have it reviewed for accuracy by Sport England, and then “swap” the slot with the public website. Both changes have increased our ability to test and release the website rapidly.
Through our iterative approach, UX design team, innovative developers, and dedicated testers, OCC have produced a series of websites for Sport England for more than a decade, allowing the public and organisations to explore Sport England’s survey data.