A question of sport

Mike Buckle

How quickly do you need to find out what the legacy of the London Olympics is? Answer: very quickly.

Sport England is a non-departmental public body answerable to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and funded by central government and the National Lottery. Each year, it surveys the population to collect data on attitudes to sport, including what sports are played, who plays them, where and how often.

In 2010, Sport England refreshed its questionnaire and ended up with a very large set of data. It then asked OCC to design a new publicly available interactive website. The goal of the website was to make it easier for local councils and other organisations to work out who was playing sport in their area, what sports they were playing and where. If a council wanted to build a new sports centre, it would know where – or if – there would be demand for it and what sports should be provided.

From the outset, the OCC team foresaw that, because the data changed only every 6 months, we could anticipate the questions, calculate all possible answers and store them in a database ready to be retrieved when needed.

With such a huge set of data, if we had taken the direct approach, it would have taken more than 2 days to come up with the answers. People weren’t going to wait around that long.

Our job was made easier by the fact that for some questions there were simply not enough responses for any results to be statistically worthwhile. This meant that the user interface could be designed to reduce the number of categories a user could choose at one time, without restricting the useful questions they could ask.

Adding data

It was always intended that a further 5 years of Sport England data would be added, but this was extended to include additional data from Public Health England, which had a slightly different set of data in the same file format.

However, there was nothing to worry about. Having solved the problem once, it was easy to do so again.