Jade Moulden, Head of Business Development at Exercise Move Dance UK and graduate of the OpenActive Champions Programme, speaks about EMD UK’s new activity finder which hopes to solve both fitness instructor and consumer issues.
What problem did you have to solve?
The problem we had to solve was rooted in the fitness industry. From the consumers’ perspective, it’s really hard to find information about local fitness classes. You have to spend hours trying to find something online, trawling through local leisure centre websites, and sometimes having to read local newsletters and posters. Not only is the information you need in a variety of different places, but the quantity and quality of that information also varies massively. You can’t know whether a class is still running or if it’s 10 years out of date, so as a consumer it’s tough to find what you need.
From a fitness instructor’s perspective, the problem is having to spend a great deal of time putting activity information into many different places. There’s a lot of different search engines and places which advertise classes and you have to go to each different place and upload your information. Some of those places want you to pay to update the information and it also means that you have to put time and resource into the sharing and updating of activity information rather than being able to focus on teaching — the most important thing!
What have you done to solve this problem?
We have created an activity finder, which will be powered by open data. This is a one-stop shop for consumers to find out about local fitness classes; eliminating the need to search for the information in lots of different places. We’ve created a mechanism whereby individual instructors can register and add their classes. As more fitness organisations join the open data revolution, and share their opportunities, they will automatically be included in the Class Finder search.
We’ve built the activity finder with our consumer research and insight in mind, so we know what preferences they’ll want to be able to filter and search by. We can then work with organisations to make sure that they’re providing that information. This means that the activity finder solves the consumer issue, and open data helps the instructor to spread their class information far and wide. We have a source database where they can create their profile and put their information in.
In creating this one-stop shop, what are the challenges that you’ve had to overcome?
In terms of the biggest challenges so far, the main one has been getting agreement across the sports and physical activity sector on standards. Obviously, the intricacies and specifics of each sport vary wildly which has made finding something that works across the board for everyone quite difficult. From a fitness perspective, finding a set consensus on different brands and styles is paramount because everyone has to be naming ‘activity types’ in a similar manner in order to be able to share them. We’re at the start of that journey and so we need to continue to work with more organisations to get it right and grow.
Another big challenge has been technical knowledge. Generally, in fitness and sports, there are lots of community organisations. We’re a small organisation with only 20 employees, so we don’t have full-time technical staff. In order to engage with open data and make progress, we’ve had to learn a lot and borrow expertise. It’s easy to say “Open up your data”, but it’s the technical bit that comes after that is the sticking point for many.
Of course, there’s also the commercial aspect to think about. Organisations have to understand that they are not losing their commercial ‘edge’ by sharing and opening up their data. EMD UK is a national governing body and not for profit, but we also need to develop and deliver sustainable solutions. Over 50% of our sector is commercial, so the key is balancing the increasing participation with maintaining or achieving commercialism.
Do you feel that you have succeeded with what you set out to achieve so far?
We’ve definitely made progress. We haven’t launched our new search tool yet but when it launches, it could act as a carrot to say, “You can be part of this great new thing by opening up your data”. It’s an ongoing journey, but we knew it would be from the start. We’ve got about 80 member organisations, and we want them all to be part of it, but that means that we’ve got to spend time working with each of them. It’s a question of whether they’ve got the technical expertise needed to open up their data, whether they can see the commercial viability for their individual businesses and what support they need along the way. Either way, it’s a lot of work. It’s going to be a journey that lasts a number of years.
What advice would you give to those reading about your current journey?
Talk to people that have been involved, ask their advice and learn from what they’ve been through. Talk to the experts, like those at the ODI. And don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Don’t try to go it alone!