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Executive Summary


This document is an Executive Summary of the research looking at potential strategies, tooling or data standard refinements to OpenActive to position it as a key data standard within Social Prescribing. The full report is available here
The work was commissioned by the who are the custodians of the
data standard on behalf of .
The vision or hypothesis is that the OpenActive data standard can become part of the Social Prescribing eco-system, that will drive an increase in referrals into physical exercise. The scope of the work was to carry out research to:
Explore the requirements for, and barriers to, data access and data sharing for social prescribing at the local level, including physical activity data
Undertake a gap analysis of OpenActive data standards and tooling against these requirements
Develop strategies for surmounting the identified barriers and gaps, that may help deliver the above objective.
The research was informed predominantly through
interviews and subsequent workshops with frontline workers, managers and technology and activity providers.

Key Barriers and Gaps

The key gaps relate either to technical and data considerations or to wider cultural, process and commercial factors that characterise Social Prescribing.
The following diagram shows the and identified as part of this research.
Research workshop - Barrier to strategies (1).jpg

Key Technical Barriers

The identified key technical barriers are best summarised as follows:
The need to align the
@Open Referral UK
data standards, which both currently play a similar role within Open Data Public Sector technology infrastructure. Without alignment between them, then take up of both standards will continue to progress slowly.
Recognising and resolving the debate between the cost, complexity and performance issues of using a “feed” versus an Application Programming Interface (API); and as part of this decision, creating the right balance and transparency between public sector funded infrastructure and the space for innovators to drive forward the market.
The opportunity to create some additional fields and tooling within the
standard which will address specific requirements within Social Prescribing processes. These requirements relate broadly to the following issues.
Providing additional support and more detailed information about activities that will address client anxieties where they are seeking confirmation that the support they need is available
Addressing the concerns raised by some
about wanting to visit all activities and have some assurances from a safeguarding perspective before making a referral
Streamlining these processes so that the experience is smoother for all
Providing more details on the skillsets of providers and appropriateness of the activities.

Key Cultural, Process and Commercial Barriers

Adoption of
is not technically complex. It is the wider cultural changes that are complex to overcome and many of the barriers relate to these challenges, which are far wider than OpenActive, but will ultimately affect the adoption of the standard.
Social Prescribing is a small market in terms of service volumes, is subject to local and national policy change and delivered through fragmented decision-making. It is also a busy market with both national and local initiatives and competing sales offers. Achieving adoption of the standard in this context will be a demanding and complex challenge
The business case for Open Data only exits where it is implemented across a “place” and adoption of Open Data is very slow. It seems held back by the immaturity and silo nature of place-based digital strategies and held back by the complex stakeholder environment that exists.
There seems to be a lack of appropriate activity and service offers at a local (at least of lack of their visibility) that are designed around the real needs of the localities. Where services do exist, they are not available as an Open Data feed.
The culture of service delivery within Social Prescribing and more broadly across the public and third sector continues to be paper-based, relying on inefficient processes and an acceptance that information is inaccurate and must be re-checked every time. This is the very antithesis of the Open Data Business Case and driving this cultural change will be a significant undertaking
Too often the leadership for adopting Open Data is delivered as a technical message, rather than a focus on the targeted outcomes of more accurate data and more efficient processes. This continues to legitimise outdated, inefficient, paper-based processes that deliver very poor customer experiences and inaccurate sets of service information.
The third sector and prevention generally remain critically under-funded; the promise that community support can help local people maintain healthier and happier lives needs pump-priming and proper long-term commitment.
It is the ability to aggregate and create the visibility of demand for reliable accurate information about local services that will drive the transformation. Citizens and patients continue to bear this pain, where service providers and the local public sector continue to work in a segmented manner.

Key Strengths

The purpose of the work was to identify barriers and opportunities; however, it is also important to recognise a number of key identified strengths
The materials and supporting documentation that define the Data Standard are first class
There is evidence of success, where
has enabled the vision that finding and being able to book an activity, like a tennis court, should be as easy as booking a hotel
The technology partners, both as Activity Application Providers and Social Prescribing providers both recognise that the standard is well supported and promoted
There is a brand recognition and strength within the Leisure and Sport that will be valuable as
look to broaden the reach of
into the wider Public Sector and away from this core market
Social Prescribing as a Health-led and wider Local Public Sector approach to delivering prevention through community support undoubtedly offers significant potential
The SPLW interviewed all represent a highly committed workforce, with a passion to do their utmost to help the people that they support. It is the sense of impermanence and the lack of clear expectations that needs to be addressed. Without this clear leadership, SPLW end up acting as a confident / mentor / counsellor for people; it needs clarity on whether the role is one of linking people into other services or whether the SLPW role is the counselling service in itself
The creation of the provides clear evidence of the Government’s commitment to maximise the potential of community referrals. It is an opportunity to also recognise the important role that adoption of Open Data locally can play.
It is also worth noting, that all of the technology partners and indeed the activity providers recognise and support the potential opportunity. Technically adoption of the standard is not complex and suppliers and providers will respond to strong local leadership.

Key Recommendations

The recommendations / strategies cover the same technical and wider cultural headings.


The key recommendations focus on
Resolving the issues around whether to adopt an
or a standard
or indeed, both. This will provide the options to suit the needs of all activity and social prescribing software providers. This should also create a more transparent market in terms of the balance between public-sector funded infrastructure and the market for innovation.
Working alongside
@Open Referral UK
and the emerging recommendations to provide over-arching governance to align the
standards and related and champion adoption of Open Data across local places.
Addressing the issue of taxonomy silo; without a common set of language and lists, then vision for cross-sector Open Data across community referrals and self-care seems undeliverable. Silo taxonomies will leave different language in each service area and agency and hence leave providers, front-line professionals and citizens needing to understand each of them, or more likely will leave them confused, frustrated and feeling let down
Deliver some live pilots and desk-based workshops to consider the potential impact of the proposed data standard and tooling refinements. These refinements look to deliver the additional sets of information and evidence that
and their patients are seeking. This should build on the work being led by London Sport, but look to take that learning to create longer and more robust feedback and evidence.


The cultural and broader business recommendations focus on the following broad types of initiatives. These cover a very broad set of stakeholder groups, where there is a need for national and local leadership to move the agenda forward.
Shifting some of the engagement focus by
, alongside the wider programme, away from solely engaging with the sport and leisure industry towards engagement with the local public sector. Success relies on adoption locally.
Creation of case studies, pilots and example programme blue-print for the implementation of Open Data at a local place, probably focused at Integrated Care System level.
Recognise the opportunity to aggregate demand across a wider set of community referral pathways. The business case for Open Data and for prevention that relies on community support relies on this aggregation of referrals as this will drive service and activity providers and application providers to comply. This sits at the very heart of the prevention strategy across health, care, housing, and police, as well as housing and benefits; it is recommended to fund and deliver examples of how to bring together this wider referral model, to demonstrate the impact and provide more in-depth learning on the implementation and the business case for local leaders.
Incentivise and monitor the adoption of data standards through the use of procurement specifications and contractual obligations within local commissioning plans.
Consider the measurement requirements to ensure that the right information is collected to manage the operational processes and inform strategic decisions. There is a risk of an emerging performance measurement industry collecting information that is interesting but does not inform real improvement or accountability requirements.
All of the providers interviewed, namely software and also activity providers and local community groups will respond to the opportunity to offer their services into a well-aggregated and well-governed programme of prevention offers.

Next Steps

To be complete after discussion with ODI
Download the PDF version
Executive Summary.pdf
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