Data Experts Urge Action On Children's Sport

Data science specialists are shaping a Scotland-wide initiative that encourages more young people to take up sport and exercise.


Their expertise is informing a national strategy that seeks to raise participation rates among 5-18 year olds, after a dip prompted by Covid-19 lockdowns.

A team led by the University of Edinburgh has made four key recommendations for policymakers as they decide future funding priorities for children's sport.

Scotland lacks reliable data on physical activity trends and steps should be taken to address that knowledge gap, the researchers say.

Data-driven approaches - similar to those adopted by other countries - should inform any strategy, experts at the University's Data for Children Collaborative suggest.

The team says steps should be taken to ensure those children who experienced the pandemic do not miss out long-term on physical activity. Policy should have a particular focus on reopening sports facilities that have remained closed since Covid 19.

Rebuilding the foundations of children's sport should also be a priority, the researchers say - Covid-19 has exacerbated many long-term challenges facing the sector, particularly around funding and staffing.

Children's rights

Researchers say their recommendations chime with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which supports free and equal access to physical education, sport and other recreational activities.

Specialists at Edinburgh worked with Abertay University, the Observatory for Sport in Scotland and the Mulier Institute in the Netherlands during the two-year study. Also involved were strategy and innovation consultancy Urban Foresight, as well as data engineers and analysts based at Optima Connect.

The team mapped the range of activities that sports organisations, authorities and trusts offer to young people across Scotland.

Researchers from Abertay University invited young people - with the consent of their parents or guardians - to share their experiences of taking part in sport.

Young people were encouraged to identify any barriers that might have stopped them from being active - and to describe what sport and exercise activities might look like in an ideal world.

Emerging trends

As the responses were gathered, the Data for Children Collaborative worked with project partners to identify the key emerging trends. These have informed their recommendations.

The Data for Children Collaborative is a specialist unit within the University's Edinburgh Futures Institute that seeks to use its expertise to improve outcomes for children.

The Collaborative's Deputy Director Fraser Macdonald stressed the need for a data-driven approach to addressing the impacts of Covid 19.

"It is so important to bring data to life with stories. This project has shown that physical activity policy should focus on increasing opportunities for those who experienced the pandemic growing up," said Mr Macdonald.

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