Improving the discoverability and usability of open sports and physical activity opportunity data

I wrote recently about how we’re working towards redesigning and redeveloping the OpenActive website (our redesign/development tender is currently open). As part of this we’re looking at people’s experiences of using open opportunity data, and how we can better support this by improving the data’s discoverability and usability.

Please note that this article was previously written for the OpenActive blog as part of my role on the project as an Open Data Institute Associate, and is recorded here for posterity.

A shifting focus

Our Phase 1 goals for OpenActive centred primarily around awareness of what the initiative is trying to achieve, and getting people to start making their data openly available for anyone to use, reuse and share. The website reflected this, with most content focusing on the publication of data and sharing the development of the evolving standards. Lists of data were very much that — big, bold, logos that visually showcased the growing momentum of people joining in.

We managed to meet our initial goals, and have now moved into Phase 2. Whilst we’re still working with a number of organisations to support them in publishing data openly (let us know if you’d like to be one of them!), we’re now looking to put more of a focus on the usage of open opportunity data — helping people to take the data being openly published, using it on their website, in apps, for analysis, or even for creating art — the beauty of this being open data is that there are no limits in how it can be used!

One area that I’ve been specifically focusing on is how we can improve the discoverability and usability of open opportunity data, including what this means for updating the website. In this post I’d like to update you on what we’ve done so far, and what we’d like your help with.

Discovery and usability

As a starting point, what do we mean by discoverability and usability?

  • Discoverability covers areas like making sure that people know about OpenActive, finding the data that is being made available by activity providers, understanding what the data covers, and how to get hold of it.
  • Usability of the data concerns giving people the tools and resources to quickly get up and running with examples, helping to answer development-related questions they may have, supporting them when things go wrong, and feeding back into making the data itself better.

At present, we know that there’s a long way to go in order to do these as well as we’d like to. We’re currently very reliant on the OpenActive team engaging with people directly through blog posts, speaking at events, or arranging meetings and calls; with long-term sustainability in mind we’re aware that we need to create much better resources and tools to replace some of this.

In terms of the data, each data set is currently linked from the Use Data page of the OpenActive website. You’re then taken to an interstitial page and have to follow another less-than obvious link on the title of the data set. This isn’t currently a great experience for data users, and the process behind getting it visible could also be improved for publishers. We’re considering numerous options around how this data could be better presented, but first need to better understand what would be useful to people — what you’d like to know about the data, how you’d want to navigate through it all, what you’re looking for, and how we can improve the data on offer.

What we’re doing

We’re already working on a lot of related activities to make things better — like starting a Discovery process for the OpenActive website more broadly, continuing to expand the diversity of data sets available, and improving their adherence to the set of standards that we’ve been defining. Each of these areas contribute in their own way to improving discovery and usability, and our stream leaders are working together to make sure we have a joined up view of how different areas can make a difference.

We’re also very mindful that we need to cater for all kinds of different audiences when making this data more accessible — from business people making strategic decisions about whether to use it, through to developers who want to get to nitty-gritty details as quickly as possible. Even ‘developers’ is a bit of a tricky categorisation, as we want this data to be as understandable and easy to use as possible, regardless of whether you’re someone with years of experience or are just starting out.

As such, one of the activities that we’d like to do is to invite comments from people with different backgrounds, to hear your thoughts on what we should be doing. Regardless of whether you’re within the sport and physical activity world, or the wider technology and digital community; a developer, or non-technical founder; familiar with OpenActive or this is the first you’ve heard about it, we’d really like to get thoughts from anyone who’s willing to share them.

Key areas that interest us include:

  • How should we be making OpenActive data more visible?
  • What would you like to know about the data that isn’t currently obvious?
  • How would you like to search through the data?
  • What are the most important things to you when deciding whether to use data?
  • What kind of resources or tools would be useful to you?
  • Who else should we be speaking to?
  • What are your priorities when it comes to the data itself?
  • What’s stopping you from using the data?

If you’re willing to provide some thoughts on these subjects, we have a short questionnaire open here. Alternatively please feel free to email any OpenActive queries, offers of help (this is a community initiative and we would welcome you!), or more free-form thoughts to hello@openactive.io. Thank you in advance.