Making sport, physical activity and movement a normal part of life for everyone

Sport England

With Sport England, Nationwide

Innovation Unit is Sport England’s learning and innovation partner, helping the organisation to grow and embed their innovative culture and developing its youth voice offer.

Download the Innovation Playbook

Sport England provides £250 million of National Lottery and government funding to support sport and physical activity in England as well as offering free advice and guidance on running a sports club, managing facilities and volunteers, safeguarding, marketing and teacher training. The organisation also advocates for sport and physical activity as a means of improving people’s mental wellbeing and medical conditions and bringing together diverse communities.

Sport England’s 10-year strategy Uniting the Movement aims to open up the benefits of a healthy life to everybody and every community – regardless of people’s backgrounds, gender, bank balance and postcode. A key ambition of the Uniting the Movement strategy is for every child and young person to experience the enjoyment and benefits that being active can bring. 

Innovation Unit has worked with Sport England since 2021 to support them to develop their culture of innovation and explore how innovation could play a role in addressing the big issues at the heart of the Uniting the Movement strategy. 

Key to this was supporting SE to define what innovation meant to them as an organisation and recognise all the innovative work they were delivering and supporting (like This Girl Can, the Innovation open call and our local delivery pilots). We worked with a  cross-directorate team to collaborate through a fun and experimental schedule of rapid, topical ‘sprints’ and more reflective ‘marathons’, bringing in colleagues, teams and partners along the way. A key output of this work is the Innovation playbook and journey. 

This year, we’re shifting the focus while continuing to develop and embed innovative approaches and mindsets at Sport England. We’re working with their Children and Young People team to grow their youth voice offer through applying new innovative ways of working which are collaborative, young person/partner centered and focused on responding to the need and gaps of the sector.

The need

Every year Sport England produce the Active Lives Children and Young People Survey which gathers insight into their physical activity levels and, as a result, we know that ethnicity, gender and family affluence impact on the likelihood of a child being active. 

Some of the findings from our latest survey include:

  • More than half of children and young people aged 5-16 are not meeting the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines 
  • Boys are more likely to be active than girls 
  • Children and young people from low affluent families are the least likely to be active
  • Children and young people of Black, Asian, and Other ethnicities are the least likely to be active.

Sport England has the ambition for every young person to feel the benefits of being active. Fundamental to this is centering young peoples voices to ensure their needs, expectations and safety comes first in the design and delivery of any physical activity they may want to pursue. You can read more about this focus here.


Sport England believe they have a role to play in supporting and influencing the sector to ensure young people’s voices are heard in the decisions that affect them. We’re working with them to explore how they could embed youth voice both internally within workstrands and processes, to “be the change they want to see” and externally within the sector, to make it easier for others to apply good youth voice practice. 

Underpinning the approach are key principles such as :

    • Applying an inequalities lens to everything we do – prioritising young people facing the biggest barriers in accessing the benefits of sport and physical activity.  
    • Learning by doing –  taking a test-and-learn approach, ensuring our work is tangible and our learning can lead to further action. 
  • Working openly and sharing as we go – Being transparent about where we’re at on our journey and communicating internally and externally, to encourage others to contribute and increase our potential reach and impact. 

Innovation Unit is taking them through a phased approach which builds on the existing innovation work done already and grows the team’s capabilities and confidence as well as progressing the work. Key features of the approach include:

  • Facilitating creative, brave and collaborative spaces for the children and young people team to do the work. We create different types of spaces which reflect what’s needed, some are action focussed, others might involve sharing or reflecting. 
  • An adaptive approach so that we can respond to opportunities as they arise. This means we don’t have our milestones or outputs set out, rather they emerge with the shape that the work takes. Structures such as phases and learning questions act as our guide. 
  • Being a critical and supportive friend, one that gives an outside perspective, guidance and experience and pushes you out of your comfort zone.


Defining what Innovation means and looks like at Sport England

Through the process that we took them through, SE were able to create an innovation definition, practices and playbook which are helping to spread innovative approaches within SE and the sector. 

Building innovation capabilities and seeding culture change

The team we worked with moved from participants in the learning work to designing and delivering innovation sessions and advocating for innovation more widely across the organisation and sector. This involved them running an innovation month internally which reached 113 colleagues and conversations on co-production which engaged 23 partners.

Create a plan for the CYP to listen to the sector and start conversations with children and young people.

We worked with the CYP team to define what they knew already about Youth Voice and where the gaps where that made it difficult to know where to go next. Consolidating this helped us to define who we wanted to talk to, what we wanted to ask and how we want to engage them. The team have now started to have conversations with partners to better understand the sectors needs. We’re supporting them to start engaging young people in this work soon. 

For more information please Email Savannah Fishel