Interview with Rostam Umar, Chief Strategy Group, Sport Singapore

“Vision 2030 intends to deploy sport to serve our citizens, sthrenghten our communities and build our nation.”

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Rostam Umar, Chief Strategy Group, Sport Singapore

“Sport as strategy” sounds very interesting – what does this mean?

We believe that sport has unique, inherent qualities that we can leverage to reap not just health benefits, but also in non-traditional domains such as social cohesion, workforce longevity and productivity and personal wellness and happiness. “Sport As Strategy” is an outcome-based approach in designing sport as a platform to serve our national agenda.

Singapore is very much involved in promoting sport in all segments of society, all communities, all age groups, etc. Why did you join Active Citizens Worldwide?

In 2012, we unveiled Vision 2030 – a bold statement of intent to deploy sport to serve our citizens, strengthen our communities and build our nation. As one of the agencies involved with building social capital, it is important that Sport Singapore partners and collaborates with institutions and bodies that enable us to constantly enhance our effectiveness in navigating the complexities of policy, planning and design; and in delivering the value and impact of sport. Thus, we were excited by the potential of a project that can unearth insights to enhance intervention designs and quantify the value of sport grounded on robust data and research.

There is an increasing need for targeted data to be used to best adapt policies to thevarioussegmentsofthepopulation. How has the analysis of ACW influenced your work?

Before ACW, we measured the quantity of sport participation based on frequency of participation. ACW introduced a new lens on the quality of this participation. As a result, we are better informed in identifying target segments that need attention, understanding the types of activity that deliver social impact, and the impact our facilities and programmes have on getting people to be active. It has also given us a common language with our colleagues in the health, economic and social sectors as we discuss the design and contribution of sport and physical activity, as well as a common platform to benchmark and learn from the network of participating cities.

Data needs to be interpreted within a specific context to be used for policy action. What has been the most interesting finding that has come out of ACW’s data?

For the first time, we were able to quantify the social, health and economic contributions by sport and physical exercises. For example, ACW’s data analysis gave us the average annual number of social interaction hours an active individual would have with people of a different profile and shed insights on the types of activities that are more effective in driving such interactions. This has direct implication in how we allocate our facilities and design our programme portfolio.

It is often said that comparisons do not provide all the answers. However, working and thinking as a network opens new horizons. How has the collaboration with the other cities been?

It’s one of the most important parts of ACW. We are able to “benchmark” – not necessarily comparing performance but understanding how other cities do things and learn from them. For example, last year we found that Singapore had a completely different participation pattern across age groups from the other cities. In London and Auckland, there was a steady decline until the end of working age at which point it declined rapidly into retirement. In Singapore, we saw the steepest decline when people started working, but then found that people became more active once they retired. This allowed us to work with the other cities to understand how they kept people active through work, while they wanted to understand what we were doing with our seniors. Another example was that we all were able to draw on one another’s experience to update our data collection and survey questions to make sure we had the best data possible.

Collecting data is an endless process, as society is constantly evolving. Data also needs to attain a “critical mass” to be relevant enough. What have been the greatest challenges during the process of ACW analysis?

We have to work continually to get the best data we can, and this is getting better and better. As other stakeholders and organisations see the value of ACW, there has been greater opportunity for collaboration and improving the data picture. The other challenge comes from the fact that something like this has never been done before. For example, some of the analysis around the social impact is very new, and therefore we’ve had to be ready to change the methodology or revise the analysis as we go.

Four cities have now joined ACW and in 2020 the third “exercise” will start. Where do you see the development of ACW?

We are only two cycles in, but it ha s been clear that since last year we have significantly improved our analysis, insights and learnings. We expect, as the years progress, that we will start getting the year-to-year analysis that will show us longer term trends and impacts. Of course, as the number of cities that join the initiative grows, our cross-city benchmarking and learning will only improve.

City networks are powerful tools within which cities share experiences, get inspired from each other and improve their own approach. What would you say to cities thinking about joining ACW?

ACW is unique. There is nothing like this for city policymakers who are looking for the data and insights to help them make better decisions. There’s also no better time to join – after a couple of years, we’ve now proven the concept and cities who join will be able to immediately benefit from the work to date.