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What Turn Up Tone Up teaches us about the need for system change

Blog post   •   Jun 11, 2019 11:00 BST

Strategic Relationship Manager Lorna Leach delves into the lessons being learned by London Sport following the pilot phase of Turn Up Tone Up, a programme run by Our Parks.


Systems can be characterised as being composed of multiple parts including people, resources, services, relationships, values and perceptions.

Systems have boundaries, behave in specific ways, include connected parts, and inter-dependency, they are often complex. 

Sport England use the following model (below) which identifies the layers of influence around any individual person within a whole system. For the moment, let's consider parks and open spaces as the system.

The further away the layer, the less direct influence that layer is exerting on an individual. For a whole system to be effective at bringing about a change there are some important things that need to be in place.

  • Common purpose. All parts of a system need to understand why they are all working together. The aim is usually a root cause to behaviour they are trying to change.
  • Shared understanding of how all parts of the system impact on each other, and the individual.
  • Acceptance the system needs to change and ownership of what things each part can and will change.

No intervention can be truly effective, and sustainable if the system around it does not adapt to tackle the root cause. In our case this problem is inactivity, but it’s not fair to assume that all partners in a system are focused in inactivity. 

The argument of why they should care about inactivity must be approached from a perspective of what matters to each part of the system. How tackling inactivity will also achieve their outcomes?

As highlighted in our first post on the Turn Up Tone Up programme in London London’s Parks – The New Home of Exercise the aim of the programme was to put activity into the parks and open spaces of the most inactive communities in London.

It’s a logical proposal, built on insight gathered by Sport England through the Active Lives Survey, and tested the concept in two locations in London. It tackles root causes of inactivity.

Naively perhaps, the partners around the table supporting this programme failed to apply a whole-system approach.

We forgot that park services aren’t focused on tackling inactivity, they’re focused on other issues from ensuring safe spaces to maintenance and how to show parks impact health and should be protected from budget cuts. 

So, when the project faced challenges around securing permission due to long, technically demanding policies on events, it wasn’t surprising that park services, both in-house and contracted, failed to see why they should change.

We should have highlighted how a simple activity programme could help tackle anti-social behaviour by increasing community use which self-polices a space. 

How programmes that bring more people to the park, especially when they’re collecting data on mental health impact, could help a forward-thinking park service secure future funding.

It doesn’t stop there though because that’s not true system change.

The job now is to support park services to permanently change their policies, processes and procedures so that it’s easier to put activity into parks, easier to collect evidence that proves impact on local socio-economic factors, improves physical and mental wellbeing, brings communities together, reduces stresses on other services, and perhaps most importantly brings resource into our valuable green spaces.

If your interested in knowing more about system change, the Sport England Local Delivery Pilot programme and reading list are a great place to start.

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