As the growth of parkrun continues apace (even during a worldwide pandemic) understanding the views and attitudes of 7 million registered parkrunners is not only critical to the organisation’s decision making, but also incredibly challenging. The evolution of parkrun, from a single event and a handful of participants, to thousands of locations across five continents means consulting the whole community around key decisions is a practical impossibility.
But as an organisation we are as committed as ever to our parkrunners, and will always want to keep abreast of how the community feels. So over the last few years, we have focussed more and more on gathering a continuous loop of meaningful insight and feedback.
On the front line of that critical job is Mike Graney, Global Head of Analysis at parkrun. A regular parkrunner with his family in Salford, here Mike tells us more about his role, asking the questions and crunching the numbers that provide parkrun with the information it needs to make the right decisions, at the right time.
Much of my job is fed by the stats generated every time a parkrunner walks, jogs, runs, or volunteers and the afterglow we all get from parkrun begins to kick in. These participation stats are what we look at to see how often certain demographics participate, and it’s this data that reveals insights such as the average parkrun finish time getting slower every year.
The other side of my role is listening to and learning from parkrunners, with much of this being in the form of surveys. In more normal times our surveys focus on questions such as why people participate, why they don’t, how people hear about parkrun, how they feel about our events, and how aware they are of our sponsors.
We’ve always understood the importance of listening to the community, and gathering insight to help support our decision making process. That’s a pretty straightforward task when you’re talking about a handful of events, and when you know most, if not all, of the participants.
When you consider parkrun is now in 22 countries, more than 2,100 locations and with 7 million people registered – that job of insight gathering and data analysis is much trickier. But no less important.
In recent years we have found better and more scalable ways to generate feedback from the community, to rapidly find answers to questions that have helped us in critical ways: from informing operational decisions, designing health and wellbeing interventions, or assisting us in securing new funding.
We do this through a continuous process of data collection via participation analysis and a multitude of regular and stand-alone surveys. It means we are constantly listening to feedback, gathering key insights and spotting trends that we use to help us make the right decisions at the right time.
Every month we receive survey responses across a range of topics from over 10,000 parkrunners. The size of the community and the willingness of parkrunners to answer our questions means we are able to generate a level of response that is statistically robust, allowing us to confidently extrapolate findings across a population with a high degree of accuracy.
These regular surveys help us to track feelings and sentiment over time. One of the things we keep a close eye on is the level of trust the community has in parkrun. We consistently see that 93-95% of parkrunners respond positively to the question ‘parkrun is a brand I trust’ – an astonishingly high number, but one that represents the hard work that has been done by so many people over the years to keep things simple and consistent, to think carefully about the decisions we make and to communicate them clearly, honestly, and transparently.
Recently our focus has shifted to the return of parkrun in the 21 territories where we are currently still paused. Gathering insight from these helps us understand experiences of the COVID-19 lockdown, responses to the outbreak, and readiness of the respective parkrun population to return.
Currently live across a number of parkrun territories, the “Return to parkrun” survey goes out weekly to a representative sample of parkrunners and helps us build a picture of how people feel around returning as walkers, joggers, runners and volunteers.
Our findings strongly suggest the majority of parkrunners are keen to get back to parkrun, and each week we are seeing a further uplift in those numbers. However, what we have also seen is that there is an equally important minority who are more nervous about coming back, and we will keep these people in mind at all times.
Another recently developed survey looks at the impact that the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown has had on the lives of parkrunners.
This survey has been designed with the Health and Wellbeing team, as their work is all about maximising parkrun’s impact in communities where we feel we can have the biggest positive impact.
It will help us understand who has been hit hardest by events over recent months, give further detail on who is more nervous about returning to physical activity and parkrun, and how we might be able to help those who need the most support in getting back to enjoying being active out in the open air at parkrun once again.
So while there’s plenty to be getting on with, here’s looking forward to the time when parkrun returns to more territories, where the Virtual Volunteer can work it’s timing and scanning magic, and where our free, weekly, timed, walking, jogging, running and volunteering begins once more.
I can’t wait.
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