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Photo: Silverbird Photography for Durham County Council


Process Evaluation: Swim Pilots

Creating a toolkit to help Sport England share learning and best practice

Sport England funded five ‘Swim Pilots’ aimed at getting more people swimming, more often. ‘Swim Local’ was delivered at 38 pools across 12 local authorities. It aimed to make packages of small-scale changes to leisure centre facilities and services, to make these pools more appealing to their local community and to improve the customer experience. The other four pilots focused on female swimmers, swimmers with a disability, adult non-swimmers and the gamification of swimming – for which separate evaluations had already been completed.

Process evaluation research

Our team was commissioned to conduct a post-hoc process evaluation of Swim Local, and to combine learning from that with evidence from the other Swim Pilots’ evaluations. Our mission was to create a best practice toolkit for transforming swimming, which would inspire policy makers and the leisure centre sector.

The research phase included:

  • Interviews with representatives of each Swim Local initiative.
  • Review of data, resources and monitoring reports supplied by participating local authorities.
  • Analysis of pre- and post-intervention customer survey data collected from each Swim Local pool.
  • Review of evaluation reports for the other Swim Pilots.

After presenting an overview of the pilots’ key outcomes and areas of learning to Sport England, we agreed the contents of the toolkit and an outline of the main resource. 

A toolkit to inform and engage

An interactive PDF is at the heart of the resulting Transforming Swimming toolkit – presenting examples and information structured around five key types of activity the Swim Pilots undertook, as well as in relation to 10 guiding principles for practitioners wanting to deliver change.

From the main resource, the reader can link to a suite of ‘Learning Locker’ information sheets, which highlight specific case studies, top tips, checklists and topic deep dives. These help practitioners with the details and practicalities of implementing change at their pools. A separate summary for decision makers sits alongside the main toolkit. 

The toolkit’s design is based on Sport England branding but playfully integrates swimming-related elements and terminology to structure the resource and engage the reader. For example, with a ‘Shallow End’ summary and a ‘Deep End’ containing in-depth information on each of the five areas of activity.

Checking and sharing learning

Before the toolkit was finalised, we facilitated an interactive workshop with representatives of the Swim Local pilots – to sense check our interpretation of what they did and what happened as a result, as well as to refine the 10 emerging guiding principles. This also served as an opportunity for these delivery teams to reflect on their experiences, to appreciate the wealth of learning that had emerged from their efforts, and to celebrate their collective success.


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