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London’s legacy – how can we judge the impact of the Games?

by

Stephen Gifford

Chief Economist at Grant Thornton and Project Director for the Grant Thornton consortium

Stephen Gifford is the Chief Economist at Grant Thornton and Project Director for the Grant Thornton consortium, which includes Ecorys, Loughborough University, Oxford Economics and a number of academics. He has nearly 20 years’ experience as a professional economist.


In under 40 days, the UK will welcome athletes from over 200 countries to participate in the world’s greatest sporting event. Millions of tickets have been sold and billions of pounds of investment has been made in venues, transport infrastructure and the Olympic Park.
But when the final race has been run, what will be the lasting impact of the 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games on London and the UK?
This is an important question – a difficult and challenging one that politicians, the media and the public will want answered. It is, in part, the job of the ‘meta-evaluation’ to answer it.
Aerial view of the Olympic Park © LOCOG The meta-evaluation of the impacts and legacy of London 2012 brings together the findings of evaluations of individual programmes, projects and initiatives to examine the legacy of the Games as a whole.
Although this might seem straightforward, implementing the idea has been a challenging and hugely complex task, particularly around the aggregation and synthesising of evidence. Our response to this challenge was to identify some key research questions and set these in stone early on.

Research questions and key study challenges

Many questions jumped out from the process: How many jobs will have been created by the 2012 Games? How many people have participated in sport as a result of the 2012 Games? What has been the impact on the regeneration of East London? What are the economic benefits for local people? Have perceptions of disabled people changed? Has participation in sport been increased? Has volunteering or levels of community engagement increased?
The meta-evaluation will not be able to answer all of these questions. Instead, it’s about pulling together information, data and sources from a wide range of other studies and research projects.
Probably the biggest challenge will be in attributing impacts to different projects and programmes, and in distinguishing specific Games-related impacts from anything else.
For example, it will be hard to determine to what extent regeneration in East London has occurred as a result of specific Games-related legacy initiatives, from a change in image due to the staging of the Games, or from the wider regeneration initiative in the area.
Different projects and programmes can also have an impact on each other, either negatively or positively. For example, sports participation can impact on health, which can in turn impact on employment.

Residents’ views

How will the area be impacted by the Games? © LOCOGOne of the biggest pieces of research has been to survey the residents of East London to get their views on how the legacy of the Games will affect them after all the athletes and sporting officials have gone home. Over 1,300 people were surveyed and, according to initial results which have just been released (June 2012):
• some 62% of East London residents are supportive of the UK hosting the 2012 Games in London
• nearly a fifth (18%) of East London resident think that the UK hosting the 2012 Games has motivated them to do more sport or recreational physical activity
• around 45% agree that the preparations for staging the Games has regenerated their local area
There are some negative impacts that should also be acknowledged, though. These include transport congestion (with 50% of residents identifying this as a problem), increased numbers of people moving in and out of the local area (44%) and pressures on housing (38%).
With regards to the longer term, the three most common impacts expected by East London residents were an improved image of the local area (54%) coupled with improved sports (54%), retail and shopping (50%) and leisure and cultural (50%) facilities.

After the Games

Our meta-evaluation is intended to shape the approach for future meta-evaluations of publicly funded activities for years to come. As the event fast approaches, the team is putting the finishing touches to its Games-based research programme – particularly the surveys of visitors to the Games venues and Olympic Park – and I hope to update you on these later in the year.
See the following link for a more detailed description of the research and the reports already completed: completed research and reports
If you would like to find out more about how the team is advancing methods of meta-evaluation, we are presenting a session in association with the ESRC Methods Festival on Monday 2nd July at St Catherine’s College, University of Oxford. Please email Tina McKenzie (tina.w.mckenzie@uk.gt.com) to book your free place.

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