1. June Monthnotes from the Climate Programme

    It’s the end of June already and we’re now over half way through the year, the solstice has passed and the days are starting to get shorter! Since the start of April the Climate team have been in a whirl of prototyping weeks which has made time feel like it’s speeding past at a high rate.

    So what have we done this month?

    Trialing Github projects

    Being an open source technical organisation, mySociety does a lot of its development work in GitHub, but on the Climate team we were using a mixture of Trello, spreadsheets and documents to track our priorities and progress. Having everything spread across so many places was causing the team confusion when it came to updating on progress and figuring out which tasks were the next most important.

    So, at the start of June we switched to trialling GitHub’s Projects feature. This seems to answer a lot of our needs right now – everything is in one place, we can use status labels to track the progress on the project and add custom ones which relate to project milestones. It has the bonus effect that we’re not doubling up work by having the same tickets in GitHub and Trello. We’re only two sprints in so far, so still early days but we’re hopeful this might be a simpler way of working.

    Prototyping weeks

    There’s only been one prototyping week in June: A fair transition. This was a tough week as it was such a broad subject and it was difficult to work out what exactly would be most useful for us to work on. This is what we came up with.

    We’ve also been planning for Week 5 – Energy efficiency for rental homes which takes place from 5 -11 July. There’s still time to apply if you’re interested in joining us on this one!

    Communications

    It’s been a busy month for Communications – we’ve put together a pitch for MG OMD, the global marketing agency that will be volunteering their time for us through the Weston Communicating Climate training programme that Myf, our Communications Manager, has been following. It gives us the opportunity to have a big agency input into our plans and maybe give us ideas for new ways of reaching people.

    Myf has also been working on some case studies – one from Sustain and one from Green Finance Institute. They’ll really help to highlight why the climate action plan data we have is so important to making positive change on reducing local climate emissions.

    Data

    Alex has been working hard on our data ecosystem and we now have the local authority data up in a better format. You can find it here: https://mysociety.github.io/uk_local_authority_names_and_codes/

    Events planning

    Finally we’ve been working on events. We have our first Prototyping Show and Tell on Friday 1 July from 2pm – 3:30pm BST: do drop us a line to be added to the event if you want to come along and hear all about how prototyping works and what we’ve found.

    We’ve also started looking at our September event, Innovations in Climate Change, which will be held on September 21 2022 on Zoom. We’re super excited about this and our aim is to bring together local councils, international actors and technology people to share their tech based climate change projects and hopefully inspire some new work to reduce local climate emissions. If any of that sounds like you, sign up to present or keep your eyes peeled for an Eventbrite page to register your attendance.

     

    Image: Natosha Benning

  2. You’ll never be bored on the mySociety Board

    Can you lend us your expertise?

    We currently have several vacancies available on the boards of mySociety and our wholly owned subsidiary SocietyWorks — providing exciting possibilities for the right people. Might you be one of them?

    An independent board, helping to steer our direction, is a crucial part of how we operate as a charity. Information from the Charity Commission on trustees’ legal responsibilities can be found here: gov.uk/guidance/charity-trustee-whats-involved

    mySociety trustees feed into decisions about our priorities; approve and help set budgets and strategy, and represent the organisation amongst their peers and the wider communities of people and organisations within our fields.

    The Treasurer brings financial expertise to the table, playing a particular part in overseeing the finances of the organisation.

    Non-Executive Directors help ensure that the company is well-run, solvent, operates within the law, and makes the best possible strategic decisions.

    These are voluntary roles and therefore unpaid, but reasonable expenses are of course covered. We believe that this opportunity offers experiences quite unlike any you’re likely to find elsewhere, and will prove rewarding to the right candidates.

    If that sounds of interest, please check out our recruitment pack where you’ll discover lots more about the kind of people we’re looking for, and instructions for how to apply.

     

  3. Innovations in climate tech: global inspiration for local climate action

    Call for speakers

    Are you using digital technology or data to tackle the climate emergency at a local level?

    If so, the world needs to know! Come and help spark inspiration by showcasing your project in front of an international audience on September 21, via Zoom.

    At mySociety, we’ve been making our own services, bringing our expertise of data and civic tech together to create online tools that empower citizens and councils to act on climate. We’re focusing on climate action at the local government level, because we believe this is the area where effective change can most easily be made — see more on our Climate page.

    Now we want to share what we’ve made, and hear about your work too. In the spirit of open data and collaboration, we want to help create ideas, inspiration and even partnerships that will amplify the effect of all our work in this area.

    What we’re looking for

    • Are you working on an emissions reduction project with a local council, using digital technology?
    • Perhaps you’re a data journalist, bringing change by writing stories that interrogate the data around climate change.
    • Or you might be working for a campaigning organisation that uses tech like crowdsourcing or location-based digital services to accelerate climate action.

    If your ideas are new, innovative or outside the box, so much the better!

    Speakers will have a ten minute slot to present their work, followed by a Q&A from an audience made up of civic tech practitioners, council staff and others working around climate.

    Sounds good? Sign up here before August 5 and we’ll get back to you by August 26 to let you know if you’ve been selected.

    Image: CJ Dayrit

  4. How ForSet are spreading the word about Freedom of Information in Georgia

    We’re big on open source: much of the software we create at mySociety is freely available for anyone to use, and there are sites all over the world underpinned by our code. 

    While we try to ensure that our codebases are as easy as possible to self-serve, in practice installation can be complex enough that those wanting to use them often get in touch with questions. 

    Not so much with AskGov.ge, the Alaveteli-based Freedom of Information site for the republic of Georgia. Yes, there had been an email in the Alaveteli Developers Google Group seeking a developer, but the first we knew that a brand new fully-formed service had successfully launched was when Teona Tomashvili, from NGO ForSet, emailed to say she was planning a trip to the UK and would love to meet up for a chat.

    And so it was that we spent a happy couple of hours in London, finding out more about AskGov and the context in which it is providing an FOI service for the citizens of Georgia, as well as offering as much advice and experience from running the UK site WhatDoTheyKnow as we could cram in without overwhelming our visitor.

    A fragile democracy

    Talking FOI may not be the obvious way of learning more about a country’s history, culture and politics, but it’s a surprisingly effective one. Teona explained that Georgia joined the Open Government Partnership in 2012, and the country is keen to do all it can to improve transparency.

    They’ve actually had an operational FOI Act since 2000, five years earlier than ours came into force in the UK. But as an ex-member of the Soviet Union, she says, the country is not used to democracy and open government.

    “Georgia had never been a fully democratic state”, she explained. “It’s only 30 years since we were part of the Soviet Union and our democracy is still very fragile. There’s a new impetus towards teaching people that open government and open data are important, but citizens are not used to these things. They have never felt like that, ever!”

    With the site relatively newly launched, ForSet have seen their main task as increasing public understanding of FOI and normalising its use. This is something we were interested to talk about: over time we’ve come to the conclusion that while some people here in the UK are ‘super FOI users’ who might put in several requests a month, the majority of the population are unlikely to feel the need to use it more than a couple of times a year, if that. 

    Even so, there’s always room for awareness-raising and we agree that everyone should know they have a right to information, for the times when they do need it. 

    Bureaucracy woes

    Whenever we’ve been able to gather together an international group of people who run FOI sites, we often find that the core challenges they face are very similar — though they may come embellished with some unique local colour.

    When Teona told us of their woes with bureaucracy, it was definitely a story we’d heard before: authorities required not just a name, but personal details such as the address and phone number of the person making a request before they would process an FOI request.

    For an Alaveteli site, the problem with that is, of course, that both the request and the response are made publicly available online, and this information would publish out too.

    While the issue might be familiar, we don’t think we’ve previously come across the particular solution that ForSet put in place: when someone makes a request, they can fill in all their personal details in a form on the website. This is used to create a PDF which is attached to the email that the authority receives; meanwhile the personal data is automatically destroyed at ForSet’s end — desirable both for users’ privacy and to avoid any worries about data retention.

    Teona said that they’d only had this system in place for a couple of weeks, so it’s too early to know if it’s really working. As Gareth pointed out, in Alaveteli we always try to model the law as we believe it should work — for example, when WhatDoTheyKnow started out, some authorities didn’t accept FOI requests by email; eventually, things changed enough that official ICO guidance now states:

    “Requests made through the whatdotheyknow.com website will be valid” 

    and 

    “we consider the @whatdotheyknow.com email address provided to authorities when requests are made through the site to be a valid contact address for the purposes of Section 8(1)(b).”.

    On the other hand, not all countries have an overseer, and even if they do, change may not be quick to come, so we are keeping an eye on Georgia’s method to see if it’s one we might recommend to other sites. 

    Data visualisations

    ForSet is a social enterprise like mySociety: their commercial activities support their charitable ones. They started life as a data visualisation organisation, and that provenance informs much of their activity. This gives them a different angle to come at FOI from: it’s a data collection mechanism, the results of which can feed into infographics and visualisations that inform the public, often with an ‘expert’ in the middle to transform the raw data into something the public can follow at a glance.

    Knowing all this, it’s understandable that when they started thinking about how best to promote their new site, ForSet landed on the idea of competitions, asking entrants to create a data visualisation from one or more FOI responses.

    The regular contests have had an enthusiastic take-up. Topics vary, but, Teona says, “Of course, thanks to current events, there have been lots of stories regarding Russia in the last couple of months: how dependent the market is on Russia; what authorities’ electricity consumption is; lots about defence. 

    “Before the war broke out the topics were more varied: there were visualisations on domestic violence, economics, socially important issues. One nice one that we hadn’t foreseen was on the grape and wine history of Georgia!

    “We found that out of all the authorities, the National Statistics Bureau and the Ministry of Internal Affairs are the most responsive — they always send lots of data.” 

    Because ForSet have such relevant experience, once a contestant has decided which data they’re going to use, they can tap into advice from the organisation’s designers and analysts. So these contests are creating a new generation of data visualisers and journalists who can use FOI in this way – win/win!

    Some examples of the data visualisations: click to see each one at a larger size.
    You can also find an interactive visualisation here.

    And ForSet are not stopping there: they’ve also been thinking of running focus groups for FOI officers and citizens — again not something we’ve done very much of at WhatDoTheyKnow, but further proof that there’s always plenty for FOI site runners to learn from one another.

    Making connections

    And one final thing: why did we hear nary a peep about AskGov until Teona made contact? 

    We would love to have believed her first explanation, that the site documentation is so clear that there was no need to enquire about anything — but there was another factor at play, too, as Teona explained:

    “The first challenge for us in installing the site was that it’s written in Ruby. There aren’t a lot of Ruby developers in Georgia and they are in high demand — they tend to work for private US companies, and we couldn’t afford to hire them.

    “But as an NGO, you never have enough money anyway, so we can always think of ways to get around things. We looked around our neighbouring countries Moldova and Ukraine, and saw that there was an existing Alaveteli site in Ukraine.

    “We sent them an email and introduced ourselves. It turned out that the organisation Internews was giving them tech support, paying for a web developer – and they offered to share that resource with us! They said they’re always looking for partners.

    “We never got stuck at any point because the developer knew what she was doing, and actually we benefitted from the fact that she’d learned from prior mistakes setting up the dostup.pravda site for Ukraine. And Ukraine and Georgia are very similar countries in terms of the legislation etc, so it was simple.”

    So in other words, ForSet had done what we would have encouraged them to be doing if they had got in touch – networking and learning from others in the Alaveteli community!

    Talking of community, we weren’t the only organisation that Teona would chat with while she was in London. We introduced her to several other civic tech and transparency organisations in the UK, so she had a busy few days ahead of her, and no doubt plenty to discuss, all of which, we hope, will feed into the success of AskGov.ge.

  5. Publicly owned Northern Trains Limited wanted to keep its Managing Director’s £245-250k salary a secret

    On 31 May 2022, Northern Trains Limited (Northern) wrote to us to demand that we stop publishing the salaries and job titles of the ten highest paid managers at the company. The Department for Transport had released this data in response to a request made via our Freedom of Information service, WhatDoTheyKnow. The request for removal was not only made on behalf of the company, but was also represented as being a request on behalf of the “director group”, which we have interpreted to mean those senior staff at the company whose salary data has been disclosed.

    Having carefully considered our position we are continuing to publish this information.

    Table: Salaries of the highest paid managers at Northern Rail Limited in £5k bands. 

    Job title Salary Banding (£)
    Managing Director 245,001 – 250,000
    Chief Operating Officer 210,001 – 215,000
    Finance Director 165,001 – 170,000
    Commercial and Customer director 150,001 – 155,000
    Strategic Development director 145,001 – 150,000
    Engineering Director 140,001 – 145,000
    People Director 120,001 – 125,000
    Regional Director 115,001 – 120,000
    Programme Director 110,001 – 115,000

    Source: DfT Freedom of Information release – released on at 30/05/2022

     

    There is a strong public interest in favour of the release of information that helps people to understand  how resources are apportioned within an organisation. As we understand it, the Department for Transport has dealt with the FOI request in line with current best practice for transparency surrounding senior officials and high earners in the public sector, and has acted in accordance with current guidance from the Information Commissioner.

    Northern Trains Limited, which operates under the ‘Northern’ brand, is wholly owned by the Department for Transport. The Government proactively publishes the exact salaries of the highest paid public sector employees as part of their regular proactive transparency releases. It would seem reasonable that Northern would also be expected to make similar information available about the salaries of its most senior staff, particularly when the salaries of senior officials at similar and related companies are already public. This includes those working for Northern’s parent company, DfT OLR Holdings Limited, Network Rail, and High Speed 2 Limited. Northern’s sister company LNER publishes information on the salaries of its directors in £5k bands on p46 of its latest annual accounts. In respect of DfT OLR Holdings Limited, the Government proactively publishes the salaries of their Chief Executive (£235,000-239,999), Group Finance Director (£220,000-£224,999) and Chair (£150,000-£154,999).

    Northern routinely publishes exact salary information for junior roles on their careers website, and the material released by the Department for Transport is very similar to this. Recently, Northern has advertised that they will pay a full-time train cleaner based at Wigan £18,500 and a grade B maintenance worker based at Newton Heath £33,035 a year. We believe that Northern should have no objections to us publishing that their Managing Director receives a salary of between £245,001 and £250,000 a year.

    We don’t know why the Northern Managing Director’s salary has been omitted from the data proactively published by the Cabinet Office. Perhaps they’ve been confused by the complexity of corporate structures involved, and have not looked beyond companies directly wholly owned by the Government when seeking to identify highly paid and senior public servants who should be included. We asked the Cabinet Office to comment and they shirked responsibility for the data they publish saying: 

    “Although Cabinet Office compile and publish the £150k list on GOV.UK, other departments provide us with the list of salaries to be included. DfT will have sent us their senior salaries list covering its departments, agencies and non departmental public bodies. You would be best to direct your query to them, and they should be able to advise why this salary fell out of scope.”

    We contacted the Department for Transport for comment but as of the time of writing we had not received a substantive response.   

    We don’t know if there is an issue with the criteria for proactive publication of salaries by the Cabinet Office or if the Department for Transport have not followed the existing criteria. 

    We strongly believe in preserving and promoting transparency and openness, and the accountability of those in positions of power and in maintaining a public archive of Freedom of Information requests and responses. We carefully consider all requests to remove material from our website. We balance the interests of individuals and organisations asking us to take material down with the interests in favour of continued publication.

    Northern’s attempt to keep the salaries of its senior executives secret came while the threat of strike action on the railways over pay was growing. On 7 June 2022, the RMT announced 3 days of national strike action in what it called “the biggest dispute on the network since 1989.” Northern is expected to be one of the companies whose services are affected. When assessing whether to keep publishing the information, we considered the journalistic value of the data released. We expect the senior staff salaries, and the attempt to keep those salaries hidden from the public, may well be considered especially newsworthy during this period. The material that was released will help to inform the ongoing debate around pay levels in this sector.

    We list DfT OLR Holdings Limited, and the three rail companies it owns on behalf of the British public, on WhatDoTheyKnow so anyone can make FOI requests to them in public. All the bodies are subject to Freedom of Information law:

    We thank Northern Rail for drawing our attention to this release of their senior management salary data, which might otherwise have gone largely unnoticed.

    For more information on how we deal with takedown requests like this, and our legal basis for processing personal information see: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/help/privacy#legal_basis

    Image: Ben Garratt (Unsplash licence)

  6. Climate action and innovation, powered by funding from BEIS

    Much of our activity on the Climate Action Plans Explorer (CAPE) over the last year has been supported by BEIS. This funding has given us the luxury of time and resource to develop new features, based on research into our core users’ needs.

    We’ve made progress in four broad areas:

    Different ways into the data 

    More intuitive routes for experts and non-experts to explore UK councils’ Climate Action Plans and understand more about each one.

    • We developed a ‘nearest neighbour’ dataset, based on research with council officers.
      This matches councils by more relevant criteria than just their location: see more details in this blog post and this update.
    • We consulted local authorities and campaigners to understand more about what’s most important to them in local climate strategies, then put together a browse by feature page. This uses data from the Climate Emergency UK Scorecards project to create collections of plans that exhibit best practice in key areas. More in our blog post here.
    The Browse by Feature page on CAPE
    • We included links to additional sources of data to every council’s page, such as the Tyndall Centre Carbon Budget, and Friends of the Earth’s ‘Near You’ tool.

    Insight and oversight

    By showing the scale of ambition amongst the most active local authorities, CAPE provides peer motivation for less aspirational councils.

    • We collected the headline promises in which UK councils commit to the date by which they will reach net zero. More in our blog post here.
    • We provided substantial technical support to Climate Emergency UK on their Council Climate Plan Scorecards project, which analyses comparable features across every plan in our database. The scores can now be easily compared across all authorities of a given type.

    Seeding and nurturing open data

    We’re supporting the monitoring and analysis of local climate response with a growing open dataset, and encouraging councils to publish better standardised data to allow CAPE and other similar services to be sustained more easily.

    • We’ve added BEIS data on emissions for each council, broken down by source. We were able to calculate Combined Authority data from constituent boroughs/districts, so have also added a novel open dataset — more about that in this blog post.
    a colourful graph showing CO2 emissions breakdown by sector
    • The total number, cost, and emissions reduction estimates of a council’s projects are also displayed on their CAPE page.

    Awareness and uptake

    We’ve been facilitating networks and ensuring that councils and other stakeholders know about, and can use, the resource.

    • We presented at several online seminars and conducted outreach with local authority officers and councillors.
    • We met one to one with a variety of organisations to let them know how CAPE could help them.
    • We ran the first informal get-together for an international set of climate organisations — more are planned.

    Conclusions

    This work has brought us new understanding about what councils need; what the public understands; what data is available and what needs to happen in the future if local authorities are to be properly equipped to fulfil the net zero targets they’ve committed to.

    mySociety believes in working in the open, so we share whatever insights we can through our blog and research portal, with the aim of facilitating quicker, more effective climate action across the UK.

    New obligations are needed

    Practically speaking, we’ve been able to provide new data for developers, researchers, councils — and anyone working on climate, especially in the digital realm.

    But while the data we added to CAPE is substantial and useful, it only scratches the surface of what could be done if better data was coming from local authorities themselves.

    Proactive data releases could bring immeasurable benefits to council climate officers, campaigners and researchers, but are unlikely to happen until reporting like this is made a statutory requirement for local authorities in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, as they are in Scotland.

    Reduced council budgets only increase the need for data

    As is clear from the CAPE dataset, many local authorities have set themselves ambitious emissions reduction targets. More than 50%, 251 councils, are promising carbon neutrality as soon as 2030.

    Ambition is admirable, but climate officers are grappling with the dual challenges of implementing widespread change across all of their councils’ activities, on a narrow budget with little statutory or regulatory backing. Many of them are defining their own roles even while they work, and are building their idea of an effective local authority climate response based on best practice observed in their peers.

    This is why a large part of our work has focused on enabling quicker, more informed comparison between local authorities, encouraging a break from the usual preconceived comparison sets. Instead we facilitate the exploration of actions taken by councils in similar, specific situations.

    But our work can only go so far, when reliable, up-to-date, and machine-readable data on councils’ climate actions is so thin on the ground. 

    Local authorities have almost no statutory obligation to measure or report on the emissions generated by their own operations or their area as a whole, nor on the actions they are taking to reduce those emissions.

    This data must be provided in a machine-readable format, enabling automatic comparison across time periods so that impact can be tracked throughout multi-year emissions reduction projects.

     

    Over the next few months we will be reviewing our Climate programme output, to inform policy recommendations. If you’re working in this area, we’d love to talk to you.

  7. Prototyping week 5: Improving energy efficiency in the private rented sector

    The goal of mySociety’s Climate programme is to reduce the carbon emissions that are either directly controlled or influenced by local government in the UK. 

    From 5-8 July, we will run a prototyping week to understand what mySociety could bring to the problem of improving energy efficiency in the private rented sector.

    If you’re interested in being involved with discussions, brainstorming, testing out whatever we build — or all of the above, please fill in this short application form

    We’ve already run one prototyping week exploring conditional commitment and home energy, but the private rental sector has different challenges, and a different role for local authorities. 

    Far more than for owner-occupiers, there is a strong opportunity for local authorities to enforce energy efficiency standards in the private rental sector. The strength of the required standard and the effort needed to enforce it will go up in the next few years. 

    Currently there are major problems in enforcement, that unaddressed will mean failing the 2030 deadlines for substantial improvements to the private rented sector stock of houses. 

    We want to think about how we could build a service that helps local authorities enforce standards, and/or helps tenants understand and use their existing rights. 

    Our initial scoping research can be read online. It summarises existing research into the problems in enforcement, and identifies some potential areas where there might be a mySociety-style approach to the problem. 

    If you think you have something to contribute to our discussions and would like to join us as we co-create and test a prototype, for as much or as little time as you can spare, you are very welcome. 

    If you are renting from a private landlord right now, we’d really welcome your input. 

    Of course, we’re also keen to hear from anyone who can bring lived experience or sector-based knowledge from every angle around the topic. Please tell us all about your areas of knowledge in our application form.

    Image:  Tracey Whitefoot: pilot net zero retrofit, Melius Homes, Nottingham (CC/by/2.0)

  8. Climate monthnotes May 2022: more prototyping

    Following hot on the heels of our first two prototyping weeks, we took a foray into the topic of  ‘access to nature’ for our third one this month. In the spirit of reflective practice, continuous improvement and our core values of justice, openness and collaboration I implemented Louise’s suggestion to blog about the week beforehand. The post included a form for people to express an interest in participating, and was promoted using our social media channels and in online communities in which we’re active such as the Collective for Climate Action. Previously I’d only identified and approached potential participants to invite them directly.

    Our fourth prototyping week from 13-17 June will explore the role we might be able to play in catalysing a fair transition, with a focus on the UK’s world of work. We’ve recently published a post inviting people to express their interest in getting involved, so please take a look and share it far and wide. As with all of these weeks, we’re keen to bring together a diverse range of people with different experiences and perspectives to help us understand the challenges and potential solutions in this space.

    Zarino’s been busy documenting our progress in reports, and along with some of the other outputs from our weeks so far these are now available on a dedicated Climate Prototyping page. Having reached the half-way mark we’ve used a bit of breathing space to reflect as a team on the prototyping weeks we’ve done so far, how we might be able to refine and test some of the prototypes that emerged and how we might use our remaining weeks.

    In trying to scope out a potential set of research to commission around energy efficiency in the private rented sector, Alex found a huge existing report that pretty much answered all the questions we already had. His summary and contextualisation of what it means for our fifth prototyping week – which will focus on this topic – can be read online. This week is heavily-pencilled for 5-11 July and there’s a blog post in the pipeline but if you’d like to express your interest right away please complete this short application form.

    Coming full circle, Zarino and I presented our public procurement prototype and wrap-up to Hampshire-based council climate officers. We were kindly invited to do this by a participant in our first prototyping week, which explored procurement as a potential lever for local climate action.

    Outreach

    Outside of our third prototyping week we met a lovely bunch of organisations this month, exploring collaboration opportunities around prototyping and beyond!

    Here’s a flavour:

    This month our relatively-new #civic-tech channel on Climate Action Tech’s Slack started to bubble. Myf and I volunteered to host the channel and we enjoyed our first Community Circle Meeting with some other volunteers from around the world, to get to know each other and discuss ways in which we can support this amazing community of tech workers using our skills to take and accelerate climate action. If you’re part of the civic tech community and you work around or are thinking about climate, please do come and join the channel!

    We also took part in an excellent Ashden event: Government-funded retrofit: how to ensure success? – and Subak’s Data Catalogue Launch. I presented at the Friends of the Earth & Ashden case studies celebrating local authority climate action launch event. And Isaac from Climate Emergency UK and I hosted an open space session at the Transition: Together We Can summit to share the live climate services we continue to collaborate on – the Climate Action Plan Explorer and Council Climate Scorecards.

    Comms

    Myf and I enjoyed recording an episode about our Climate Programme for Delib’s Practical Democracy podcast, and we’re waiting with bated breath for it to be released into the wild over the summer!

    Scorecards

    Alex took part in the inaugural stakeholder group meeting for version 2 of Council Climate Scorecards. We’re also thinking about how to make the data we produce easier to download and work with, and the first dataset we’ve applied that to is the data for the Climate Scorecards. This data can now be downloaded as an Excel file (with descriptions for all columns), or explored in datasette (this is a bit experimental).

    CAPE

    Finally, behind the scenes, Sam and Struan have moved our Climate Action Plan Explorer to new infrastructure and brought the ways it’s hosted in line with our other sites. This makes it much easier to back up the data.

  9. Scope 3 emissions and remote teams

    The Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol groups emissions sources into “Scopes” as a way of helping organisations understand where in their operations they could reduce emissions:

    • Scope 1 covers ‘direct emissions from owned or controlled sources’.
    • Scope 2 refers to ‘indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating and cooling consumed by the reporting company’.
    • Scope 3 includes ‘all other indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain’.

    We’ve been calculating our emissions since 2019. It didn’t take us long to realise—as an entirely remote organisation with no cars, no factories, no offices, and no private jets— that all of our emissions fall under Scope 3.

    Beyond that, our calculations show that roughly half of our Scope 3 emissions are as a result of the activity of the services we use – for example, emissions created by the trains we use to travel to visit clients and take part in team meetings, or by the power stations that generate the electricity that feeds the (third-party) datacentres that our websites are served from.

    There is plenty of advice out there on how organisations can work to reduce these types of Scope 3 emissions. We’ve already made progress in this regard – asking suppliers for their sustainability policies as part of our procurement process, switching to greener suppliers where possible, even improving the performance of our websites to consume less power.

    But it’s the remaining half of our Scope 3 emissions that pose a challenge. These emissions are generated by mySociety’s staff – primarily lighting and heating for our homes and workspaces. Unlike a traditional organisation, we can’t just overhaul the office lighting, or turn down the thermostats – we don’t have an office to make those changes in! Instead, it’s up to each of our employees to do their part.

    That’s why we’ve introduced incentives like our Climate Perks programme, which rewards staff with extra time off when they travel to/from holidays via sustainable transport options. We produced a guide for mySociety employees looking to lower their carbon footprint while working from home. But we know these changes are only scratching the surface of what we should be doing.

    There isn’t a huge amount of information out there on how organisations can influence emissions generated by remote workers. Where should the balance of power lie in that relationship? How much can organisations require of employees, and how much they can only incentivise and support more sustainable options?

    It’s made all the more difficult because each employee’s situation is different – and we’re aware a one-size-fits-all solution won’t work.

    So we’re talking about this in the open, to see whether other organisations have faced this issue and come up with a way forward that works for them. As more organisations embrace remote working, this will only become a more common issue. If you’re already doing something in this space, get in touch!

    Image: Clay Banks

  10. Release the bats

    Our Freedom of Information service WhatDoTheyKnow has just seen what we think is its largest ever release of information. National Highways has released 1.25 TB of bat survey data, made up of over 115,000 files, including:

    • 786 videos – that’s over 250 hours of footage 
    • 54,570 audio files
    • 354 spreadsheets
    • 2,532 images

    Requester Emma Tristram has been using data released via WhatDoTheyKnow to campaign against the proposed construction of the A27 Arundel Bypass. Commenting on the release, she told us: 

    “It’s fantastic that through WhatDoTheyKnow this recent bat survey data by National Highways is now available to the public. With these up to date bat surveys those fighting the devastating Arundel bypass scheme hope to strengthen their case that the scheme should be cancelled. The scheme would ruin four villages as well as a huge, very biodiverse wildlife area, which Natural England say is of international importance for bats.”

    In response to a consultation about the proposed road building scheme, Natural England confirms the exceptional importance of the environment in and around the South Downs National Park and the need for its protection. They describe the area as containing irreplaceable and rare habitats and priority habitats (Habitats of Principal Importance) which “support an outstanding assemblage of species”. These include numerous maternity roosts of rare bats including Barbastelle, Bechstein’s and the Alcathoe bat.

    The request was dealt with under the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR). EIR, like Freedom of Information requests, can be used to access more than just documents, correspondence and paperwork. As the climate crisis brings urgent challenges for our public institutions to address, access to environmental information will be increasingly valuable to businesses, campaign groups and the general public. Requests about how limited and in some cases irreplaceable environmental resources are being managed are just as important as requests around how public money is being used. By gaining access to raw data such as this, environmental campaigners are able to independently examine and verify the results of any studies that have been carried out. 

    Due to the size of the release, the authority has made the information available using a file sharing service. When authorities reply to requests made via WhatDoTheyKnow in this way, we will do our best to host their responses by uploading the data to our own servers. Hosting a release of this size poses some logistical challenges, but we are looking at ways of making the data available. If you have any suggestions about how we can best achieve this, please get in touch.

     

    Image: Biodiversity Heritage Library (CC by/2.0)