Last Thursday saw two by-elections and two new MPs elected. When the Kingswood and Wellingborough voters go to the polls for the upcoming general election, many will be voting for candidates in brand new constituencies, and won’t have the MP they’ve just elected on their ballot paper. What can the Local Intelligence Hub tell us about how these constituencies will change?
timesboundaries, they are a’changing
Both of the constituencies that went to the polls on Thursday are being divided up to form multiple new constituencies at the next general election. The total number of constituencies and MPs (650) isn’t changing, but the boundaries are moving, and there are lots of new (and long) constituency names. In the case of Kingswood, no constituency of that name will exist anymore, instead being replaced by four brand new constituencies. Wellingborough, meanwhile, will be divided into three new constituencies. Let’s dive into the detail 👇
So, who goes where?
At the top of our new constituency pages, you’ll find the candidates that have been announced for that seat, thanks to our friends at The Democracy Club. This isn’t an official data set, it’s crowdsourced by Democracy Club and their wonderful volunteers.
We can see that Kingswood’s new MP, Damian Egan, is standing as the candidate in the new Bristol North East constituency. We also know that just 36% of the constituency’s current population will have the opportunity to vote for him next time round. Here’s how Kingswood will change:
- Bristol North East will cover approximately 36% of this constituency’s population, and 15% of this constituency’s area.
- Filton and Bradley Stoke will cover approximately 18% of this constituency’s population, and 10% of this constituency’s area.
- North East Somerset and Hanham will cover approximately 45% of this constituency’s population, and 60% of this constituency’s area.
- Thornbury and Yate will cover approximately 1% of this constituency’s population, and 14% of this constituency’s area.
What about Wellingborough? We don’t have as much candidate information, but we do know that Wellingborough will become:
- Daventry, which will cover approximately 4% of this constituency’s population, and 24% of this constituency’s area.
- South Northamptonshire, which will cover approximately 5% of this constituency’s population, and 24% of this constituency’s area.
- Wellingborough and Rushden, which will cover approximately 90% of this constituency’s population, and 51% of this constituency’s area.
What does that mean for our data?
As we explain here, it depends on how the data comes to us in the first place.
Over time, statistics agencies will release more information for future constituencies, which we will be able to import straight into the Local Intelligence Hub. But during the changeover we want to keep as much of the value of datasets for the outgoing constituencies as possible.
What can we say about how these constituencies will change?
For datasets where we have the original data at a very granular level (eg: LSOA or point-based data), we’ve started creating new datasets using future constituencies. We’ve already done that for the Index of Multiple Deprivation dataset, and we’ll let you know as we make more progress on this.
Where we only have data at the level of current constituencies, we’ve created a process to approximately convert information from current to future constituencies. The big assumption of this method is that, for either people or area, the thing being measured is evenly distributed across that metric. As such, we think it’s fair to say that while the data is fuzzy in comparison between neighbours, overall it will capture trends across wider areas or regions.
You can also dig into the new constituencies data yourself.
The Local Intelligence Hub is brand new, and we’re still working out how to make it as useful as possible – for old constituencies, and new ones. Please try the hub out for yourself, and let us know how you get on!
P.S. We’ve also published this on our LinkedIn page – why not connect with us there?
A general election is not far away, so get ready for heated conversations: on your doorstep, on social media and in the news.
If you care about climate, we want you to be able to take part in those conversations with the facts at your fingertips. That’s why this week, we’re launching the Local Intelligence Hub, a powerful tool that provides a wealth of relevant national and local data in one place — and encourages you to combine it in a multitude of ways, to uncover useful new insights.
mySociety worked in collaboration with The Climate Coalition, supported by Green Alliance to develop this site. The aim is to help you — whether you’re a citizen, climate campaigner or part of an organisation — to understand and share the places where there is a strong mandate for environmental action, ensuring commitments to climate and nature are put firmly onto party manifestos. We’ve demoed it in front of organisations who’ve told us it’s a total gamechanger!
But enough words — let’s get straight to the action. Watch these short videos and you’ll immediately grasp the power of the Local Intelligence Hub.
“I’m just one person: what difference can I make?” Well, with the Local Intelligence Hub’s data, you can make a lot of difference.
As a first step, put your postcode into the Local Intelligence Hub and find out all about your local area.
You might find some interesting data combinations: for example, what does public support for climate action look like in comparison to data on air pollution in your constituency? How about the measures of poverty against support for cheaper renewable energy?
We hope you’ll use this kind of intel to inform conversations with canvassers or your MP. If you discover something notable, why not write to the newspaper — local or national — or share your findings with your community newsletter, Facebook group etc?
In the run-up to an election public opinion has a lot of power, and all the more so when you can quote the data to prove it.
If you are part of a climate campaign that works nationally, the Local Intelligence Hub shows you at a glance where in the country to concentrate your activity for the most impact.
Play about with the map page, selecting different datasets, and you’ll soon understand the insights they unlock. Every constituency with high support for renewable energy for example; or the constituencies where the MPs have the lowest majorities; or where the population is youngest… the possibilities are practically endless.
If you’re more locally-based, dive into the constituency pages where a massive range of local data allows you to have a full picture of the area:
- Public opinion: How much support is there for climate initiatives such as net zero or renewable energy?
- Place: What factors affect people in the area, such as air pollution, flooding and levels of deprivation?
- Movement: Which climate and environmental groups are active in the area, and what other relevant organisations have a presence?
For each constituency, these three data collections are supplemented by information on the MP’s memberships, voting and activities. Note that you have the choice to see constituencies as they are now, or as they will be after the election when new boundaries come into play.
Once you’ve dipped into the data, you should be able to shape your campaigns to more effectively speak to the right people about the issues that matter to them.
We hope you find the Local Intelligence Hub useful. When you’ve had a chance to try it out, please do let us know how you’re using it!
It’s full steam ahead in the mySociety Climate team for January 2024, with two chunky pieces of work occupying much of the team’s attention:
First, our preparations for a public launch of the Local Intelligence Hub we’ve been building with The Climate Coalition. The Hub brings together data from public sources like government, Parliament, and the ONS, as well as—most excitingly—datasets on climate movement presence and activity from members of The Climate Coalition, to help Coalition members (and soon, members of the public) plan and coordinate action at a parliamentary constituency level. Having soft launched to Climate Coalition members in April last year, we’ll soon be opening up most of the data on the Hub to public access, and we’re looking forward to sharing some examples of how organisations are using it in due course.
Secondly, Siôn, Alice and I have been putting lots of effort into shaping the next few years’ work on community-led home energy actions via our Neighbourhood Warmth platform. We’re really excited about the prospect of testing Neighbourhood Warmth with retrofit organisations and community groups in 2024, to see how a digital service might be able to facilitate and encourage neighbours and communities to explore home energy actions like retrofit and energy flexibility, together. You can read more about our plans in Siôn’s series of monthnotes from 2023.
A look back over 2023
Before I sign off for the month, I wanted to also take a moment to recognise the amazing work my colleagues have done in mySociety’s Climate programme over 2023. Here are a few of the highlights I’m particularly proud of:
In April 2023, we first soft-launched the Local Intelligence Hub to Climate Coalition members. The feedback was massively encouraging, with users from organisations like Green Alliance and The Wildlife Trusts already excited about how the service could help them plan engagement and advocacy activities in 2024 and beyond. As mentioned above, we’ve since spent much of this year adding more datasets, support for the upcoming 2024/2025 constituencies, and free public access, which will be launching in a few weeks.
In July, Alex and Julia published our Unlocking Fragmented Data report, in partnership with the Centre for Public Data. While the report isn’t specific to climate data, we used our experience of trying to collect data on local climate action as a case study into how poor interoperability and poor transparency of public data can turn into a major blocker to public action. A few months later, we were encouraged to see many of our Fragmented Data recommendations adopted into Chris Skidmore’s ‘The Future Is Local’ report.
In September, in part as a recognition of mySociety’s work campaigning for more transparent and democratic climate action, we were accepted into the Blueprint Coalition – an influential group of local government organisations, environmental groups, and research institutions working to join up local climate action in the UK. A few months later, in November, we ran a joint event with Blueprint, exploring how the public sector can make local climate data more useful for everyone.
October saw the launch of the Council Climate Action Scorecards, in partnership with our long-time collaborators, Climate Emergency UK. This year’s Scorecards represented a step change in complexity over the 2021 Plan Scorecards, and saw us develop “GRACE”, an online system for crowdsourcing data on councils’ climate actions, as well as joining CE UK’s advisory board to shape the methodology for the year, and supporting CE UK volunteers in using WhatDoTheyKnow Projects to gather extra data from every local authority via FOI requests. The Action Scorecards were featured in over 150 national and local news stories around the launch, including an exclusive on the EPC ratings of council-owned social housing, in the Financial Times.
In early November, we attended Business Green’s Net Zero Festival. Louise delivered a barnstorming talk about how mySociety’s services (including CAPE, Scorecards, WhatDoTheyKnow, and WriteToThem) support public action on Net Zero, and I attended a number of interesting sessions, which I blogged about here.
A few weeks later, in mid-November, we were back in London for mySociety’s 20th Anniversary awards. Food campaigning group Sustain won our award for best use of mySociety services to accelerate climate action, in recognition of how they’d used CAPE to track local authority action on food emissions. If you couldn’t make it to the anniversary awards, I highly recommend you read Louise’s opening speech about mySociety and the history and future of digital democracy in the UK. I’m not crying, it’s just raining above my desk.
And finally, in December, Alex blogged a round-up of a number of improvements we’d made to CAPE over the year, including a massive upgrade to the discoverability and searchability of plans in the database, using AI / machine learning. The future is here, and turns out it eats climate PDFs for breakfast.
Thanks to everyone who’s followed along with our progress over 2023! If you’d like to be kept informed about all these projects, and more, sign up to our climate updates newsletter.
At the end of November, we were delighted to be joined by over 80 people at our webinar about making local climate data more useful. The recording is now available on YouTube, but we also wanted to capture the key messages from our speakers.
- A collaborative (but required) data standard to agree the data and format that is expected.
- An online central repository of the location of the published data, so that data users can find it easily.
- Support from the data convener to make publication simple and effective.
Alex Parsons, mySociety’s Senior Researcher, gave the example of trying to build a comprehensive database of council home EPC standards. This data is already published by all local authorities, but because it is published in a variety of formats and locations, it can’t be easily joined up. This data was compiled by volunteers through FOI requests (in order to get standard formats) for the 2023 Council Climate Action Scorecards, and the results were covered in the Financial Times. It was not ‘new’ data, it was just the first time it had been collated and compared.
Eoin Devane from the Climate Change Committee stressed that data is essential for their work, and that their recent reports highlight the many data gaps that still exist in assessing the UK’s progress towards our 2050 net zero target. Contextualising the need for this data, Eoin also pointed to the CCC’s calls for more clarity on the role of local government, and on bodies like the Local Net Zero Forum.
Julia Cushion. This then led onto my section, highlighting the types of climate data we need, which we have covered in a previous blog post. I also spoke about the supporting factors for these:
- Echoing Eoin, more clarity from on the powers of local government for net zero delivery. This is also a key ask of the Blueprint Coalition
- More transparency around the Local Net Zero Forum and how this acts as a connection between national and local government
- Greater coherence around the role of Oflog, especially how they prioritise their metrics
- More involvement from the Central Digital and Data Office, who could play an important convening role
Next, we had our first councillor – Joe Porter, District Councillor for Brown Edge and Endon – who emphasised the importance of local councils as key players in climate action. Reflecting on Staffordshire Moorlands’ efforts, he discussed their annual Climate Change Report, emphasising the significance of monitoring progress, engaging with communities, and setting ambitious targets for carbon neutrality and nature restoration.
Minesh Parekh, a Labour and Cooperative councillor from Sheffield, echoed the sentiments on the imperative need for councils to lead in addressing the climate crisis. He emphasised the criticality of data in guiding decision-making at the local level. Minesh pointed out the disparity in information available to local councils compared to Members of Parliament, stressing the need for more localised data and resources to support informed decision-making on climate initiatives.
We rounded off the hour with a quick Q&A, which brought out the importance of sharing best practices, expertise, and data among councils through platforms like the Environmental Data Network. The councillors highlighted the significance of collaboration and the exchange of information to address challenges, bridge data gaps, and achieve more substantial climate action goals.
Thanks to those who joined us, and we hope to see you at a future event soon. To stay updated on our climate programme, you can sign up to our newsletter.
When CAPE launched, it was basically a list of councils’ climate action plans — but we’ve continued to make regular improvements and additions, and it’s better, and more useful, than ever.
If you’re a council officer with climate duties; a researcher looking for climate data; an activist needing facts to back up your climate campaign; or simply an interested citizen, you’ll find some truly invaluable facts and figures on CAPE.
And if you haven’t visited for a while, you’re in for a surprise. Here’s what we’ve added this year:
Now you don’t need to think of all the different ways that councils might have described the concept you’re looking for. We’ve integrated machine learning into the search function, to help surface your search term even in documents that use different words for the same concept. Interested to know more? We wrote it up in detail here.
Updated for new councils
In April, a set of UK local authorities was abolished and merged into new unitary authorities. When this happens, we do work to update the data that CAPE depends on. You can make use of it too!
- Our dataset of local authorities names and codes
- Our datasets of ‘nearest neighbour’ councils.
- Our composite UK-wide multiple deprivation dataset for councils.
- Our composite Rural Urban Classification dataset for councils.
And this has all fed back into CAPE to make changes of local government structure transparent in the site.
We wanted to make it easier to see where there is support for climate action, so we took a few sets of MRP polling on people’s attitudes to net zero and energy sources and converted it from per-constituency to per-local council.
For each local authority (except in Northern Ireland) – see Croydon, for example – you can now see estimates for support for net zero (even when it is described as expensive), and for different kinds of renewable energy project.
Not sure what MRP polling is? We wrote something up about that.
In 2019, we were part of the UK-wide Climate Assembly, and we’ve kept an interest in citizens assemblies about climate change. There’s been one held for the whole of Scotland, and more widely we’ve found 17 (so far) held by local authorities across the UK.
We’ve uploaded the final reports of those assemblies into CAPE. It is now easy to see which authorities have held climate assemblies, and to search the results of those assemblies. Find all this at cape.mysociety.org/assemblies.
Hundreds of new documents have a fresh coat of paint
Thanks to people telling us about new plans, and us conducting an extensive search for new documents across council domains, we’ve updated and added hundreds of new documents to councils’ pages.
With all that content, we’ve gone back and tidied up the design of our council page layout, giving us more space to add explainers and summaries to each section. Why not take a look for your area?
Council Climate Action Scorecards
Let’s not forget that while all this activity has taken place on CAPE, we were also helping Climate Emergency UK with the Council Climate Action Scorecards. At the time of their launch in October, we wrote about the part we played in building the site, wrangling the data, advising on the methodology and building a scoring interface.
The result of all this is, of course, that whatever your climate interests – be you council staff, researcher, journalist, campaigner or interested member of the public – you can dive in to any council’s page to see how they’re doing against several markers of climate action.
Since launch there has also been the significant addition of Question Pages, allowing a never before seen view of how each council scores on every individual action point. Julia wrote about that in detail, in this post.
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This year’s Council Climate Action Scorecards involved thousands of hours of volunteer time, hundreds of FOI requests and a lot of scrolling through local authority websites. Now we’re excited to launch a brand new filtering tool that lets you unlock the value of all of this amazing new data: question pages.
These individual pages allow anyone — from campaigners to council officers — to unlock the most interesting data from the Scorecards. You can now view a dedicated page for each question, which is itself a brand new and comprehensive dataset of local authority action. This will filter by type, rank all the councils from highest to lowest scoring, show the evidence for why councils scored point(s), and will tell you how many councils achieved each of the possible available marks.
Find these pages by clicking through from the question you’re interested in from any council’s page.
This allows anyone to:
- Get a sense of where best practice is happening in the country, by policy area
- Share examples of best practice, so that more councils can more easily access the policy solutions they need
- Evaluate trends in where local authority action is succeeding or stalling across the country.
Not sure where to start? Below, we’ve pulled out three really interesting brand new datasets. And, because these illustrate some of the gaps that we identified in our Fragmented Data report, we hope they’ll show just how useful this kind of nationwide picture would be if they were being published as standard.
3.1 Is the council’s area wide net zero target a strategic objective of the Local Plan?
Local Plans are the key piece of local authority policy that guide how a council will run its operations. We want to see climate action and net zero move beyond siloed ‘Climate plans’ and into day-to-day local planning. On Scorecards, councils scored the one available point for this question if the Local Plan included reaching net zero as a strategic objective, and if the council’s net zero target date is a) area wide and b) also found within the Plan. See this question page here.
Through volunteer research, we now know:
- 44 out of 186 single tier councils got full marks for this question.
- 31 out of 181 district councils got full marks for this question.
- 0 out of 24 county councils got full marks for this question.
- 0 out of 11 Northern Ireland councils got full marks for this question.
This is a great example of something you can ask your local council to do that doesn’t cost them any money, but will make a huge difference to day-to-day climate policy in your local area. Using the questions page, we can highlight councils of the same type that score well, in order to surface the evidence, allowing them to share it as best practice.
4.3a Is the council reporting on its own greenhouse gas emissions?
Our Fragmented Data report details why we think it would be useful for central government to support local government in compulsory and collaborative reporting standards for local councils, especially on climate action. We can’t know the progress made and the progress yet to happen without better data – and the Scorecards project would certainly be a lot easier if we had more data published in more useful formats! See this question page here.
A council got a point on this question if it is reporting its own emissions and fulfils all of the following:
- the council states whether they are using the Environmental Reporting Guidelines from Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the GCoM Common Reporting Framework (CRF), the Greenhouse Gas Accounting Tool (from the LGA), the Greenhouse Gas Protocol for Cities (Community Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventories) or for Corporate Standards to develop their inventory.
- the inventory covers a continuous period of 12 months, either a calendar year or a financial year
- there is data from 2019 and 2021 (or the financial year 2021/22)
- the council is measuring their own scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions
Thanks to hundreds of hours of volunteer time, we now know:
- 69 out of 186 single tier councils got full marks for this question.
- 48 out of 181 district councils got full marks for this question.
- 11 out of 24 county councils got full marks for this question.
- 1/11 Northern Ireland councils got full marks for this question.
We have lots more on why climate data is so essential, and the sorts of climate data we need, in this blog post.
If you’d like to share best practice with your council, take a look at Westminster City Council. You may also want to encourage your council to participate in the CDP reporting programme, a brilliantly in-depth reporting framework that is used across the globe, and published in the open.
6.3 Has the council lobbied the government for climate action?
This is such an interesting question — the results of which have been uncovered through FOI — because it gets at the often-obscured links between local and national climate action. Local authorities are undoubtedly limited in their ability to act by budgets and resources handed down by national government, but they too have a voice in asking national government to prioritise climate spending. See this question page here.
Councils got a point in this question if they:
- sent a letter or had a meeting with national or devolved governments calling for the government to take further action,
- or asked for councils to receive more funding, powers and climate resources to take climate action.
Through FOI requests sent via WhatDoTheyKnow, we know:
- 86 out of 186 single tier councils got full marks for this question.
- 59 out of 181 district councils got full marks for this question.
- 11 out of 24 county councils got full marks for this question.
- 5 out of 11 Northern Ireland councils got full marks for this question.
Across the board in this question, about half of councils have lobbied national government for climate action, with district councils lagging slightly behind.
Once again, this is an example of an council action which requires no additional cost and very little resources. If you’d like to email your council to ask them to start lobbying national government, or to do more, you could point to the great example from Chorley Council.
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Following their launch in October, we have continued to improve the Council Climate Action Scorecards site — for example, the scores for all councils on any one question can now be seen on one page (like this). Find these pages from any individual council’s page, or via the section pages.
Meanwhile, CE UK have continued to network, influence and promote the site and their work around the Action Scorecards. They have created significant media interest, especially at the local level (just where it’s needed!) and also attracted coverage from ITV, the Independent, and specialist press such as LGPlus. They’ve been invited to speak to a variety of audiences from an LGA event to Mobility Ways. Having already trained up 110 local residents/campaigners since the launch, the last of CE UK’s How to use the Council Climate Action Scorecards’ training sessions will run today (7th Dec) at 5.30pm, and bring people together to learn about how to use the Scorecards in their campaigning, and network with others doing the same.
A key learning point from CAPE and our Scorecards work has been to see just how fragmented the data around local authorities’ climate planning and action is, and how much of a barrier this is to data transparency and therefore to improvement: it can be highly ineffective, and a waste of (paid) people’s time, to compare metaphorical apples and pears.
As such, this month we were proud to run an event focused on Fragmented Data, with support from our partners in the Blueprint Coalition. Julia Cushion, our Policy & Advocacy Manager, chaired the webinar which saw Anna Powell-Smith introduce key findings of our report Unlocking the value of fragmented public data, while a variety of speakers provided perspectives around the potential and practical application of de-fragmenting data and answer questions from a 80+ strong virtual audience.
It was encouraging to see influential people grasping the significance of what might be seen as a bit of a dry, obscure issue to the untrained eye. This, we hope, is just the beginning of this story and I suspect we’ll see it move into the mainstream over the next few months / years, with more ‘next steps’ from Julia and our Senior Researcher, Alex, sooner. The recording is available here (with subtitles) on our YouTube channel.
We are a month closer to launching the Local Intelligence Hub (LIH) to the public (in early 2024) with our partners the Climate Coalition. November saw more groundwork going into this, with new datasets uploaded, the ‘new constituencies’ work continuing, and functionalities enabled. Our developer Struan moved across from handling the Scorecards’ site development to double our developer capacity on LIH for the next while, and give our other developer, Alexander, someone to work alongside. Planning has also ramped up beyond the site itself, including around communications, and how it fits into the Climate Coalition’s broader plans for 2024.
Partnership has been a solid theme for mySociety’s Climate team from the word go, but it has been particularly noticeable this month with a number of the team scoping out, listening and learning from each other and potential partners to help bring our Neighbourhood Warmth plans together.
As we prepare for a retrospective on our latest year in partnership with CE UK, I find myself reflecting on how vital trust, mutual respect, care and good will are for enabling people to achieve, as is learning to recognise and rise above one’s ego. Achieving with others can also be, in my experience, deeply rewarding, as we join with the best of others to achieve more than we could alone. It is a pleasure and an honour to work in a team, and with partners, who work hard to put the needs of the planet, society and the sector before themselves.
Image: Hannah Domsic
As we look back on a million public requests, we’re also looking to the future and how WhatDoTheyKnow might be leveraged for the most important issue of our generation — the climate.
The climate emergency is a “wicked problem,” that is to say that it is a challenge with incomplete, contradictory, and often changing requirements. When you add misinformation into the mix, with politically-driven narratives that seek to derail progress (indeed, question the need for progress), it is easy to see why the release of factual information might be a vital tool in our journey to decarbonisation.
There is, as it happens, a legal mechanism that was designed specially for requesting information about the environment. The Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs) are similar to FOI in that they allow you to request information from authorities, and they can be used when requesting anything — broadly — to do with the environment.
Happily, they cover more authorities and have a higher bar for refusal than FOI. Equally happily, you can submit an EIR request on WhatDoTheyKnow, just as you can with FOI requests. Find out more about EIRs on WhatDoTheyKnow.
With that in mind, no matter who you are — a company, a campaign or just a concerned citizen — there are ways in which you can put the EIR to the service of the climate. Here are just a few of them.
- If you’re a startup in the climate sector, you might ask authorities about contract renewals, research whether any competitors exist, or request data that will inform your product development. There are many more such uses, but hopefully that’s enough to get you started!
- If you are running a climate-related campaign, you may also find EIRs helpful. You can get the facts and figures that underline your arguments; find out richer data about your issue; or even get minutes from meetings where decisions have been made about your cause.
- If you’re an individual who would love to do something for the climate, but don’t know where to start, how about holding authorities to account, for example over divestment from fossil fuels in their pensions? Ask a question, get the facts — and then maybe write to your councillors, or even ask a question at a council meeting to get the point home.
- If you’re a journalist, you can use WhatDoTheyKnow (or WhatDoTheyKnow Pro if you want to keep your findings private until your story goes out) to uncover the truth — or even corruption — around climate issues. For inspiration, take a look at what journalist Lucas Amin found out with a series of dogged requests.
- If you’re a researcher, or just someone who loves stats, remember that you can fill in any gaps in your information with WhatDoTheyKnow. Just see what Climate Emergency UK did when they needed information from every council in the country, to inform their Scorecards project. That was a massive endeavour, but the principle can be applied to any quest for information.
Yesterday we considered what the world would look like if WhatDoTheyKnow had never been launched. Come back tomorrow for thoughts about what’s in that massive archive of requests and responses, and how society as a whole can benefit from it — beyond the obvious utility of simply accessing useful information.
Last week, Louise and I attended the Business Green 2023 Net Zero Festival, in London.
We were there to talk about public mobilisation on climate—in the space between direct action, on one hand, and government ‘business as usual’ on the other—and to share examples of how citizens are already using mySociety’s services like CAPE, the Climate Action Scorecards, and Local Intelligence Hub to track, challenge, coordinate, and collaborate on local climate action. You can read Louise’s slides and notes here.
It was also a great opportunity to connect with both existing contacts and partners (hi Climate Coalition, MCS Foundation, and Anthesis!) and new organisations we could potentially collaborate with in the rapidly approaching fourth year of our climate programme.
But it was also interesting to see how mySociety’s democratic, citizen-led approach to climate action compares with—and fits alongside—the festival’s strong focus on business actors.
Many of my fellow attendees have already shared their highlights from the festival, but here are two challenges that struck me in the days after the festival, and how I think mySociety’s work could contribute to solving them.
The role of local authorities, local businesses, and local residents in taking climate action together
With the festival being hosted in the beautiful Business Design Centre in Angel, it was particularly interesting to hear from a number of local, Islington-based organisations on how they’re addressing the climate emergency. I sat in on a particularly good pair of talks with representatives from organisations like Islington Council, Caxton House Community Centre, a number of London BIDs, and Anthesis, who recently launched a Net Zero Strategy for Angel Islington, and who we already know through their support for our and Climate Emergency UK’s Council Climate Scorecards project.
Islington Sustainability Network in particular was a great example I’d not come across before, of coordination between a huge number of private, public, and third sector organisations in a local area. I think it was Simeran from Anthesis who reiterated her experience that building trust between businesses and residents is crucial, and I expect networks like these, while not a silver bullet for citizen engagement, at least encourage a holistic climate response from all of the local institutions a citizen might engage with. (This is something PCAN has been exploring with their very exciting Climate Commissions in places like Leeds, Edinburgh, Belfast, and Yorkshire.)
I was also reminded of an example given by one participant in our Neighbourhood Warmth prototype testing last year, where the owner of a local corner shop had become a sort of trusted demonstrator/influencer of climate action, because they’d installed solar panels on the shop’s roof. Utilising these trust-based networks to encourage faster, more regret-free home energy action from citizens, is something we’re particularly interested in exploring at mySociety.
In one of these sessions, I asked the panel for any examples of resident power, or residents signalling demand for home energy services like retrofit and energy flexibility. Sue Collins from Caxton House Community Centre, which has run workshops for local residents on topics like energy saving, said they’d seen a lot of residents asking about funding for measures like insulation, heat pumps, and solar panels. Islington councillor Rowena Champion added that, while many people in the area might have the means and the interest to undertake works like this, complication around planning permissions, Victorian housing, and conservation areas is a big blocker. It sounds like Islington Council is looking at producing guidance on net zero actions—how you do retrofit, how you do double glazing in a conservation area—to overcome this, as well as setting up regular panels where residents can raise issues and find out more about actions the council is taking. It’d be interesting to see how a service like Neighbourhood Warmth could tie into hyperlocal advice like this, or even become a source of new knowledge sharing and advice, as groups of neighbours progress through the retrofit journey together and want to share their findings.
There’s still lots of talk about climate, not so much action
The music-themed title of the second day’s opening keynote was, fittingly, “A little less conversation, a little more action”. Speakers in a number of sessions noted that both national and local governments seem to be discovering that it’s easier to talk about climate policies than to implement them. The rallying cry of the festival’s organisers is that business leaders need to lead – to show that there is both commercial and public support for (and demand for) climate action.
I thought it was particularly interesting that both Chris Stark of the CCC, and climate activist Farhana Yamin, forecast that the threat of litigation from citizens/customers will be a growing motivator for businesses (and, I’d add, local and national governments) to address their climate impacts. “There will be a reckoning,” in Farhana’s words. Chilling!
We’re now less than a month away from the start of COP28. This year’s COP is a critical one, because it marks the start of the global stocktake – participating countries will essentially be “handing in their homework” on their climate actions over the last few years, and experts are already bracing themselves for disappointment.
Giving citizens, campaigners, and even local authorities themselves, open, actionable data about the progress local authorities are making, and the barriers to faster action, has obviously been a core strand of mySociety’s climate programme, and will continue to be so. We’ve also been campaigning for not only the quantity but the quality of local climate data to be improved. Without rigorous, open, standardised data, we cannot exert the level of scrutiny on local and national climate action that we need as a country. We hope that through projects like CAPE, the Council Climate Action Scorecards, and the Local Intelligence Hub, we can provide some of that data.
I also found it interesting that contracts came up a few times over the festival, as a tool for enforcing climate action – turning a business or local authority’s voluntary commitments into something legally binding. Fans of mySociety’s Climate programme will be aware that, last year, we ran a prototyping week on the potential for greater transparency of local authority contracts with high climate impacts. Our Contract Countdown prototype aimed to give citizens and campaigners advance warning of contracts that are approaching renewal, so that conversations could be had—for example, with local councillors through WriteToThem—on strengthening the climate requirements in those contracts’ upcoming replacements. We were particularly interested in folding in the amazing work that The Chancery Lane Project has been doing on pre-written climate-friendly clauses ready to drop into contracts.
As the Procurement Bill (which introduces some significant changes around the scale and quality of procurement/contracts data available from public bodies) was still working its way through the Houses of Parliament at that time, we put Contract Countdown to one side. The Bill has now passed, as the Procurement Act 2023, and it’ll be particularly interesting to see whether this has an effect on local authority decision-making, and whether a tool like Contract Countdown could once more give citizens greater influence over the decisions made in their name. If you’re interested in exploring the role of contracts and climate action together, please do get in touch!
As the seasons change and the leaves start to fall, grab your big scarf as we sum up what the climate team have been up to recently.
We’ve been talking about scorecards for much of the year, and this month the work has fallen into place and the Climate Action Scorecards have launched. There was a load of work done, not least by our designer Lucas and the team at CE UK in the lead up to this, to get the site polished and all the data finalised and published.
Since the launch we’ve been making tweaks and sanding off the odd rough edge. While we’ve been doing this, CE UK have been promoting all the hard work they and the volunteers have done with the result that there’s been a lot of press coverage. You may have seen some in your local paper.
If you want to see how your local council did then check out the site. If you’re an organisation or researcher interested in using the data underlying this then it’s available to buy from CE UK in a handy, easy to process format.
We, for Alex values of we, wrote a bit about some of the tech behind the Scorecards crowdsourcing effort.
On the Local Intelligence Hub front we’ve been making progress on supporting multiple versions of constituencies. For those of you who don’t breathlessly follow political boundary news there was a review of the size and shape of Westminster Parliamentary constituencies which has resulted in many of these changing.
The changes will take effect at the next general election, whenever that happens, so we need to support them, while also supporting the existing ones. Alexander has been working away on enabling the Local Intelligence Hub to display data for multiple versions of a constituency. This will also help if we want to add data for other types of area in the future. This is all working towards the new public launch date of January 2024 so you can make using local climate data part of your New Year’s resolutions.
Should you be in a position where you need to care about constituency changes, we have some potentially helpful data and code for making the transition from the old to new boundaries. If you don’t have to care but are interested there’s also some background on the hows and whys of the changes there too.
On the Neighbourhood Warmth front Siôn is continuing to talk to potential partners and funders, while sharpening up our plans for the next stage of development. As always more details on everything Neighbourhood Warmth can be found in its very own monthnotes.
On the policy side Julia has been lining things up for an event about Fragmented Data which is part of our work to explain how better data will help reach climate targets. Look out for more news on that in the coming weeks. Scraping in under the spooky decorations as I write this on All Hallow’s Eve, Zarino is at the Net Zero Festival where our CEO Louise will be, or indeed was, talking about the work we do to help involve people in matters climate related.
Image: Aaron Burden