Power for People would like to see a transformation in the way we provide energy in this country – by removing barriers to small-scale renewable energy schemes, owned and run by people in their local communities.
They’ve written draft legislation — the Local Electricity Bill — and are currently campaigning for it to be made law. Since our TheyWorkForYou and WriteToThem services are an integral part of their campaign, we were keen to find out more.
Power For People’s Corinna Miller was happy to help, firstly by explaining what drives the campaign: “We’re in the midst of an energy price crisis. It’s never been more obvious that we need cheap, clean, home-produced energy.”
And their vision is one of a sweeping change to the UK’s energy provision. Right now, provision is limited to a few big monopolies with profits disappearing into shareholders’ pockets; Power for People advocate clearing the path for small sustainable energy projects, with profits that would stay local.
“There’s such huge potential in our cities, towns and villages, for growth in small-scale renewable energy generation – especially by local groups that would provide cheaper, greener power and distribute the benefits across their local communities.
“But at the moment, such schemes only generate 0.5% of the UK’s electricity – largely due to the prohibitive costs they face in accessing local markets.”
So how do mySociety’s services fit into their campaign? It’s down to Power For People’s belief that mass mobilisation can bring change — and that all links back to the experience of their Director Steve Shaw, says Corinna.
“In 15 years working both at environmental NGOs and as a freelancer, Steve worked on campaigns that were instrumental in getting new laws passed – like the Household Waste Recycling Act, bringing in the doorstep recycling collection that all our homes now have; and the Climate Change Act, setting a legally binding target for the government to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions — which has resulted in almost all of the UK’s coal power stations closing and the building of the world’s biggest offshore wind farms.
“These were great successes, and one thing Steve learned from them was that grassroots focused campaigns, mobilising tens or hundreds of thousands of people to lobby their MPs at the constituency level, when done in a coordinated way over a long-term arc, are extremely effective.”
And of course, to help people contact those MPs, what better than free web services like TheyWorkForYou and WriteToThem?
Power for People’s website first sends you to TheyWorkForYou to find out who your MP is, then provides a list to check against and discover whether or not they already support the Local Electricity Bill.
Once you know what their stance is, you’re in a far better position to write a persuasive message to your MP, says Corinna, and WriteToThem is the final step on that path.
“We wanted to streamline the communication process so each supporter didn’t feel like they had to do too much extra work. Whether an individual has contacted their MP before or not, offering them a tool to help easily find and write to them, all in one place, felt like the best solution to get people to take action in support of the campaign.
“WriteToThem has a wonderfully streamlined system that people trust and we have found people take effective action with this tool.”
WriteToThem doesn’t allow for copy and pasted messages, and Corinna says she finds they’re often blocked by MPs’ servers in any case. “Instead, we direct people to helpful facts that they can share with their local leaders — and we give them bespoke advice when they receive a response.
“We highly encourage back-and-forth communication, so that the MP understands that the campaign is not going to go away until action is taken at a parliamentary level. People care about this issue, and we want MPs to know that.”
It sounds like everything’s working nicely for Power For People, who say that their Bill already has the support of 322 MPs from all parties — a figure which includes 128 Conservatives — along with 110 local authorities and county councils.
“Our main call to action continues to be for people to write to their MP, which is why WriteToThem is such a key tool for us. Helping streamline the communication process and helping people write to their local leaders has been vital to the success of the campaign so far.”
And so, what advice would they give to other organisations considering using WriteToThem for their own campaigns?
“Definitely help people curate their own message to their MP, by being specific to their constituency. This requires a bit more time speaking to your supporters but it’s worth it to get an MP interested in what you are calling for. Be specific. Try to keep each email short and polite, with a single request for the MP.”
Many thanks to Corinna for sharing such interesting background details to the campaign. If you’d like to learn more about Power for People and get involved, visit their website.
Meanwhile, if you’re running a campaign yourself and think it might benefit from WriteToThem’s free service, there’s lots of useful information here.
We started the month with some great news – as detailed in yesterday’s blog post we’ve been accepted into the Blueprint Coalition, an influential group of local government organisations, environmental groups and research institutions, pushing for a more joined-up approach to local climate action in the UK. We’re excited to see how our services, data, and expertise can help the coalition in the coming months. Massive thanks to our
newPolicy and Advocacy Manager, Julia, for pushing this through!
Meanwhile, on our Local Intelligence Hub project with The Climate Coalition, Alexander and I have been importing more datasets, and improving the metadata for datasets we already hold, in preparation for wider use of the platform (and public access) later this year. Excitingly, our Senior Researcher, Alex, got us to the point where we’re now able to import data by both current (2010) and upcoming (2025) parliamentary constituencies, which is a first step towards supporting climate campaigners and community organisers in the run up to the next general election.
Watch this space for some upcoming blog posts about the technical detail behind how we’re transforming environmental, demographic, and public opinion data between the two generations of constituency boundaries – it’s pretty cool!
At the very start of the month, Julia went to Manchester to work with the Youth Steering Group of the Fair Education Alliance. We talked about what an MP is, how the House of Commons works, and the top 10 things to find out about your MP using TheyWorkForYou.
Julia and the FEA steering board
With our technical support, and a massive effort from their team and volunteers, our partners, Climate Emergency UK, completed their audit of the marks for the 2023 Council Climate Action Scorecards. We’re now working on getting them a dataset of processed scores for initial analysis, as well as building the web-based interface through which the scores will be published later this Autumn. Big thanks to Struan and Lucas for their tireless work on this – it’s a mammoth project, but worth it. We’ve already seen how influential last year’s data on councils’ climate plans was, and we can’t wait to share the latest data on the actions local councils have taken.
Speaking of climate action plans – it was nice to see CAPE (our database of local authority climate action plans) getting a namecheck in this thoughtful piece from Andy Hackett of the Centre for Net Zero. Happy to be of service!
Alongside all of this, we’ve continued to beaver away on preparing for the next stage of our Climate programme beyond the end of our current funded period in March 2024. We’ve been having some really exciting conversations with funders, as well as investigating joint projects with new partners. In particular, we’ve been looking at ways we could use our data and machine learning expertise to improve the transparency and quality of climate data, and considering next steps for Neighbourhood Warmth and our work on community-based, democratic approaches to home energy transition.
Image: Maria Capelli
We’re delighted to announce that mySociety has joined the Blueprint Coalition – an influential group of local government organisations, environmental groups, and research institutions working together to deliver local climate action with a joined-up approach.
The Coalition works across sectoral, geographical and party boundaries to make change happen. We’re excited to join the other members in calling upon the government to provide the crucial support local authorities need to deliver on tackling the climate crisis.
Becoming a part of the Blueprint Coalition isn’t just a milestone; it’s a commitment to a cause larger than ourselves. As mySociety joins hands with like-minded organisations, we are poised to make significant progress in our aim to make climate-related data more accessible. We believe that more information makes for better-informed action, so everything we do puts richer, more usable data into the open, where everyone can use it.
Our Climate, Transparency and Democracy streams consist of a number of services (such as CAPE, Climate Scorecards, TheyWorkForYou, WriteToThem, and WhatDoTheyKnow) which we bring to the Coalition alongside our research, policy and advocacy work. Our policy work has been focusing on the issue of fragmented data, and we’re excited to be planning a webinar on this topic with the Coalition – watch this space!
About the Blueprint Coalition
In December 2020, the Blueprint Coalition published a comprehensive manifesto that serves as a roadmap to expedite climate action and usher in a green recovery at the local level. It outlines the national leadership, policies, powers, and funding required to empower local authorities in making impactful changes on a substantial scale. Drawing on the first-hand experiences of local authorities that have declared climate emergencies, this blueprint serves as a guiding light for collective action towards a sustainable future.
A defining feature of the Blueprint Coalition is its central ethos of fostering partnerships between civil society, national and local governments. Recognising that achieving net zero carbon emissions requires the collaboration of all levels of governance, the Coalition’s work serves as a testament to the power of collaboration.
The Coalition partners include:
- Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Transport and Planning (ADEPT)
- Centre for Alternative Technology
- Climate Emergency UK
- Friends of the Earth
- Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment (Imperial College London)
- London Environment Directors’ Network (LEDNet)
- Place-based Climate Action Network (PCAN) at LSE
- in addition to support from London Councils and Green Alliance.
Any other questions or comments? Get in touch with Julia, our Policy & Advocacy Manager.
Image: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. See page for author.
Ahem, well, it’s been a while… For us June and July have been all about the team both busily beavering away as deadlines loom, and looking up to the horizon to start to envisage and plan for ‘what’s next?’
To provide some context, the programme has benefited from the generosity of two major funders, Quadrature Climate Foundation and the National Lottery Community Fund, over the past two and a half years. Their support has been key in enabling mySociety to firmly plant its feet in the climate space: to better understand the sector and where and how civic tech could add value, as well as bring about tangible change through our work with an array of talented partners.
But all good things must come to an end, so as well as planning what more we can possibly achieve in the next eight months or so, we have started to think about the next stage for our climate work. Watch this space for the outcomes of our thinking on ‘what next’; suffice to say for now – we’ve learned a lot from the last couple of years and are looking forward to fundraising for and rolling out more impactful work.
Meanwhile, back at the coal solar-panel(?) -face…
We’re aiming for an Autumn launch for the 2023 Climate Action Plan Scorecards (aka ‘Scorecards’). Climate Emergency UK and their volunteers are mid-audit: it’s looking like a sizeable chunk of work but they are still aiming to complete it by the end of August. At the development end, Struan has set up the foundations for the Scorecards site so that Lucas could start experimenting with new branding and a header for switching between years.
Climate Action Plan Explorer
On CAPE, this month finally saw the fruition of a project we’ve had bubbling over much of the year so far. Thanks to some machine learning wizardry, document search on CAPE is now much more flexible. Our new language model (based on the meaning of words and phrases, rather than basic text similarity) means you can now preview which key topics are covered in different documents, and see results for closely related terms when you search. You can read more in Alex’s blog post. Our thanks go to Louis Davidson and the Faculty Fellowship for working with us on this.
We also attended the LGA Annual Conference in Bournemouth this month, and talked to a number of councillors and council officers about both CAPE and our plans around domestic retrofit. In particular, we were keen to test out an experimental interface that makes it easier to compare your council to its ‘climate twin’, based on the machine learning topics mentioned above. The twins algorithm isn’t quite ready for prime time, but feedback from the conference is helping us move it closer to launch.
Our Neighbourhood Warmth project continued to explore new territory as we held workshops with communities in Birmingham and Frome, as well as with council officers via the UK Green Building Council, to get feedback on the staging site and our ideas for rollout.
Siôn is now leading a process of reflection with our partner, Dark Matter Labs, to pull our key lessons together and to look at the next stage of development for the project. We’ve got some ideas but are keen to collaborate and ground this project in the communities we hope to serve. Check out our Neighbourhood Warmth month notes for more detail on where we might be headed and what we’re learning along the way.
Local Intelligence Hub
The Local Intelligence Hub—our climate data sharing platform, built with The Climate Coalition and soft-launched to their members in April—has now served users from almost 100 different Climate Coalition organisations. This autumn, we’re planning to open up public access to most of the datasets on the platform, so community groups and citizens can benefit from the data without requesting an account.
The detail-oriented amongst you might have noticed this means two big launches around the same time this autumn. One of our priorities for this month was to estimate the development and design requirements of both projects, before deciding we could do two launches at once. On paper it looks fine, so we look forward to seeing how that works out in reality!
In the meantime, the data set on the Hub is getting richer and richer as Alexander continues to upload new demographic datasets and deal with the glitches with incredible commitment and good humour. We’ve also started laying the groundwork to ensure the Hub supports the new (2023) constituency boundaries, when it launches to the public later this year.
Last but definitely not least, we welcomed Julia Cushion as our new Policy & Advocacy Manager in June. Julia has done more than hit the ground running: speeding out of sight almost immediately, I think she’s managed the fastest first mile in mySociety history, with blogs such as From fragmentation to collaboration: strengthening local climate data and What local climate data do we need. Talented and a really great person too.
And on to the future
If you’ve had an idea of ‘what next’ for mySociety in the climate space, please email us at email@example.com – now’s a great time to chat with us.
Image: H. Zell (CC by-sa/3.00)
We’ve used machine learning to make practical improvements in the search on CAPE – our local government climate information portal.
The site contains hundreds of documents and climate action plans from different councils, and they’re all searchable.
One aim of this project is to make it easier for everyone to find the climate information they need: so councils, for example, can learn from each other’s work; and people can easily pull together a picture on what is planned across the country.
The problem is that these documents often use different terms to talk about the same basic ideas – meaning that using the search function requires an expert understanding of which different keywords to search for in combination.
Using machine learning, we’ve now made it so the search will automatically include related terms. We’ve also improved the accessibility of individual documents by highlighting which key concepts are discussed in the document.
How machine learning helps
We’re already using machine learning techniques as part of our work clustering similar councils based on emissions profile, but we hadn’t previously looked at how machine learning approaches could be applied to big databases of text like CAPE.
As part of our funding from Quadrature Climate Foundation, we were supported to take part in the Faculty Fellowship – where people transitioning from academic to industrial data science jobs are partnered with organisations looking to explore how machine learning can benefit their work.
Louis Davidson joined us for six weeks as part of this programme. After a bit of exploration of the data, we decided on a project looking at this problem of improving the search, as there was a clear way a machine learning solution could be applied: using a language model to identify key concepts that were present across all the documents. You can watch Louis’ end of project presentation on YouTube.
Moving from similar words to similar concepts
Louis took the documents we had and used a language model (in this case, BERT) to produce ‘embeddings’ for all the phrases they contained.
When language models are trained on large amounts of text, this changes the internal shape of the model so that text with similar meanings ends up being ‘closer’ to each other inside the model. An ‘embedding’ is a series of numbers that represent this location. By looking at the distance between embeddings, we can identify groups of similar terms with similar meanings. While a more basic text similarity approach would say that ‘bat’ and ‘bag’ are very similar, a model that sorts based on meaning would identify that ‘bat’ and ‘owl’ are more similar.
This means that without needing to re-train the model (because you’re not really concerned with what the model was originally trained to do), you can explore the similarities between concepts.
There are approaches to this that store a “vector database” of these embeddings which can be directly searched – but we’ve gone for a simpler approach that doesn’t require a big change to how CAPE was already working.
Using the documents we have, we automatically identified (and manually selected a group of) common concepts that are found across a range of documents – and the original groups of words that relate to those concepts.
When a search is made we now consult this list of similar phrases, and search for these at the same time. This gives us a practical way of improving our existing processes without adding new technical requirements when adding new documents or searching the database.
Because we now have this list of common concepts, we are also pre-searching for these concepts to provide, for each document, links to where that concept is discussed within it. With this change, the contents of individual documents are more visible, with it easier to quickly identify interesting contents depending on what you are interested in.
Potential of machine learning for mySociety
Our other websites, like TheyWorkForYou and WhatDoTheyKnow, similarly have a large amount of text that this kind of semantic search can make more accessible — and we can already see how they might be useful to those relying on data around climate and the environment WhatDoTheyKnow in particular has huge amounts of environmental information fragmented across replies to hundreds of different authorities.
Generative AI and machine learning have huge potential to help us make the information we hold more accessible. At the same time, we need to understand how to incorporate new techniques into our services in a way that is sustainable over time.
Through experiments like this with CAPE, we are learning how to think about machine learning, which problems we have that it applies to, and understand new skills we need to work with it. Thanks to Louis, and his Faculty advisors for his work and their support on this project.
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Image: Ravaly on Unsplash.
We’ve recently published a report on fragmented data and local councils’ climate action. Download it here.
At all levels of government, and across the UK, there is growing recognition of the importance of local government in achieving the UK’s climate commitments. From this, there is a growing need to understand the impact of the interventions taking place at a local authority level, and as such, there are growing calls from central government and civil society for more climate data publishing.
We recognise that these calls for more data do not always take into account the resources needed from within authorities to prepare this data, nor how to make the data useful to the authorities that published it in the first place.
More data publishing makes the climate data ecosystem richer, but smarter data publishing makes it more useful. If we replicate the history of previous central mandates to publish information, we will repeat mistakes that found local authorities using limited resources to put out data in ways that are far too costly to bring together and build upon.
We call this problem fragmented public data, and believe that a little bit more coordination and central support can supercharge the value of the data that local government produces. We need better tools and a better understanding of the skills and resources available to council staff. A realistic analysis of resource limitations of local government, and working with council staff who produce the data, will create more useful results, than a ‘best practice’ that requires obstructively high levels of technical skill.
Central government has a role in providing more than an edict to publish: it must offer the support and resources to facilitate cooperation and publication of data spread over hundreds of local authorities. Net zero data publication does not have to be a burden. Together, civil society, central and local governments can come together to create a data ecosystem that is greater than the sum of its parts. To build that ecosystem, we propose the following key principles:
- A collaborative (but compulsory) data standard to agree the data and format that is expected.
- A central repository of the location of the published data, which is kept up to date with new releases of data.
- Support from a data convener to make publication simple – such as, through validation and publication tools, coordinating data submissions, and technical support.
- Read the full report written by mySociety and the Centre for Public Data
- Sign up for our climate newsletter
- Contact Julia, our Policy and Advocacy Manager, to see how to implement our recommendations in your local area
Around one third of the UK’s emissions are within the power or influence of local authorities. Every local authority across the UK must be taking action to tackle climate change, in order for the UK to reach its 2050 net zero goal, and for local authorities themselves to reach their own net zero targets.
mySociety builds services that support local authorities and their communities in their climate action planning. Through tools like the Climate Action Plan Explorer (CAPE) and our work on Climate Scorecards, we bring together local authority climate plans from across the country to make knowledge sharing easier, and the information more accessible. We know that council officers already use CAPE when seeking out best practice in different policy areas, but in order to improve these tools we need more data, and for that data to be published in an open format. That way, we can build and combine the data to make it more accessible, and more useful, for everyone.
The data we need
- To understand local authority emissions: structured data of council’s scope 1-3 emissions
- To understand the effect on the area: Broader data about the local authority’s influence and activities in their wider local area
- To understand development, setbacks and changes: Context and reflections from the public body on their own progress and future plans
Running through this, this information needs to be published in a way that avoids the problem of public fragmented data, to unlock the most value from publishing this data.
Understanding local authority emissions
84% of councils have a commitment to bring their own emissions, or those of their area, to net zero by a certain date. To this, it’s essential for public bodies to publish structured data of their scope 1-3 emissions.
These scope 1 (direct operational), scope 2 (indirect from supplied electricity & heat) and scope 3 (supply chain & other indirect) emissions should be broken down by source and by year, from a baseline year. Reporting templates for this are already in use for local authorities in Scotland and Wales.
Understanding and sharing local authorities impact on their area
In addition to scope 1-3 emissions, the ‘one third’ figure above draws on the fact that local authorities have considerable influence over their wider local area. To help build a more detailed picture of the work taking place across local authority areas, we need structured data covering:
- Organisational plans and targets relevant to climate change, progress against these, and plans for future progress. These plans and targets are generated internally by the local authority or public body, but should capture the work they are doing internally and externally to support their wider community. For example, Aberdeen City Council’s recent submission using the Scottish Framework highlighted their Housing Strategy which included energy efficiency measures for privately owned, privately rented, and social housing.
- Details of carbon saving projects across the local area. These will be unique to the reporting body, but will again illustrate what is taking place across that authority’s local area, and may provide inspiration and opportunity for other public bodies. In the Scottish template, authorities are asked to provide structured data about all carbon savings from projects, and the top 10 carbon reduction projects to be carried out by the body in the report year.
- Risk assessments and action plans for climate adaptation. These help to build a picture of the planning across the local area, and sharing this will help councils facing similar challenges to enhance their own planning.
In order to provide the most useful data and tools, we also need to know more about how local authorities reflect on their own progress. In these instances, free text which we can semantically search, is often most helpful. We need data around:
- Personnel, systems & processes to manage climate monitoring and reporting. This helps us to understand who is doing the work, and how resource allocation happens.
- Progress since the last reporting period, and key areas of focus for the period ahead. This gives a vital sense of context and perspective from inside the reporting body, and helps situate the scale of work undertaken against work yet to be done.
Publishing data usefully
Requirements to publish data put extra costs on public authorities. As such, we need to make sure that this is done in a way that the data is most useful and accessible.
Fragmented public data is a problem that happens when many organisations are required to publish the same data, but not to a common standard or in a common location. With The Centre for Public Data, mySociety has published recommendations on unlocking the value of fragmented public data. We recommend:
- 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.
This applies to information directly about climate data, but is also a useful requirement for any new requirement to publish. For instance, while both EPC ratings and datasets of council assets are required to be published, in practice the lack of a coordinated publishing approach for assets data means this data cannot be combined to understand energy efficiency of council properties across the country.
This is an evolving document and we want your feedback! Get in touch.
- Read the Fragmented Data report (written by mySociety and the Centre for Public Data) for more detail, examples and case studies.
- Sign up for our climate newsletter
- Contact Julia, our Policy and Advocacy Manager, to see how to implement our recommendations in your local area.
Alice Garvey was one of the numerous volunteers on Climate Emergency UK’s Scorecards project, helping to assess councils’ climate action plans to a rigorous marking schema.
Like many of those who volunteered, Alice has a particular interest in local authority climate commitments — in her case, because the information being gathered feeds directly into her work. The Scorecards data informed her doctoral research; but she also found that being part of the team that helped to assemble this data brought extra insights as well.
So what is she working on?
Alice told us: “My PhD considers how different regions of the UK can reduce their emissions in a way that is fair, and that recognises the spatially varied opportunities and opportunity costs of decarbonisation. This is informed by both the need for rapid climate change mitigation at scale, as well as the need to level the UK’s significant regional inequalities.
“As part of my PhD I have been evaluating the potential contribution of Local Authority commitments to the overall achievement of net zero in the UK. This involved calculating the possible emissions reductions in scenarios where councils met their operational and/or area-wide net zero targets.
“The project also involved quantifying the ‘capability’ of different councils to decarbonise, to recognise that some areas face systemic barriers to developing and delivering climate plans.
“I have also undertaken interviews with stakeholders active in climate governance from across regions, sectors and scales of government in the UK. This has allowed me to evaluate how fair current governance arrangements for net zero are perceived to be, particularly from the perspective of councils.”
This is interesting! We wondered what had started Alice on this path of enquiry.
“The UK has exceptional levels of regional inequality, and the changes that are required during the low carbon transition are only likely to exacerbate old, or introduce new, inequalities. I undertook this project to help highlight some of these tensions and trade-offs, to identify the areas that are likely to fall behind without further support, and the kind of support that they may need.
“To do this, I focused on the role of councils as local-regional institutions. It was increasingly evident that councils are ‘expected’ to have a plan to achieve net zero, despite there being no formal requirement for them to do so. Similarly, given longstanding budget cuts to local authorities in the UK, it is doubtful whether many councils have the financial capability to deliver programmes around net zero. I thought that the gap between the rhetoric of local climate action and the lack of formal responsibilities was interesting, and worthy of further exploration.
“For instance, what scale of emissions reductions would the voluntary net zero commitments of councils achieve? What kind of role could or should the local scale play in national decarbonisation? What kinds of policies would enable councils to decarbonise more effectively, and more fairly? What do councils think of these policies? These were all questions I aimed to address in undertaking the research.”
So, the relevance of the Scorecards data is self-evident here. How had Alice come across it?
“I was aware of the Climate Emergency Declarations mapping from CE UK, which provided really good (and novel) oversight of the landscape of local climate commitments. When the Scorecards were getting started I got involved as a climate action plan scoring volunteer.”
And, as it turned out, that was a great way of understanding the data from the inside out.
“The process of undertaking the training, scoring the plans and engaging with CE UK gave me key insight into the workings of local government, and the significant challenges it faces in terms of decarbonisation. It enabled and inspired my use of the Scorecards in my own academic research.
“Though I primarily used the Scorecards for the net zero target dates for councils, they also made me think more critically about the drivers of these commitments and declarations, and the spatial variables that meant some areas were more ambitious than others.”
And how was this understanding applied?
“In my analysis I used the target data to develop scenarios of emissions reductions for each local authority in England if they met their net zero targets (and a scenario if they didn’t). I also used the scores from the Scorecards as part of an indicator framework that suggested how ambitious different councils were being, and compared this to an indicator of ‘capability’. This allowed a comparison of whether more ‘capable’ councils were being more ambitious and vice versa, and identifying regional trends in this.
“The analysis showed that many regions were taking more responsibility for decarbonisation than they were necessarily capable of, whilst other more capable regions were not taking proportionate action. Notably, the picture was more complicated than a simple North-South divide. I published this analysis as an academic paper and as a key part of my PhD.”
These insights seem really valuable, adding to our understanding of the work ahead required for an effective and just transition. How does Alice envisage that they’ll be used?
“I hope that the paper highlights the spatial variation in how local government works, and how this challenges granting any uniform responsibility for delivering net zero. For example, any local statutory responsibility for net zero would need to consider the varied starting points of different councils on their decarbonisation journey. I would also hope that it draws attention to the need for greater direction, greater support for councils from central government, if they are expected to have a formal role in delivering net zero in the UK. Given that delivery of net zero relies on action at all scales, across all regions, this is something that appears increasingly inevitable.
“Though it is only my perspective from the academic side, I would say that many papers do not reach the eyes and ears of decision-makers without further work to translate them. The protocols and language of such publications can limit their consumption to an academic audience.
“This is the reason that the publication of a paper can sometimes be only the beginning of the research process. Translating papers into policy briefs, calls for evidence, presentations, and dissemination through social media, can be key steps in ensuring the research makes its mark in the world outside the university.”
We hope that this research will indeed find its way into such channels, and that the findings will help inform the UK’s vital transition period. You can see Alice’s research in the paper: Climate ambition and respective capabilities: are England’s local emissions targets spatially just? Thanks very much to her for telling us all about it.
We’re always keen to hear how our work is helping inform other projects, so if you’ve been using it for a campaign, research or other purposes, please do get in touch and let us know.
This is one in a short series of monthnotes about our Neighbourhood Warmth project. It has also been crossposted on the blog of our project partner, Dark Matter Labs.
We wrapped up our first instalment of monthnotes with thoughts on how to tackle our overarching enquiry:
“How can we support communities to organise locally around a simple and achievable home energy action?”
Since then we’ve been sculpting the skeleton of a digital service that we’re planning to test in June. Currently it outlines the benefits of collaboration and enables neighbours to connect with each other, by forming teams.
Questions lead to questions
You may have noticed that our timescales have slipped a bit! After an initial burst of brainstorming we spotted an impending crunch and decided to extend our partnership for another month. This provided breathing space to organise workshops. And it allowed us to unpack a few questions that are bubbling up as we revisit the drawing board and iterate.
Here’s a flavour:
- How can digital technology facilitate purposeful connection, and on what basis (eg proximity, housing type, tenure, existing relationships or motivations)?
- What mechanisms enable teams to form, evolve and progress together?
- How strongly do we want to encourage a particular sequence of actions?
As we crumble these and related questions into more granular design decisions, we’re regularly referring back to the research questions in our plan for this Alpha phase to maintain focus. We’ve made strides on the first three, and our attention is now turning towards the remaining two:
- How a service like this could signal demand to the council or to retrofit organisations, to help build the supply of retrofit finance and services in an area.
- How a service like this could connect residents with suppliers for services across parts or whole of the retrofit journey.
I’m gonna get myself connected
We’ve also been laying foundations for the co-design workshops that we’ll use to test and learn with communities in Frome, Birmingham and hopefully at least one more location. Due to their distinctive characteristics, these communities allow us to run parallel experiments.
In Balsall Heath, John Christophers is at the heart of a community-led effort to make the most of government funding that involves Birmingham City Council, MECC Trust, Midlands Net Zero Hub to name a few.
And in Frome, thanks to funding from The National Lottery’s Climate Action Fund, the town council has partnered with the Centre for Sustainable Energy so that its Healthy Homes team can advise residents.
We’re interested to see how people’s perspectives on Neighbourhood Warmth may be shaped by these diverse contexts, histories and experiences. By shining light from different angles, we hope their responses will help us to resolve some of the questions that we’re still grappling with.
Thanks to generous engagement with fellow travellers on the road to community-led retrofit, our thinking continues to be stimulated in the meantime. Thanks to everyone who read and shared our previous monthnotes, and made time to meet in the interim.
In relation to the research questions above, we’re honoured to have been invited to drop in to the UK Green Building Council’s local authority retrofit forum. This is a golden opportunity to share our work with council officers. We’re curious to know how a richer picture of home energy action could bolster their efforts to support residents. If Neighbourhood Warmth provided a clearer view of demand, how could that help in the development of local supply chains? And zooming out a bit further, we’re exploring the potential for knock-on benefits at regional and national levels with the West Midlands Combined Authority.
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As we barrel into Summer at full speed, here’s a summary of what mySociety’s climate team got up to in May.
Neighbourhood Warmth: alpha testing a vision of community-powered retrofit
As Siôn blogged a few days ago, Neighbourhood Warmth has been, and will continue to be, a major focus for us over May–July this year.
Last month, we grappled with some thorny design questions (how do we test appetite for community-led retrofit? how could a service support both climate activists and neighbours who just need lower energy bills?) and started building a working alpha, which we’ll be testing out in online workshops with a handful of pilot communities around the UK this June/July.
We also had a number of really encouraging calls with other organisations working in this space – all of us keen on finding some way to square the circle of solving the UK’s massive domestic decarbonisation challenge. If you’re interested, you can read much more in Siôn’s seprate monthnotes for this project.
CAPE: making sense of messy data around local authorities’ climate plans
From our newest climate tool (Neighbourhood Warmth) to our longest running – CAPE. This May we progressed two big improvements to CAPE, which we’re hoping to deploy and test out in June/July.
The first uses AI / machine learning to extract clusters of related topics from our database of every local authority climate action plan in the UK, so you can more find other plans which mention topics close to your heart. We’re hoping these auto-extracted topics will also make it easier to quickly see what’s inside a document, without reading it from head to foot.
The second change is a big re-think of how we help local authorities find their “climate twins”, or other councils likely to face similar climate challenges. We’re in the early stages of this little mini-project, but I’m excited that we might be able to come up with something that really brings together all of the various datapoints CAPE holds on each council, in a way that you just can’t get anywhere else. More on this, hopefully, in our June or July monthnotes!
Council Climate Action Scorecards: crowdsourcing and verifying council actions on climate
May saw the end of the “Right of Reply” period for councils to contribute their feedback on Climate Emergency UK’s volunteer assessors’ analysis of their climate actions. All of this marking and feedback process has been handled through a webapp custom built by mySociety, and it’s encouraging to see that oiver 80% of local authorities in the UK logged into the site to check their score, and around 70% of local authorities provided feedback on their provisional marks!
We’re really proud of how this year’s Council Climate Action Scorecards are shaping up, and can’t wait to start sharing them in the Autumn. Our partners, Climate Emergency UK, have put a huge effort into making these as fair and up-to-date a representation of actual local authority action on climate change. Now they enter their final “Audit” phase, consolidating councils’ feedback against the volunteers’ first marks, after which we’ll be able to calculate each council’s final score.
Local Intelligence Hub: a treasure-trove of constituency-level climate data
The Local Intelligence Hub—the face of our collaboration with The Climate Coalition—soft launched to Climate Coalition members at the end of April. But just because the site is now in the hands of members, doesn’t mean work stops! Alexander has been continuing to collect and import new datasets around fuel poverty, the cost of living, and child poverty – as well as improving the reliability of advanced features like shading constituencies on the map. Meanwhile, our other Alex has been grappling with some Google Analytics-related challenges (tracking Custom Events with cookie-less GA4 – one for the geeks!) which I’m sure he’ll blog about in due course.
If you’re part of an organisation in The Climate Coalition, you can request a free account on the Local Intelligence Hub, and try out the tools and datasets for yourself. For everyone else, we’re still hoping to launch a public version of the tool later this year.
Header image: Krista