1. How to unlock the value of fragmented public data: your views wanted

    Data users in the UK often encounter fragmented public data, where  public authorities are each spending money to publish data independently, but their outputs are difficult to find and join together. This means that a lot of effort is going into creating data which cannot be used to its full potential.

    As a joint project between mySociety and the Centre for Public Data, we are writing what we hope is a simple approach to help address this problem. 

    Our current thinking is that some level of central coordination is required to accompany a central mandate to publish. Public bodies need support and coordination to publish data to a lightweight common standard and in a common location.

    We want to kick the wheels of this conclusion, identify existing attempts to fix the problem, and talk to people who produce and use the data to see what the obstacles are. If you’re interested, get in touch at research-publicdata@mysociety.org, or drop your views in this survey

    What is fragmented public data?

    Fragmented public data is when many public authorities are required to publish the same data, but not to a common standard (structure) or in a single location – so data becomes fragmented across multiple locations and multiple formats. 

    For example, every English local authority is currently supposed to publish all spending over £500 each month. From Adur to Wyre Forest, council officers are working hard to publish monthly spending. 

    In theory, this data should be being used by companies, researchers and journalists to provide insight into spending, spot fraud, and find opportunities to sell to councils.

    But in practice, to use the data, you’ll need to search all 333 council websites each month, then import each spreadsheet into a central database – and you’ll spend a lot of time pulling your hair out, because the spreadsheets don’t use a consistent format. 

    As a result, not much has actually been done with all this data. And the grand promises that spending data would unleash an ‘army of armchair auditors’ have largely failed to materialise. 

    Why does this matter?

    This is a problem because most of the effort is already being spent to do the job ineffectually. Councils do a lot of work to produce this data, and companies and analysts waste time fixing import scripts or crowdsourcing data, rather than creating new products or insights — and for many organisations, the skills and resources required to create national level datasets are beyond them.

    This is not an isolated problem – there are many other examples of fragmented data. 

    From assets of community value to election information to council land and property assets, data is often published in a fragmented and hard to reassemble way. 

    For many datasets, while individual disclosures are useful, the combined data is much more than the sum of its parts because it allows real understanding of the picture across the whole country, and makes it easier to draw comparisons between different areas.

    Across all these datasets the potential loss is huge – and just a bit of extra work could unlock huge amounts of the overall value of the data. We want to fix this for data that is already being published, and make sure that datasets in future are published in the best possible way. 

    So what can we do?

    The big problem is one of coordination. We think the UK’s central data teams just need to help public authorities do two things:

    1. Use a lightweight common standard
    2. Report the location of the data in a central register.

    By taking things that individual authorities are doing anyway, but getting an agreed format and location, all the individual datasets become far more useful. But the details of the standard are less important than the fact that the government and legislators should be as interested in this side of the problem as they are in requiring the data to be published in the first place. 

    We’re keen to learn lessons from previous attempts to do this, and reviewing old publication guides, our initial conclusion is that these over-complicated the idea of what open data is (with a fixation on file formats and linked standards), rather than simple interventions that help both publishers and users (where generally, the best approach is probably an Excel template with common headers). Common standards need to be a compromise between technical requirements and the people who work in local authorities who produce this data.

    We’re encouraged by an approach taken by the Scottish Parliament, where publication of compliance with climate change duties was mandated in a particular format – and a consultation on this process found most organisations involved thought standard reporting was an improvement. We’re interested in any other examples of this kind of approach. 

    What are we doing now?

    We’re trying to explore this problem a bit more, to understand the scale of the problem, and the viability of our approach.

    We are interested in talking to:

    • People who have run into this issue, what they were trying to do, if they were able to overcome it, or if they had to give up.
    • People who publish information in public bodies to understand what their restrictions are
    • People or organisations with experience in trying to coordinate a single standard or location for public data releases.

    Get in touch at research-publicdata@mysociety.org, or drop your views in this survey

    Header image: Photo by Olav Ahrens Røtne on Unsplash

  2. New report: Improving oversight of Access to Information

    The right to access information requires high quality oversight. Studies of effectiveness of Access to Information (ATI) legislation tells a clear story: the benefits of greater transparency and access to information can only be realised when this system is actively enforced. To be effective, the whole system of ATI review and appeal has to be designed as a system of cultural change. The system has to use limited resources in a strategic way to reform cultures of unnecessary secrecy in government that protect corruption and inefficiency in public life. 

    Building on a comprehensive picture of appeal systems and processes across Europe, our new report argues for the value of specialised oversight bodies (Information Commissioners), who have independence from government and the power to compel compliance from authorities. In countries that use a system of internal review, better monitoring and interventions are necessary to ensure this system enhances rather than detracts from access to information.

    The report can be read online, or downloaded as a pdf

    Summary of recommendations:

    • Better investment in the resources, capacities and independence of Information Commissioners improves the quality of the ATI regime, attacks corruption, and strengthens good governance.
    • Specialist Information commissioners are preferable to general ombudsman, bringing more specific knowledge, and are a more suitable structure to shepherd the access to information regime. 
    • The power to enforce decisions is a required tool for driving culture change in public authorities. 
    • Systems of internal review should be replaced by commissioner-led systems of appeal, where information commissioners have understanding of appeals across the entire system, and can use internal review as a strategic choice, rather than a hurdle before an appeal can be considered. 
    • In general, oversight bodies and civil society rarely have high quality information about full workings of the ATI system. We argue that better quality statistics are a valuable tool in demonstrating the value of the system, and in allowing targeted focus on problems. 

    Fundamentally, good ATI regimes are important because of the effects they have in society, strengthening anti-corruption and good policy-making approaches. Better oversight is a cost-effective way of unlocking these wider benefits. This report explores how technical details of how the oversight system works are important in achieving these overall objectives.

    The report can be read online, or downloaded as a pdf

  3. New research: joining up local government and citizens in climate action

    mySociety’s climate programme is focused around reducing the carbon emissions that are within the power and influence of local authorities in the UK. 

    A big area of ignorance for us was the public understanding of local government and its role in combating climate change. We anticipated that in general there might be low public understanding, but we wanted to know more about the shape of that understanding, and how that might affect how we approach our work.  

    We commissioned Tom Sasse to write a literature review to help us understand more about this area. The report can be read online or downloaded as a PDF

    The report has seven key messages:

    Net zero is a national mission on a huge scale. It will mean changes to our landscapes and lifestyles, our physical infrastructure and energy systems, our homes, our diets, the way we travel. As well as being necessary, it should be a positive transition (think cleaner, healthier, more productive communities). But it will require some big investments, which need to be paid for fairly, and changes in people’s lives. Broad support will be critical.

    To be successful, net zero will require strong local direction. This is the message from a growing chorus of voices (and not just diehard devolution advocates). Central government will have to take some decisions and set direction. It overwhelmingly controls funding. But the path to net zero will be different across the UK: rural areas face very different issues to dense urban ones. Councils are well placed to understand local concerns, needs and capabilities – and build support for local transition pathways. They can act as conveners, working with local citizens, businesses and community groups.

    Local climate action is gearing up, but councils face constraints. Councils hold key levers in housing, transport and planning; in all, they exercise powers or influence over around a third of all UK emissions. Almost all have a net zero target and four fifths have published a climate action plan. But these vary in scope and detail, and many councils are still getting to grips with how to cut (or just measure) emissions. Some have started engaging citizens. But in general councils lack funding and capabilities, which is holding back action.

    The public supports stronger climate action. In the last three years public concern about climate change has climbed from mid-ranking to be the third most important issue facing the country – and this change appears pretty robust. Cost of living pressures present challenges, but recent polling shows the public still overwhelmingly supports the UK’s net zero target. Most people think stronger action is needed to meet it.

    The public supports more local involvement in net zero. Trust and satisfaction with government has been in decline, but attitudes towards local councils have held up much better (44% trust their local councillor vs 19% for government ministers). In particular, people much prefer councillors when asked who should make decisions about their local areas. They think local areas have a high degree of responsibility for tackling climate change, and believe central government should provide more funding to enable local action.

    Public understanding of local government is relatively low. The public makes little distinction between different tiers of government. While people know councils are responsible for some highly visible services like waste collection, their understanding of the range of actions local authorities could take to tackle climate change is limited.

    Climate action will need to be framed around local concerns. The public are particularly keen on certain net zero policies including frequent flier levies, carbon taxes, improved public transport, and support for replacing gas boilers and installing energy efficiency. But there has been less polling on preferences around local action. People have some concerns about how costs and impacts will fall, and when asked about priorities for their local area, they tend to raise wider issues like vibrant high streets or youth employment.

    The report concludes by offering recommendations on four areas where mySociety could make a difference: supporting efforts to address information gaps and raise awareness, which could help provide a stronger foundation for local climate action; supporting wider use of public engagement, and helping councils to achieve wider reach via digital tools; helping to address knowledge gaps around public opinion and preferences for local net zero action; and supporting more effective ways of monitoring and tracking progress in local climate action.

    Reflections on the report:

    While we anticipated (and the report confirms) low public awareness around some aspects of local authorities, the process of writing the report helped expose some questions we’ve been dancing around the edges of, about how local authorities relate to their communities. For instance, our work is focused on the potential of local authorities to reduce emissions, but there are different opinions on exactly the proportion of emissions local authorities could have influence over. Depending who you ask, it can be anywhere between almost no emissions, and almost all emissions. This report helps navigate that area, in particular distinguishing between where local authorities are genuinely best placed to take action (and how this capacity could be improved), versus where central government may want to shift responsibility without properly enabling action. 

    This report has been helpful in encouraging clearer thinking about what we mean when we talk about ‘local action’. Some sources slide between talk of local action (from communities) and local action (from local authorities). Accepting a framing that local authorities are not only better placed than central government to work with local communities (certainly true) but are the same thing as their local communities (definitely not true) hides a large problem area where local authorities’ ability to work in and with their community can be substantially improved. Being clear-eyed about the current situation, as well as the potential for change, is essential for the success of our programme of work. 

    The report can be read online or downloaded as a PDF

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    Photo credit: Photo by Luke Porter on Unsplash

  4. Categorising local government services for emissions reduction

    The goal of mySociety’s climate programme is to try and reduce the estimated 33%  of UK emissions that are within the scope of local authorities’ activities. To be systematic about what that might mean, we’ve tried to categorise all local authority services and activities into three broad areas:

    • Service delivery is where councils’ direct  or outsourced activities have an implication for emissions. This includes their own facilities, services run directly or those externally procured. For instance, waste disposal and coastal protection are both services in this category, and our initial pass put 71 services in this category.
    • Enforcement and regulation is where councils have power to reduce third party/citizen emissions through regulatory frameworks. This might include transport or building regulation, or enforcement of regulations of the private rental sector (80 services). 
    • Place making is where local government have a coordinating/enabling role in emissions generated by third parties/citizens within their boundaries. This will involve fewer actual duties to take action, but a greater coordinating role, including general planning and research, borrowing and investment powers or strategic economic planning (90 services). 

    Using the ESD standard list of services provided by local authorities in England and Wales, a first pass identified services that might have relevance to emissions reduction (trying to be inclusive when in doubt). A second pass then assigned those services to at least one of the categories above. 

    The results of this process are in a GitHub repository. This is an initial test of this concept and the list, and classifications may be refined over time. Future additions might further distinguish powers from duties (where authorities can take action versus when they have to take action) and broad/specific service descriptions. 

    Internally, we’re using this list as a reminder of the wide range of activities local authorities have responsibility for, and to consider whether different groups of these services may be suitable for similar kinds of external interventions or services we might build as part of our work. As a dataset, this might eventually be able to add value directly to services. For instance the description data could be used in a machine learning approach as described in this paper for tagging and improving search of plans in the Climate Action Plan Explorer

    Alternative approaches

    The Climate Change Committee report on local authorities has two alternate ways of dividing local government functions. 

    The first is a list of areas of local government responsibility that relate to emissions:

    • An overarching role to support the economic, health and social wellbeing of communities
    • Powers to ensure buildings meet basic energy efficiency standards
    • Duties to prevent homelessness and prevent hazards in housing
    • Duties to manage risk including climate risks such as flooding
    • Duties and powers to protect the environment, wildlife and heritage
    • Duties to collect and dispose of waste
    • Borrowing and investment powers

    The second is a 6 stage “onion” diagram of activities based on the Centre for Sustainability model, where each layer accounts for a larger slice of emissions, but is less directly under the power of the council:

    • Direct control: buildings, operations, travel
    • Procurement: plus commissioning & commercialisation
    • Place shaping: using powers to control development and transport
    • Showcasing: innovating, piloting, demonstrating and sharing good practice, scaling and replicating
    • Partnerships: leading bringing people and organisations together, coordinating and supporting others, joining others’ partnerships
    • Involving, Engaging and Communicating: translating global and national climate change targets for local relevance, with stakeholders to raise awareness, involving people & ideas for local solutions
    Onion Diagram based on internal Centre for Sustainability model. A series of 6 expanding circles that correspond to the list above.

    Most of these fit into the placemaking category used above, but more generally our approach recognises a distinct regulation role that might be supported in a different way by potential future services to placemaking approaches. 

    Header image:  愚木混株 cdd20 on Unsplash

  5. Call for proposals: Showcasing public-private civic tech success stories

    In one sentence

    TICTeC Action Lab #1 is looking for an individual, organisation or joint team to produce a piece of work to showcase examples of where civic tech interventions have resulted in tangible improvements and benefits for governments/public institutions and their citizens.

    About TICTeC Action Lab #1

    As part of the TICTeC Labs programme, mySociety convened the TICTeC Action Lab #1 working group in order to take ideas raised at Civic Tech Surgery #1 forward, and decide together what piece of work would be useful to commission to help civic tech organisations around the world to work more effectively with governments/public institutions.

    The TICTeC Labs programme is looking at six key dilemmas facing civic tech. The first of those challenges was how civic tech organisations can work effectively with public and private institutions. Our Civic Tech Surgery #1 discussed some of the challenges and suggested some ways forward. Our Action Lab #1 considered those ideas and decided on a piece of work that could be commissioned to help solve some of the problems raised.

    TICTeC Action Lab #1 is comprised of 6 individuals from across the world, who between them have many years of experience working on civic tech and/or the issues that surround the effectiveness of civic tech. You can read more about Action Lab #1 members here.

    About this project

    TICTeC Action Lab #1 members agreed to commission a piece of work that showcases examples of where civic tech interventions have resulted in tangible improvements and benefits for governments/public institutions and their citizens.

    The Action Lab believes highlighting successful examples will help civic tech organisations across the world to work more effectively with governments, as it will help them to promote the benefits of civic tech and inspire and motivate government actors, as well as themselves, to start similar civic tech projects in their contexts.

    Therefore, the primary target audience for this work are public institutions across the world, as well as civic tech organisations themselves who want to be inspired. The work should include:

    • Examples of civic tech organisations working with public institutions (e.g. local governments/councils; national governments; government departments/agencies etc) on civic tech/digital democracy projects that have resulted in tangible improvements for the public institutions and their citizens. By ‘civic tech organisations’, we mean organisations that focus on informing citizens, connecting them with each other and getting them to engage with their governments in order to work together for the public good.
    • Examples from multiple countries, ensuring that examples from both the Global South and the Global North are represented.
    • Specific details on how the civic tech/digital democracy projects were set up and why; what the challenges were; what the tangible improvements were; and any other details that would be helpful for other civic tech organisations and public institutions who may like to replicate the examples in their contexts.

    There is $2500 USD (inclusive of taxes) available for this work. We are open to what form this piece of work takes – e.g. it could be a set of case studies; interviews; visualisations/images; a literature review; a graphic novel even! Above all, we want the work to be as accessible as possible to ensure it can be easily used in practice. We ask applicants to let us know what approach they will take in their application.

    It may be helpful for applicants to look back at schedules from previous TICTeC events to find examples of presentations that discuss how civic tech projects have led to tangible improvements.

    How to apply

    If you’re interested in producing this piece of work, then please fill in this application form by 28th March 2022. Applications will be reviewed by the TICTeC Labs team at mySociety and the TICTeC Labs Steering Group. Applicants will be notified of the status of their application no later than 15th April. The work will then need to be completed within 8 weeks of the successful applicant being appointed.

    What happens after the project

    We intend to publish the work you produce, credited to you, on the TICTeC and mySociety website, licensed under a Creative Commons licence. We may make some light edits (beyond proofreading) before we publish. You will be free to make publicly available your own version should you wish to, and any other material based on the research you conducted. The project will then be disseminated by TICTeC Action Lab members, the TICTeC Labs Steering group, and the TICTeC community to ensure it’s used as much as possible.

    mySociety will convene a ‘report back’ event at the end of the TICTeC Labs programme to discuss how the programme went and the work commissioned by the programme and its participants. Authors of commissioned work will be invited to attend to present their work.

    Any questions?

    Please send any queries or questions to tictec@mysociety.org.

  6. Data for levelling up and net zero

    Identifying opportunities for levelling up and net zero both require high quality, comparable local data 

    The levelling-up white paper sets out the government’s direction and strategy for reducing regional inequalities, a much-needed objective as the UK has one of the worst regional inequalities in the OECD countries. The paper outlines new opportunities for local authorities to have devolution-style powers and gain more autonomy by 2030. 

    There is a large gap in the levelling-up agenda: the white paper does not put the recently published net zero strategy at its heart. Both levelling up and net zero require systematic changes to the role local government plays in directing the economic activities of their area, and engaging and working with communities and citizens.

    Improving local data is important to boosting local economies while delivering a net zero transformation, and implementing those two as one comprehensive package will help fully embed environmental considerations in economic decisions.

    Levelling up and net zero have to be approached as a mutually supportive package, and not as two separate packages. Their implementation will create new economic models and lead to new governance structures. Both require new transparency mechanisms to enable citizens to track progress towards commitments.

    A new independent body to gather, enhance and make data accessible to local governments and citizens

    Both the levelling up and net zero agendas would benefit from high quality, evidence-based, and comparable local data.  In the current situation, local data is not easy to navigate and does not always allow easy data discovery, aggregation and re-use. 

    mySociety and Climate Emergency UK have been working to transform a situation where council’s climate plans are hard to find and understand by making council climate action plans accessible on a central website, and producing comparison tools and scores on the basis of written commitments found in climate emergency plans to spur comparisons, identify best practice, and improve performance.

    The importance of improved local data is recognised in the levelling up white paper announcement of a new independent body (p. 138) to gather, enhance, and make data accessible to local governments and citizens. Creating central pools of information helps spread learning and improve accountability, without undermining the local innovation that devolving power and responsibilities to local authorities and communities unlocks. The stated goal of this new body is to improve local leaders’ knowledge of their own services while increasing central government’s understanding of local authorities’ activities. This new body can play a very important part in improving the local data ecosystem.

    This new  capacity is equally important to the goal of net zero. It would be a missed opportunity not to strongly consider how this body could support local governments’ move towards net zero, and enable a transparent and just transition. 

    Addressing the limitations

    Creating high quality local data is important to improving outcomes, but will also demonstrate the limits of current financial constraints. To deliver ambitious and sustainable transformations in both regional inequality and net zero requires sustained and structured investment in the resources and capacities of local authorities. Addressing inequalities through better local data should not be limited to collating data on economic inequalities, and it is therefore critical that the new datasets also highlight local health inequalities and gaps in social care funding that significantly contribute to existing inequalities that, in turn, lead to poor engagement in climate action. Data should not be a stick to beat local governments, but a tool to help them articulate problems and find solutions. 

    The plan is for the new independent data body to be co-designed with local government, but it is also important that this reflects the needs of local communities and citizens. Citizen engagement and participation is vital for both levelling up and net zero. As outlined by the Climate Change Committee, 62 per cent of the measures needed to meet the country’s net zero goal will require some form of behaviour or societal change, and this should be reflected on how data is used to drive accountability and transparency.  

    As more plans about this new data body emerge, we will advocate for it to support the transition to net zero through promoting inter-council learning, central government understanding, and community accountability. 

    What mySociety is doing around net zero and data

    mySociety is working to repower democracy and enable new approaches to reducing carbon emissions. We are taking our experience running services such as TheyWorkForYou, WhatDoTheyKnow and FixMyStreet to work with partners and explore new services to reduce emissions within the scope of local authority activities.

    To date, we have worked with Climate Emergency UK on the Climate Action Plan Explorer and the Council Climate Plan Scorecards, making local climate action plans more discoverable and accessible for local governments, campaigners, and citizens.

    We are currently embarking on a series of prototyping weeks to explore different possible approaches with different partners. To hear more about our work, sign up to our climate newsletter.

    Image: Retrofitting homes in progress, by Ashden

  7. How can the global civic tech community fix common accessibility challenges?

    Would you like to join TICTeC Action Lab #2, collaborating with others around the world to discuss this question, and to commission a solution to  benefit everyone who uses civic tech? 

    As part of the TICTeC Labs programme, we recently convened a Civic Tech Surgery that brought together a group of around 100 civic tech practitioners and researchers from across the world to discuss common challenges in ensuring the tech we make is accessible, and the possible solutions.

    You can find resources from this online event here, including minutes, a summary blog post, contributions from attendees, and the full recording.

    Now the second part of the TICTeC Labs process kicks in, as we convene an Action Lab, a working group to decide on what to commission as a solution to the issues raised at the Civic Tech Surgery.

    The aim is to provide a practical solution that will help organisations running civic tech projects to make their projects more accessible for everyone.

    Some of the ideas that arose from the Surgery were: gathering and sharing existing guidance on accessibility best practice and sharing with community; creating policy templates for civic tech organisations; and compiling a database of for-hire or volunteer software developers with experience in making sites and tools accessible. There were many more ideas, and it’s up to Action Lab #2 members to decide which would be most useful —  and practical to commission — using a dedicated $2,500 USD grant.

    Apply now

    Applications to join this Action Lab are now open, and we would like to invite those interested in being part of this project to apply. Your job will be to decide exactly which piece of work to commission with the available funding.

    To be considered as part of the Action Lab, please fill in this form by the end of 4 March 2022. You can find further details here.

  8. Public understanding of local authorities and climate: starting the research

    A month ago we wrote a blog post looking for outside researchers to do some research to keep our climate work well rooted in the evidence base. The goal of this first piece of work is to research public understanding of what local government does, and especially its role in combating climate change. 

    After a really strong set of applications, we are delighted that we’ll be working with Tom Sasse on this project. Tom is an associate director at the Institute for Government and is taking this work on in a freelance capacity.

    As he starts on this research, he’s interested in any material (especially that may be off the beaten path) that could be relevant to that question. He can be reached on Twitter or through email at research-public-understanding@mysociety.org.

    We’ll be reflecting on what we’ve learned from this process to make improvements to both the application process, and the design of our future research briefs. If you’re interested in hearing about those future calls for proposals, you can join the mailing list

  9. Party voting instructions should be public

    Summary

    • 62% of the public agree that parties should be public with how they instruct their MPs to vote. 
    • 55% of the public think MPs are personally responsible for their vote, regardless of party instruction. 
    • The public are undecided on whether the fact that an MP was elected on a party manifesto means they should follow party instructions. 

    The public think voting instructions should be public

    Many votes in Parliament are ‘whipped’, meaning that the party gives MPs instructions on how to vote. This practice is both well known and secretive. While “everyone knows” parties instruct their MPs on how to vote, the instructions  are not publicly released. 

    In late 2021, we worked with Opinium to ask the public some questions to inform our work around TheyWorkForYou and WhatDoTheyKnow. This polling shows that 62% of the public think parties should be public with how they instruct their MPs to vote. Only 8% disagree that this information should be public. 

    From our point of view, releasing this information would solve a practical problem. TheyWorkForYou makes comparisons between MPs and their party, but to do this it has to calculate what the instruction probably was, based on how most MPs voted. We don’t know what the whip’s instruction was, and so have to work harder to get a result that is inferring what is happening behind closed doors. We also do not have information about the strength of the instruction, and can’t say when a party has a mild preference or a strong opinion about how their MPs should vote. 

    This information is also important on a principled level. The role of whipped votes is part of the argument about the value of individual MP voting records, where one side argues that MPs don’t really make voting decisions, and so should not be judged individually. If you accept this argument that votes in Parliament are really decided by the party leadership, the democratic case for releasing these instructions is overwhelming. 

    Net agree 62%, net disagree 8%, strong disagree 2%, somewhat disagree 30%, somewaht agree 35%, strong agree, 28%

    Voters are unsure on the argument that parties should direct votes

    The argument made to the anthropologist Emma Crewe (in her book Commons and Lords)  by party whips was that they were performing a democratic function: the people elected the MPs on a party manifesto, and so MPs in Parliament should “scrutinise and improve” but not oppose government plans. 

    The public is split on how convincing this argument is. We asked if respondents agreed with the statement “MPs are elected on a party’s manifesto, and should vote as the party leadership instructs”.  Only 24% agree with this statement, 35% disagree, with 41% neither agreeing or disagreeing. That only a small group outright agree with a philosophy that justifies how Parliament currently works is a problem, but the large group in the middle suggests that the views of the public might be more nuanced about what the role of parties should be in directing votes. 

    The answer to this question also varies by how people voted in the 2019 election. Labour and Liberal Democrat voters were more likely to move from ‘don’t know’ to ‘disagree’ with the idea that MPs should do as their party instructs, with 43% of Labour voters polled disagreeing and 51% of Liberal Democrat voters disagreeing. This might also reflect an idea that opposition MPs should be less bound by what they said in the last election. 

    24% net agree, 35% net disagree, 12% strong disagree, 23% somewhat disagree, 41% neither agree nor disagree, 18% somewhat agree, 5% strongly agree

    43% of labour respondents disagreed, to 51% of liberal democrat respondents, to 26% of conservative respondents. Other parties did not have significant differences.

    Regardless of why they made the decision, the public think MPs are personally responsible for how they vote

    Our polling also showed that the majority of the public (55%) believe that MPs are personally responsible for their vote, with only 15% disagreeing with the statement.  This should sound a note of caution for MPs. While it being common practice to follow the instructions of the party is an explanation of how Parliament works, it is not universally accepted this should be the case, or that it removes personal responsibility for their votes in the eyes of the public. 

    55% net agree, 15% net disagree, 5% strong disagree, 9% somewhat disagree, 30% neither agree nor disagree, 29% somewhat agree, 27% strongly agree

    This polling forms part of a wider series of questions that we hope to use to shape our work, and we will share more with you in the coming months.

    Thanks to Opinium for providing free polling questions to charities as part of their Giving Tuesday campaign. 

     

    Header image: Tim Wielink on unsplash

  10. Call for proposals: Public understanding of local authorities and climate

    Important links

    Download as PDF.

    In one sentence

    mySociety is looking for an individual, organisation or joint team to research public understanding of what local government does, and especially its role in combating climate change, primarily through conducting a literature review, to be completed by the end of March 2022.

    About mySociety

    Established in 2003, mySociety is a not-for-profit group, based in the UK but working with partners internationally. We believe that people can and want to work together to build a fairer society, to tackle the most pressing crises of our age. mySociety’s role is to use our digital and data skills to help this repowering of democracy. We build and share digital technologies that help people be active citizens, across the four areas of Democracy, Transparency, and Community and Climate. Our projects include TheyWorkForYou, WhatDoTheyKnow, and FixMyStreet. We also conduct and commission research in our areas of interest, which includes our new Climate programme. Our research programme is concerned with ensuring we are producing tools and approaches that are a good fit for the problems the organisation is trying to address. 

    About mySociety’s existing work in this area 

    The starting point for mySociety’s Climate programme is that around a third of UK greenhouse gas emissions are within the power or influence of local authorities and their communities. Through the deployment of data and digital services, we are helping councils, community organisations, campaign groups and individual citizens to take faster, more informed and effective action to cut emissions at the local level. Our initial project is a website that makes local authority climate action plans more discoverable and searchable. Our Climate programme seeks to support engagement from citizens, action from local government, and better information for all. You can read more about mySociety’s Climate programme here.

    Other areas of our work have involved local government and local democracy. Previous mySociety work of relevance to this project includes Participation vs representation: Councillor attitudes towards citizen engagement and Assessing success in Civic Tech: Measures of deprivation and WriteToThem.

    About this project

    We want to decrease UK carbon emissions that are either directly controlled or influenced by local government (see Climate Change Committee report on role of Local Authorities). Our hypothesis is that people know relatively little about local government, relatively little about the idea of Net Zero, and even less about the intersection of the two. If this is true,  there are opportunities to improve public/campaigner knowledge that would help align public pressure and campaigns with the biggest opportunities for emissions reduction through local government. But, similarly the reasons for low understanding of local government may present barriers to this approach that need to be addressed. 

    We want to understand what people know about what local government does, what actions people think “the government” in general needs to take to reduce emissions, and where there is alignment/mismatch between where people put responsibility for changes, and the reality of local government areas of responsibility. 

    We would like a short literature review to clearly summarise existing work on these questions. We may also commission some polling (up to three questions) on this topic during the course of the project. If so, we would hope the research could help us shape the polling questions, and that the results would be included in the review (polling costs themselves should not be included in the budget).  Useful sources are likely to include public opinion work conducted by polling companies, organisations like NatCen, and specific projects such as the Hansard Society’s Audit of Political Engagement. Work by organisations focused on local government, such as the Local Government Association and New Local, may also be helpful.

    The available budget for this work is up to £5000-8000 (inclusive of VAT), and the project would need to be completed by the end of March (around 4-6 weeks from end of commissioning process).

    The main audience for this work will be mySociety, as we seek to understand how best to develop our Climate programme. However, we would hope it would be of wider use to other researchers and the interested public, and in line with our general approach, would plan to make the outputs public. Our default assumption is that the main output is a single written report, that will be edited to our style, and published on our research site, with a short 500-1,000 word summary that can stand alone from the document. We are open to proposals on the length and form of the outputs (for instance, if you believe the problem is better solved by a series of linked shorter pieces). We are also open to variations on the approach/research method if you believe it might provide a useful answer to our problem.

    What we are looking for in and from a partner

    Expertise/ skill set

    While all projects benefit from subject expertise, we believe this project could be completed without a huge amount of prior experience with the local government/net zero problem, with knowledge of local government being more important.

    Being able to understand our problem, effectively summarise available information, and work productively with us are also key factors. We will especially be looking for clarity of written communication. The proposed output should be focused on informing future decisions mySociety makes and so should be simple, concise and well-written. We will provide access to the mySociety research style guide which the project will eventually be edited to. 

    Alignment with values and aims

    Our Repowering Democracy strategy puts a special emphasis on embedding equity and inclusion in our work practices and services, and our work aims in general to fulfill values of equity/justice, openness and collaboration

    Applicants should consider if this presents any obstacles to a working relationship, and think about how these values should be reflected in the project plan, either in terms of subject matter to investigate, or research approach. For instance, within the bounds possible given what has been written, we would be interested in strategies for ensuring a reasonable gender balance in authors cited.

    Working practices

    mySociety works flexibly and remotely, and there is no requirement to work from or visit an office. Applicants can distribute their work as appropriate over the time available, but we would expect regular check-ins on progress to be arranged over that period. A shared slack channel and a specific contact person will be used to help coordinate and quickly share questions and information between mySociety and the researcher. 

    Successful applicants would be expected to abide by the mySociety Code of Conduct in mySociety communications channels and events. 

    Outputs and deliverables

    The production of a literature review in around 4-6 weeks (deadline by the end of March 2022), a summary of this research and an internal presentation of the research to mySociety staff.  To be discussed: the usefulness of public polling, and any specific areas there is a lack of evidence. 

    Q&A and contact details

    The application timeline includes a Q&A event, which you can sign up at the link at the top of this document.. The Q&A session will include an element to help individual researchers coordinate to form a joint submission (applications are also welcome from individual researchers). Answers will be made available in a video on this page for applicants who cannot take part. Questions can be emailed to the contact address below. 

    Please send any queries or questions to research-commissioning+call1@mysociety.org and mention which project it is in regard to. Questions in advance are preferred and will be prioritised in the session. 

    Your application

    Applications can be submitted by individuals, organisations, or joint teams of individuals/organisations. These should be sent to research-commissioning+call1@mysociety.org by the closing date. 

    You should submit a short application, of up to 4 pages of A4. A template for the response can be download at the link at the top of this page, and covers: 

    • Who you are (whether an individual, organisation, or joint team).
    • A description of your previous experience/previous work and why you want to take on this project.
      • To the extent that this is possible, this should be anonymous and not include names of the org or members of the team (to help with anonymous stages of the recruitment process)
    • How you would approach and deliver this project – a short project plan with approximate timings. 
      • This could include discussion of whether the suggested approach – a short literature review – is the right one for what we want to achieve, and any possible alternatives.
    • The total value (£) of your proposal (including VAT), and high-level breakdown of costs  (perhaps an indication of days per person, any other expenses). This does not need to include production costs of the report. 
      • Given the cost of the project, we will not be giving a great deal of weight to budget plans so please keep this short and high-level – we can dig into further details during interviews, if necessary.
    • A short description of the individuals or team who will do the work, including biographies

    A separate equalities monitoring form, which can be filled out online and is processed separately  from the main application (there is a link to the form in the application form). This is for understanding the reach of our method of distributing the call for proposals. 

    If you are interested in joining a ‘researcher pool’ mailing list that we will contact with details of future projects, please see the link at the top of this document. 

    Application timeline

    If there are changes during this timeline, the table on the website version of this form will be updated. 

    Stage Date Description
    Call for proposals published 6 January 2022  
    Q&A Webinar 14 January 2022 An open, online public event for interested bidders to learn more about the project and ask questions. This will be recorded and available afterwards. You can submit questions in advance to research-commissioning@mysociety.org. Questions in advance are preferred. 
    Questions answered 17 January 2022 Video of the webinar to be made available to all potential bidders, in addition to answers to any other questions submitted via email
    Deadline for applications 21 January 2022 (end of day)  
    Initial decisions 27th January 2022 Applicants to be informed whether they have made it through to a short panel interview (and may be asked for a sample of existing work). Applicants not progressing past this stage to be offered written feedback
    Interviews w/c 31 January 2022 Format to be decided, but this will likely be a one-hour panel interview with several people involved in the climate programme, towards the end of the week (3rd, 4th Feb)
    Final decision w/c 8 February 2022 Remaining applicants to be informed of the final decision. Applicants not progressing to be offered feedback
    Project briefing/kick-off meeting End of w/c 8 February 2022 To include a brief introduction to mySociety, discussion of any onboarding required and approach to project management, communication and catch-ups
    Project deadline 31 March 2022 End of project

     

    What happens after the project 

    We intend to publish the report you produce, credited to you, on the mySociety website, licensed under a Creative Commons licence (see recent publications on research.mysociety.org for details). We may make some light edits (beyond proofreading) before we publish. You will be free to make publicly available your own version should you wish to, and any other material based on the research you conducted. 

    We will convene a short ‘lessons learned’ session to discuss how the project went – what went well and anything that could have been improved. We will also discuss any future work based on the delivered project (eg if you are an academic and might want to co-author an article) and our ongoing relationship. We would also like to arrange a presentation on the project to mySociety staff, and there may also be an opportunity to promote the work in a public event held by mySociety (budgeting for this would be separate to the project above). 

    Terms and conditions

    Interested parties must be UK-based individuals or organisations.

    Work must be completed by the end of the financial year (31 March 2022).