1. Publishing and analysing data: our workflow

    This is a more technical blog post in companion to our recent blog about local climate data. Read on if you’re interested in the tools and approaches we’re using in the Climate team to analyse and publish data. 

    How we’re handling common data analysis and data publishing tasks.

    Generally we do all our data analysis in Python and Jupyter notebooks. While we have some analysis using R, we have more Python developers and projects, so this makes it easier for analysis code to be shared and understood between analysis and production projects. 

    Following the same basic ideas as (and stealing some folder structure from) the cookiecutter data science approach that each small project should live in a separate repository, we have a standard repository template for working with data processing and analysis. 

    The template defines a folder structure, and standard config files for development in Docker and VS Code. A shared data_common library builds a base Docker image (for faster access to new repos), and common tools and utilities that are shared between projects for dataset management. This includes helpers for managing dataset releases, and for working with our charting theme. The use of Docker means that the development environment and the GitHub Actions environment can be kept in sync – and so processes can easily be shifted to a scheduled task as a GitHub Action. 

    The advantage of this common library approach is that it is easy to update the set of common tools from each new project, but because each project is pegged to a commit of the common library, new projects get the benefit of advances, while old projects do not need to be updated all the time to keep working. 

    This process can run end-to-end in GitHub – where the repository is created in GitHub, Codespaces can be used for development, automated testing and building happens with GitHub Actions and the data is published through GitHub Pages. The use of GitHub Actions especially means testing and validation of the data can live on Github’s infrastructure, rather than requiring additional work for each small project on our servers.

    Dataset management

    One of the goals of this data management process is to make it easy to take a dataset we’ve built for our purposes, and make it easily accessible for re-use by others. 

    The data_common library contains a dataset command line tool – which automates the creation of various config files, publishing, and validation of our data. 

    Rather than reinventing the wheel, we use the frictionless data standard as a way of describing the data. A repo will hold one or more data packages, which are a collection of data resources (generally a CSV table). The dataset tool detects changes to the data resources, and updates the config files. Changes between config files can then be used for automated version changes. 

    Screenshot of the CLI --help options for the dataset tool.

    Data integrity

    Leaning on the frictionless standard for basic validation that the structure is right, we use pytest to run additional tests on the data itself. This means we define a set of rules that the dataset should pass (eg ‘all cells in this column contain a value’), and if it doesn’t, the dataset will not validate and will fail to build. 

    This is especially important because we have datasets that are fed by automated processes, read external Google Sheets, or accept input from other organisations. The local authority codes dataset has a number of tests to check authorities haven’t been unexpectedly deleted, that the start date and end dates make sense, and that only certain kinds of authorities can be designated as the county council or combined authority overlapping with a different authority. This means that when someone submits a change to the source dataset, we can have a certain amount of faith that the dataset is being improved because the automated testing is checking that nothing is obviously broken. 

    The automated versioning approach means the defined structure of a resource is also a form of automated testing. Generally following the semver rules for frictionless data (exception that adding a new column after the last column is not a major change), the dataset tool will try and determine if a change from the previous version is a MAJOR (backward compatibility breaking), MINOR (new resource, row or column), or PATCH (correcting errors) change. Generally, we want to avoid major changes, and the automated action will throw an error if this happens. If a major change is required, this can be done manually. The fact that external users of the file can peg their usage to a particular major version means that changes can be made knowing nothing is immediately going to break (even if data may become more stale in the long run).

    Screenshot of example pytest tests, showing ensuring an authority has been assigned a nation

    Data publishing and accessibility

    The frictionless standard allows an optional description for each data column. We make this required, so that each column needs to have been given a human readable description for the dataset to validate successfully. Internally, this is useful as enforcing documentation (and making sure you really understand what units a column is in), and means that it is much easier for external users to understand what is going on. 

    Previously, we were uploading the CSVs to GitHub repositories and leaving it as that – but GitHub isn’t friendly to non-developers, and clicking a CSV file opens it up in the browser rather than downloading it. 

    To help make data more accessible, we now publish a small GitHub Pages site for each repo, which allows small static sites to be built from the contents of a repository (the EveryPolitician project also used this approach). This means we can have fuller documentation of the data, better analytics on access, sign-posting to surveys, and better sign-posted links to downloading multiple versions of the data. 

    Screenshot of data descriptions of the local authorities dataset

    The automated deployment means we can also very easily create Excel files that packages together all resources in a package into the same file, and include the meta-data information about the dataset, as well as information about how they can tell us about how they’re using it. 

    Publishing in an Excel format acknowledges a practical reality that lots of people work in Excel. CSVs don’t always load nicely in Excel, and since Excel files can contain multiple sheets, we can add a cover page that makes it easier to use and understand our data by packaging all the explanations inside the file. We still produce both CSVs and XLSX files – and can now do so with very little work.

    Screenshot of downloadable excel file showing different sheets and descriptions

    For developers who are interested in making automated use of the data, we also provide a small package that can be used in Python or as a CLI tool to fetch the data, and instructions on the download page on how to use it

    Screenshot of the command line download instructions for a dataset

    At mySociety Towers, we’re fans of Datasette, a tool for exploring datasets. Simon Willison recently released Datasette Lite, a version that runs entirely in the browser. That means that just by publishing our data as a SQLite file, we can add a link so that people can explore a dataset without leaving the browser. You can even create shareable links for queries: for example, all current local authorities in Scotland, or local authorities in the most deprived quintile. This lets us do some very rapid prototyping of what a data service might look like, just by packaging up some of the data using our new approach.

    Screen shot of Datasette Lite showing a query of authorities in Scotland

    Data analysis

    Something in use in a few of our repos is the ability to automatically deploy analysis of the dataset when it is updated. 

    Analysis of the dataset can be designed in a Jupyter notebook (including tables and charts) – and this can be re-run and published on the same GitHub Pages deploy as the data itself. For instance, the UK Composite Rural Urban Classification produces this analysis. For the moment, this is just replacing previous automatic README creation – but in principle makes it easy for us to create simple, self-updating public charts and analysis of whatever we like. 

    Bringing it all back together and keeping people to up to date with changes

    The one downside of all these datasets living in different repositories is making them easy to discover. To help out with this, we add all data packages to our data.mysociety.org catalogue (itself a Jekyll site that updates via GitHub Actions) and have started a lightweight data announcement email list. If you have got this far, and want to see more of our data in future – sign up!

    Image: Sigmund

  2. We want you to build on our local climate data. Tell us what you need!

    One of the things we want to do as part of our Climate programme is help build an ecosystem of data around local authorities and climate data. 

    We have a goal of reducing the carbon emissions that are within the control of local authorities, and we want to help people build tools and services that further that ambition. 

    We want to do more to actively encourage people to use our data, and to understand if there are any data gaps we can help fill to make everyone’s work easier. 

    So, have we already built something you think might be useful? We can help you use it. 

    Also, if there’s a dataset that would help you, but you don’t have the data skills required to take it further, we might be able to help build it! Does MapIt almost meet your needs but not quite? Let’s talk about it!

    You can email us, or we are experimenting with running some drop-in hours where you can talk through a data problem with one of the team. 

    You can also sign up to our Climate newsletter to find up more about any future work we do to help grow this ecosystem. 

    Making our existing data more accessible

    Through our previous expertise in local authority data, and in building the Climate Action Plan Explorer, we have gathered a lot of data that can overcome common challenges in new projects.

    These include:

    All of this data (plus more) can be found on our data portal

    We’ve also been working to make our data more accessible and explorable (example):

    • Datasets now have good descriptions of what is in each column.
    • Datasets can be downloaded as Excel files
    • Datasets can be previewed online using Datasette lite.
    • Providing basic instructions on how to automatically download updated versions of the data.

    If you think you can build something new out of this data, we can help you out! 

    Building more data

    There’s a lot of datasets we think we can make more of — for example, as part of our prototyping research we did some basic analysis of how we might use Energy Performance Certificate data (for home energy in general, and specific renting analysis). 

    But before we just started making data, we want to make sure we’re making data that is useful to people and that can help people tell stories, and build websites and tools. If there’s a dataset you need, where you think the raw elements already exist, get in touch. We might be able to help you out. 

    If you are using our data, please tell us you’re using our data

    We really believe in the benefit of making our work open so that others can find and build on it. The big drawback is that the easier we make our data to access, the less we know about who is using it.

    This is a problem, because ultimately our climate work is funded by organisations who would like to know what is happening because of our work. The more we know about what is useful about the data, and what you’re using it for, the better we can make the case to continue producing it. 

    Each download page has a survey that you can fill out to tell us about how you use the data. We’re also always happy to receive emails!

    Stay updated about everything

    Our work growing the ecosystem also includes events and campaigning activity. If you want to stay up to date with everything we do around climate, you can sign up to our newsletter.

    Image: Emma Gossett

  3. Climate monthnotes July 2022: Preparing for a Summer of events

    There’s lots, as ever, to report from the Climate team this month, so I’ll try to pick some highlights… this time with a Shakespearean flavour, as I (mySociety’s Liverpool correspondent) celebrate the opening of the Shakespeare North Playhouse in the nearby town of Prescot. May the bard’s lyrical visions propel us into a summer of climate action!

    All things are ready, if our mind be so

    In the previous monthnotes Jen trailered Innovations in Climate Tech – our online, half-day event, featuring inspirational examples and discussion about how civic tech projects are supporting climate action around the world, and how we might be able to seed more projects like this, with the cooperation of local authorities, here in the UK.

    This month Jen’s been lining up speakers for the event (which takes place on 21st September), and Siôn has been planning how we can use workshops in the second half of the event to share best practice and build more connections between technologists and local authority officials.

    If you’re from a local authority, or you’ve been involved in a climate-related technology project, and you’d like to share your work at the event, there’s still time to submit a proposal for inclusion in the programme.

    We’re also excited to find we’ve been accepted to speak at the upcoming Code for All 2022 Summit (also happening in September), so we’re looking forward to working our sessions there into our wider plan for building connections between the climate and civic tech communities.

    And finally, to complete the Summer events trifecta, we’ve been laying plans for an informal online get-together about energy efficiency and retrofit, since it’s proved such a popular subject during our prototyping weeks, and we’d really like to find the most impactful contribution we could make in the space, especially with fuel costs expected to continue rising well into 2023. If this interests you, share your availability for the week in which we’re planning to meet and join our climate updates newsletter to hear how things develop.

    Once more unto the breech dear friends

    All good things must come to an end – and our series of six rapid prototyping weeks has certainly been a good thing! This month we’ve been preparing for the final week in the series, focussing on how improved collection and sharing of MP, constituency, and local climate action data, between environmental charities and organisations, could enhance public understanding of climate challenges and solutions, and build networks across local communities.

    We’re really excited to be working on this with a number of really big names in the space—including The Climate Coalition, Green Alliance, Friends of the Earth, the Wildlife Trusts, Hope for the Future, WWF, and Climate Outreach—and we’re really excited to see what recommendations come out of the week.

    We’re also putting the final touches to our write-ups of the last two prototyping weeks (on fair transition and energy efficiency for private rental tenants) and will be posting them on our Climate Prototyping page shortly.

    Friends, romans, countrymen, lend us your ears!

    Siôn has been sharing our procurement and energy efficiency prototypes with a whole range of organisations, getting their input on next steps we should take, and potential collaboration opportunities. So far we’re excited to have met with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, UK Green Building Council, Architects Climate Action Network, Living Rent, Energy Local, Connected Places Catapult and Citizens UK.

    Meanwhile, Myf has been renewing our efforts to promote CAPE to journalists, as one of the core audiences where we think up-to-date, accessible data on local authority climate action could really enable a new level of scrutiny and cross-pollination of climate actions around the UK. We’re looking to potentially speak at a few journalism conferences in the coming months, and we’re planning to prepare a set of online resources that might give journalists an idea of how they can use our data to find stories.

    We also presented CAPE and the Scorecards at Friends of the Earth’s Environmental Data for Change event—which I was honoured to be asked to facilitate on FoE’s behalf—right at the end of June. It was an absolutely packed call, which left everyone buzzing with ideas for the future. We’re continuing to work with Friends of the Earth, and other attendees from the event, on how we take the this great momentum, and shape a community of practice around sharing and building on the rich environmental data available in the UK, to power more informed climate action.

     

    Photo by Red Zeppelin on Unsplash.

  4. June Monthnotes from the Climate Programme

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

    So what have we done this month?

    Trialing Github projects

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

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

    Prototyping weeks

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

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

    Communications

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

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

    Data

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

    Events planning

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

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

     

    Image: Natosha Benning

  5. Climate month notes: April 2022

    mySociety’s Climate team is used to grappling with the big questions, but this month the one at the forefront of our minds was something along the lines of ‘Where did March go!?’ – Still, there’s a lot to report on for the last few weeks, including our first two prototyping weeks, new research outputs, and further improvements to the Climate Action Plan Explorer.

    Working in the open

    Unsurprisingly, our first two prototyping weeks have been top of the agenda this last month.

    First, an exploration of council procurement as a lever for local climate action kicked off with a day of workshops on Monday 4th April, including a ‘Lightning Decision Jam’ exercise (aka rapidly writing thoughts on digital Post-It notes) on the challenges around climate and procurement, as seen in the picture at the top of this post).

    All the discussions, input and ideas culminated with us building a mock-up of a service that would help notify journalists and local climate action groups about council (re-)procurement activities so they could act on them before it’s too late. We’ve summarised the week’s findings in a short report here, where you can also see screenshots and even a link to the prototype where you can click around a bit to see how it would work.

    Thank you to all of the wonderful participants who joined us throughout the week, collaborating in our workshops and testing out our prototype.

    Our second prototyping week—looking at conditional commitment as a model for addressing challenges around home energy—is already underway, and has provided a fascinating insight into how local collective action could help with the challenge many people around the UK are currently facing with fuel pricing and energy efficiency.

    We’re in the final stages of building and testing a prototype service that helps neighbours act together to book thermal imaging of their houses, and then make small and large improvements to their homes, benefiting from group activity. We’ll have another write-up about this prototype ready in a week or so.

    If you’re interested in joining our upcoming prototyping weeks (the next one, starting 9th May, is on access to nature) then get in touch.

    Researching, measuring, understanding

    But we haven’t just been prototyping: there’s other exciting stuff going on, too. This month we were happy to finally publish a fascinating review of public understanding of local government and its role in combatting climate change, prepared for us by Tom Sasse.

    Amongst Tom’s findings were: a marked rise in public concern over climate change, and continued support for stronger action on climate issues; a general agreement across society that local councils have a high degree of responsibility for tackling climate change, and that central government should provide more funding to enable local action; and signs that the most effective way to promote climate action will be by framing it around local—rather than national or global—concerns. Read Alex’s blog post for more details.

    Alex also did some experimentation into how we can categorise local government services. His dataset is already shaping our outreach with local authorities, and our policy work. It could also form the basis for improved comparisons on CAPE, the Climate Action Plan Explorer.

    Meanwhile, Pauline, our Policy and Advocacy Manager, combed through all 305 pages of the government’s Levelling Up whitepaper, to extract the policy implications for local authorities trying to reach net zero. The whitepaper’s proposal to establish a new independent body for gathering, enhancing, and making available public data is really encouraging, especially in a field like local climate response, where a lack of timely, high quality data is already hampering local authorities’ abilities to plan and measure climate initiatives. You can read more about this in Pauline’s blog post.

    Everything else

    Our developer, Struan, took advantage of the lack of an Easter Monday holiday in Scotland to deploy a number of improvements to CAPE, our database of council climate action plans and emissions data. You can now, for example, filter the list of councils by English regions (like the North West, or South East) and also quickly compare district or borough councils inside a given county. This filtering is also available on CAPE’s sister site, Council Climate Plan Scorecards.

    We also improved the way we decide whether a council “has a plan”, so that draft plans, or other types of documents no longer count. As a result, the figure on our homepage of “councils with a plan” dropped from 88% to 77%, but we think you’ll agree that this is a more accurate reflection of the real number of councils with a real climate action plan or climate strategy. Of course, new plans are released every week, and we’re doing work behind the scenes to make it easier for council officers to notify us of these changes, and get their CAPE pages updated quickly.

    We also had our first six-month check-in with one of our funders, the National Lottery Community Fund. We’re really excited to see how we can work with them over the next two years, to enable local climate action that both involves and respects communities that wouldn’t normally be active on climate. As part of this, Gemma and I, in particular, have been thinking about how we can use public events to convene a community of practice around climate and other complementary sectors of society. For more on that, watch this space!

     

  6. 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

  7. Climate monthnotes: December 2021

    Another month, another chance to share progress from the Climate team. And this time, you get to hear it from a different person too – Hello! I’m Zarino, one of mySociety’s designers, and Product Lead for the Climate programme.

    Over the last month, we’ve moved the programme on in three main areas: Adding some much-anticipated features to our headline product, the Climate Action Plans Explorer; continuing full steam ahead on development of Climate Emergency UK’s ‘Council Climate Plan Scorecards’ site, and setting up a research commissioning process that will kick in early next year.

    New features on CAPE

    Just barely missing the cut for Siôn’s mid-November monthnotes, we flipped the switch on another incremental improvement to CAPE, our database of council climate action plans:

    CAPE showing climate declarations and promises for a council

    CAPE now shows you whether a council has declared a climate emergency, and whether they’ve set themselves any public targets on becoming carbon neutral by a certain date. We are incredibly grateful to our partners Climate Emergency UK for helping us gather this data. Read my earlier blog post to find out more about how we achieved it.

    As well as displaying more data about each council, a core aim of the CAPE site is enabling more valuable comparisons with—and explorations of—the plans of similar councils. Previously, we’d done this by allowing you to browse councils of a particular type (London Boroughs, say, or County Councils), and by showing a list of “nearby” councils on each council’s page.

    Old CAPE page showing nearby councils

    However, we’re now excited to announce the launch of a whole new dimension of council comparisons on the site, thanks to some amazing work by our Research Associate Alex. To try them out, visit your council’s page on CAPE, and scroll down:

    New CAPE page showing similar councils

    These five tabs at the bottom of a council’s page hide a whole load of complexity—much of which I can barely explain myself—but the upshot is that visitors to CAPE will now be able to see much more useful, and accurate, suggestions of similar councils whose plans they might want to check out. Similar councils, after all, may be facing similar challenges, and may be able to share similar best practices. Sharing these best practices is what CAPE is all about.

    We’ll blog more about how we prepared these comparisons, in the new year.

    Council Climate Plan Scorecards

    As previously noted, we’re working with Climate Emergency UK to display the results of their analysis of council climate action plans, in early 2022. These “scorecards”, produced by trained volunteers marking councils’ published climate action plans and documents, will help open up the rich content of council’s plans, as well as highlighting best practice in nine key areas of a good climate emergency response.

    As part of the marking process, every council has been given a ‘Right of Reply’, to help Climate Emergency UK make sure the scorecards are as accurate as possible. We’re happy to share that they’ve received over 150 of these replies, representing over 50% of councils with a published climate action plan.

    With those council replies received, this month Climate Emergency UK’s experts were able to complete a second round of marking, producing the final scores.

    Meanwhile, Lucas, Struan, and I have been working away on the website interface that will make this huge wealth of data easily accessible and understandable – we look forward to sharing more about this in January’s monthnotes.

    Research commissioning

    Finally, as Alex recently blogged, we’ve been setting up a research commissioning process for mySociety – primarily to handle all the research we’d like to do in the Climate programme next year. Our main topics for exploration aren’t yet finalised, but we’re currently very interested in the following three areas:

    1. Public understanding of local authorities and climate
    2. Public pressure and local authorities
    3. How local authorities make decisions around climate

    Watch this space for more details about these research opportunities, and how to get involved.

  8. A guide to working from home, sustainably

    We’ve created a guide giving some tips on how to lower your carbon footprint when working from home — and we think it might be useful to others as well, especially now so many are using their living space as a temporary or permanent office due to lockdown. We’re inviting you to share and adapt it for your own use, if you want to. You can download it here. Don’t print it out 😉


    Last year at mySociety, we started an internal Climate Action Group: the underlying aim is to explore and propose ways in which we, as an organisation, can work more sustainably.

    We started with the low hanging fruit of our travel impact (suddenly diminished in this era of lockdowns, of course: but we now have policies in place for when they are needed again) and calculating our existing carbon footprint; and we’re continuing to research into offsetting and reducing our server emissions, working with more environmentally-friendly suppliers, etc.

    But when we turned to our own work environment, we realised that of course most of the guidance for businesses assumes they operate out of a shared office — which mySociety doesn’t.

    For bricks and mortar businesses, the responsibility for emissions during working hours would belong to your employer: they’d be the ones thinking about recycling, or sustainable stationery suppliers, or keeping heating economical and eco-friendly. But as a remote organisation, mySociety doesn’t have an office building, and now that we’re in lockdown, none of us even use coworking spaces.

    So here we all are, working in our own individual homes across the UK. Does that mean we should forget about our workplace carbon footprint?

    Certainly there’s an argument to say that once you’re working from home, it’s up to you what you do, and your climate impact is your own responsibility. It’s a fine line for sure; and there’s an additional risk of patronising our colleagues who might all know perfectly well how to go about heating their homes or recycling office supplies in a sustainable manner.

    These are fair enough considerations, but we reckon we can still collate good practice — the document’s open for comment among staff and we’ll continue adding everyone’s ideas and resources to it. There’s bound to be something that’s new, or at least a good reminder, in there for everyone.

    And if you are reading this from outside mySociety, but have suggestions for additions, please do get in touch.

    You can download the guide here. We hope you get something useful from it.

    Image: Egor Myznik

  9. Making it easier to explore council climate action plans

    Next Friday (13 November), two years after the first climate emergency declaration by a UK council, we’ll be demoing a new online service to help people find and understand councils’ climate action plans at the Climate Emergency: Taking Action Together online conference. 

    The conference will explore how councils, other public organisations, businesses, charities and communities can all work together to develop radical action plans to deliver on their climate commitments. 

    Back in March, we kicked off a small crowdsourcing project gathering councils’ climate action plans in an open spreadsheet. A lot has changed since then, but the urgency of responding to climate change becomes ever more acute. With the pandemic providing proof that we can change our behaviour in extraordinary ways, and now that many of us have, of necessity, narrowed our focus to the world on our doorstep, this work seems more important, more challenging, and yet more possible than ever. 

    Three guiding principles

    In September, Climate Assembly UK, the citizens’ assembly commissioned by the UK parliament to answer the question of how should the UK meet its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, produced its final recommendations. We were proud to be part of the team working on the assembly, and particularly happy to be able to make the comprehensive report available in readable, navigable, accessible and mobile-friendly HTML online

    The randomly selected people from all walks of life and all across the UK who made up the assembly chose and agreed a set of principles to guide their work. The top three were: 

    • Informing and educating everyone (the public, industry, individuals and government) 
    • Fairness within the UK, including for the most vulnerable (affordability, jobs, UK regions, incentives and rewards) in actions, not just words 
    • Leadership from government that is clear, proactive, accountable and consistent 

    We’re committed to a climate response that follows these principles, and believe that local government and local communities – individuals, institutions, and businesses – have a key and difficult role to play together.

    As the recent Institute for Government report on getting to Net Zero noted, 

    “The local level has become a key outlet for public enthusiasm to address climate change. This is one reason why it is important to address the co-ordination and capability problems that are holding back local efforts – or else this enthusiasm will turn to disillusionment as aspirations cannot be achieved.”

    This is a huge challenge, and getting the right information is part of it. We’re hoping to use our data and service design skills to play a part in helping councils learn from each other’s ideas and successes, and in helping citizens find and engage with their councils’ climate plans. 

    An open dataset of action plans

    With your help, and working with ClimateEmergency.uk, we’ve created a first basic dataset of all the council climate action plans that are publicly available. The headline is that 269 out of 414 councils we researched (around 65%)  have a current public plan outlining their response to the climate emergency. 

    In the last few months of this year, we’re doing research to better understand the challenges of producing and improving these plans, and of understanding, discussing and scrutinising them. 

    Helpful for councils  — and citizens

    We know that people working inside councils to produce plans are looking for inspiration – “What’s worked in other places like ours? How do you do it on a budget? How do I persuade my colleagues that it can be done? How do I talk to residents about the options?” 

    Citizens who want to have a say in their council’s plan may struggle to find it in the first place, or to understand what the council can and can’t do, how to influence them, or how their plan compares to others. 

    We’ve also been working on a minimal viable digital service that will meet some of the basic needs that people have around these challenges – one that supports quickly finding plans and starts to put them in context. 

    How to find out more

    So if you can, join us at the Climate Emergency UK: Taking Action Together online conference next week on Friday 13th November. We’ll be giving the first public demo of that service, which will allow anyone to quickly and easily find out if their council has a plan, and to filter and search within all these action plans. 

    We think that will be useful in itself and we’re really excited to be putting it out into the world – but we’re also going to be developing our ideas on how to sustain and expand the service. This is still an early stage project for us, but we think it’s one where we believe our skills can play a part in catalysing action and enabling people to come together to make these plans reality.

    Image: Master Wen

  10. Friends of the Earth’s Climate tool and MapIt

    What is your local authority doing about the climate emergency?

    Of course, we all want to see action, and fast. Several authorities across the UK have declared a climate emergency, while others are bringing climate-friendly propositions to the table. But how do you know the actual concrete outcomes of these?

    Fortunately, Friends of the Earth have put together a tool which helps you see just that — and we’re glad to say it makes use of our MapIt API.

    We spoke to Joachim Farncombe, FoE’s Digital Delivery manager, to find out more about what they built, how it works, and how exactly MapIt fits in.

    How climate-friendly is your area?

    “The Climate Tool invites people to tap in their postcode, and then discover how their local authority is performing on a number of measures, including renewable energy, transport, housing, waste and tree cover.”

    Joachim explains that in fact, they’ve produced two tools: “There’s one highly detailed version which we think our existing supporters will use, and another which provides a summary of the data for those newer to Friends of the Earth and the whole area of councils’ climate responsibility. 

    “Both tools reveal data from local authority areas, around key issues that are impacting our climate. The ultimate aim was to create an engagement opportunity that would drive new and existing supporters to take climate action locally.

    “The whole project is designed to highlight that there are different ways of addressing the climate emergency. One of the key drivers of change is for communities to put pressure on their local authorities to make urgent changes to reduce emissions”.

    Taking action

    So — once you’re all clued up on how your local area is doing, what then?

    “Once you’ve absorbed the data, there’s the option to click on ‘What can I do to help?’.

    “We’re asking people to add their name to support a climate action plan in their area. We’ll also be introducing those who sign up to our climate action groups, a network of community groups working to make our communities more climate friendly.”

    Where does MapIt fit in?

    The MapIt API allows developers to include a postcode input box anywhere on a web page. When a user enters their postcode, MapIt checks which administrative boundaries it sits within. The developer can choose what type of area they need — for example, if the site wants to encourage people to write to their MP, MapIt will return the constituency; or, in this case, as users will be contacting their local authorities, it returns the relevant council.

    Joachim says that FoE already knew of MapIt as they’d used it in their campaign for more trees. “It was very straightforward. The JSON response was easy to parse and the API speed was impressive.”

    Once the user has been matched to the right council, the climate tool dips into its store of data to show them the current climate performance in their area, across key topics.

    “We developed an internal API called FactStore which indexes whatever sets of data you need. In this case, this was data collated from approximately fifty different external datasets. This data was all pulled from open data sources, mostly released by the authorities themselves.”

    The tool was well received, and was shared across social media by supporters and new users alike. “Actually”, says Joachim, “it was a bit more popular than we’d anticipated, and we hit our initial quota on MapIt very early after launch, but there was a quick fix (we just upgraded our quota!)”.

    In short? “MapIt has been invaluable. Without it, we’d be unable to connect the users location with the datasets we’d collated”.

    We’re looking forward to working with Friends of the Earth more in the coming months — watch this space.

    Image: Alicja-ab