1. Keep It In The Community: a snapshot of ACVs across England

    Keep It In The Community LogoOver the past few months we’ve been periodically updating you on the progress of our website for mapping Assets of Community across England. Now, we’ve officially launched.

    Keep it in the Community, or KIITC for short (pronounced ‘kitsy’), currently shows a snapshot of over 5,000 England-wide registered ACVs. We hope that researchers of all sorts will use it as a resource.

    A nationwide picture

    Since the introduction of  the Localism Act, community groups up and down England have been taking advantage of the opportunities it affords to nominate places and spaces as Assets of Community Value.

    And while the Act also requires local authorities to maintain and publish a register of such Assets, one thing has been missing: the ability to see a picture of how these rights are being used across the country as a whole.

    Do some regions contain substantially more ACVs than the norm? Are more applications rejected in some places than others? And just how many Assets of Community Value have been identified to date?

    We believe this sort of inquiry is essential if we’re to understand the efficacy of the Act and whether it’s achieving what it was designed to do, and now KIITC makes that possible.

    Scaled back ambitions

    As you may recall from our previous posts, our original ambition was not only to gather together and publish all the existing data from the ACV records of England’s many councils, but also to invite community groups to submit new applications to their local authorities, directly through the website. From long experience in similar projects, however, we knew that there would be challenges, and indeed this turned out to be the case.

    While all councils are legally required to display this data, they’re not given any guidance as to the format in which it should be displayed, and the huge variety of different formats, together with the frequency with which the location of the files in which they are published change, make an automated approach almost impossible, especially within a resource- and time-constrained project.

    These factors make it hard to sustain what is really the only practicable approach for a project with limited funding — the automated ‘scraping’ of websites. Scraping sends a small script out onto the web to regularly check whether new data has been added to a location; in this case, each council’s ACV register. A piece of code can retrieve the data and put it into the right format to be republished on your own site: it’s how we published Parliamentary debates each day on TheyWorkForYou.com for many years, for example.

    But this is really only a practical option when everyone is publishing in one of a few standardised formats.

    What would be a solution? Well, in an ideal world every authority would be putting their records out as lovely, consistent data.  But we understand that this is rather an unrealistic expectation.

    A data snapshot

    Faced with these difficulties, we met with Power to Change, who originally funded the work. We were in agreement that, sad though it was to set aside the other features of the project, there was still great value in collecting a snapshot of all ACV data across England.

    So, ambitions of scrapers accordingly readjusted, we manually entered all the relevant councils’ registered ACVs and uploaded them to the site. Please note that some data may not be 100% accurate; it all depends on what we were able to collect at the time.

    The most comical result of this is that assets where we don’t have a precise postcode for location may appear to be floating in the middle of the ocean… but these are the minority. And it’s worth remembering that the dataset as a whole is the best available right now.

    Of course, the data will quickly become out of date, but we believe that this unprecedented collection will have many uses, nonetheless.

    For the moment, we won’t be updating the site with future data, unless further funding becomes available for us to do so. We’ve also put plans for community group submissions on the back burner for now, aware that if we are to provide this service, we need to better what is already out there on the councils’ own websites.

    The future

    When time allows, we’d like to explore ways to encourage citizens to help keep the site up to date, allowing them to update data that has already been imported, and consider how they might suggest new ACVs to their relevant council via the website.

    As part of that vision we’ll need to reach out to councils to demonstrate how we have visualised the data, and work with them to participate.

    Open data projects such as these rely on identifying useful and practical ways for public sector organisations to more easily release data in a common and consistent format so that others can make best use of the information — a task that has much wider implications for all sorts of niche datasets such as this.

    If you’d like to find out more please get in touch with us at hello@keepitinthecommunity.org: we’d be keen to hear from you if you’d like to help us trial managing your own data on the service.

    Thanks again to Plunkett Foundation, Power To Change and MHCLG for their support in making this happen.

  2. Introducing Keep It In The Community

    You might remember that we shared a post in November announcing the start of a new project, funded by Power To Change, to help communities protect Assets of Community Value.

    So we’re pleased to announce the (quiet) beta launch of our latest little site, Keep It In The Community, which we hope will become an England-wide register of Assets of Community Value (ACVs).

    Improving legislation

    The Localism Act 2011 was introduced with a great hope. Its provision for giving groups the right to bid on buildings or land that contribute to community life would allow the protection these assets, potentially taking them into direct community control should they come up for sale.

    Sadly, as currently implemented, the law hasn’t yet delivered on that promise.

    In Scotland, the legislation comes with an actual right to buy, but in England, that’s not the case, and with developers finding ways around the legislation more often than not, often the best the Act can bring about is the delay of an inevitable change of control. For the moment we’re not expecting the legislation to be given any more teeth.

    With Keep It In The Community we intend to at least help support a greater takeup of registration by local communities.

    Keep It In The Community Logo

    In yet another project built on the flexible FixMyStreet Platform, Keep It In The Community has three main roles:

    1. We’re gathering together existing asset listings from the 300+ English councils who hold them, to provide a single synchronised and complete record of all listed and nominated ACVs.

    2. We’re providing a straightforward route for established community groups to nominate new ACVs in their community.

    3. We’ll allow community members to provide more details, photographs, and useful anecdotes about each registered asset, beyond that required by the legal listing process.

    Plans for the summer

    So far we have data from around 20 local authorities on the live service, with another 50 or so due to be added over the next few weeks. The remaining councils will be added over the summer. All the data is drawn directly from each local authority and as new assets are nominated or their status changes we’ll update their status on Keep It In The Community.

    Keep It In The Community Screen Shot

    Whilst we complete final testing we’re restricting the ability of community groups to nominate assets, but hope to fully switch that on shortly, once more of the existing assets are displayed on the site.

    The initial process for connecting each council listing is fairly low tech, relying on the scraping of a commonly formatted spreadsheet hosted on each council website.

    So for the moment. there will still be a fair amount of manual tweaking to keep things in sync. This is one of those important elements that will be fine to manage when the service is starting out, but may start to creak further down the line if it becomes well used – a classic ‘known known’ issue we’ll need to keep on top of.

    Over the summer we’ll be working with a representative set of community groups to extend the features of Keep It In The Community to improve how to submit assets for nomination, and how best to celebrate the listed assets by adding all sorts of local detail and background.

    Have a look and let us know what you think so far.

    In addition to the initial grant from Power To Change, this project has been implemented with the support of the Plunkett Foundation and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

    Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash