1. Democracy month notes: February

    Previously: January!

    Gaza ceasefire blog post

    I wrote a blog post about the Gaza Ceasefire opposition day votes – especially focusing on how there ended up being no recorded votes. 

    This is the kind of responsive work we’d like to do more of. We don’t need to duplicating every explainer out there, but we want to be able to better articulate “this is how Parliament works, but there’s something wrong with that” when there’s currently something confusing/going wrong in the news. 

    Asking for money to do good things

    Alice, Julia and I have been putting together a more structured version of the idea I talk about at the bottom of this blog post about our new spreadsheet of the register of interests — using crowdsourcing to create good, understandable summaries of MPs interests. Will let you know how that goes. 

    Something we’d like to get better at is being more public when these applications for funding do not work out (spoiler: this happens a lot!). There’s a lot of work and creativity that goes into our ambitions for TheyWorkForYou, and ideally these wouldn’t just be locked away in various virtual desk drawers. 

    Oflog consultation

    Julia worked with our friends at the Centre for Public Data on a joint response to an Office for Local Government (OFLOG) consultation – read more about that

    This is a continuation of our work around public data fragmentation

    Small API updates

    Matthew has added Parliament’s unique identifier to the response to the ‘getMPInfo’ API call, making it easier to jump from our data to query the Parliament API.

    Server upgrades

    Sam and Matthew have been upgrading the servers that run TheyWorkForYou and WriteToThem.

    We need to do this periodically for security reasons: the organisations that distribute the server software (and other packages we depend on, like those that distribute the programming languages) only provide security and bug fixes for a certain period, after which they only provide it for newer versions. 

    Running software on the web — where there are *constantly* bad people testing for weaknesses — means taking this seriously. But upgrading the lower levels of the “stack” often means small changes further up where features we use have been deprecated and replaced with other approaches. Some of this work is running just to stay in the same place, but it does also enable us to adopt new approaches in how we code and the packages we use. 

    This is one of the massive benefits of the same organisation running TheyWorkForYou AND WhatDoTheyKnow AND FixMyStreet AND (many more) – we have excellent people thinking hard about our technical infrastructure across all our work. 

    Voting summary update

    We’ve done some of the trickiest technical work required to enable the voting summary update we’re planning.

    We’ve moved TheyWorkForYou from pointing at the Public Whip website, where it used to get voting summary calculations, to an instance of a new,experimental “twfy-votes” platform. This is doing the work Public Whip was originally doing, but also taking over the party comparison calculations that were being done in TheyWorkForYou itself previously. 

    TheyWorkForYou has become simpler, and more of the relevant code is now in the same place. We’re not yet completely independent of the Public Whip because twfy-votes currently uses the database dump to populate itself — but soon we’ll be able to move that to an export from TheyWorkForYou’s own database. 

    The goal in this set of changes is to move from this:

    Diagram showing the flow of data from the Hansard XML, through Parlparse, into both TheyWorkForYou and the PublicWhip - with that then reentering theyworkforyou and additional calculations being done to calculate voting summaries

    To this:

    Diagram showing the different flow of data from the Hansard XML - through ParlParse to TheyWorkForYou, and a feedback look between TWFY and TWFY-VOTES

    Which is… still a lot of boxes and arrows, but is better than it was. This could in principle then be simplified even further, but this brings the whole process under our control and simplifies some of the back and forth steps. 

    Currently, all this work should have resulted in almost no visible changes to the site. But we now can flip a switch and it will switch the underlying algorithm used from the one in the Public Whip to the new (simplified) approach.  One of the motivations behind this shift is to be fully in control of that algorithm (which is effectively a number-based editorial policy). 

    One of the things I’ve been doing this month is running the analysis to clearly map what exactly the public effect of this will be. Broadly, most things stay the same, which is good because we don’t want the headline messages to be hugely affected by different methodologies behind the scenes – At the same time we’ll end up with something that is easier to explain. 

    The final stage before full release is a set of less technical changes, consolidating the voting summary information on one page, and adding a rewritten page describing both how Parliamentary voting works in different places across the UK, and what our approach is in the data we publish. Making good progress on these, and hope to have this project completed soon. 

    That’s all for now

    As ever, if you’re the kind of person who reads to the end of these (I’m going to assume a generally nice person who is also a fan our our work) – donations are welcome. But also get in touch if you’ve got something to chat with us about!

    Header image: Photo by yasin hemmati on Unsplash

  2. Climate monthnotes: January & February

    It’s so tempting to start each of these with a clichéd “where did the time go?” or “how is it X month already?”, but in this case, it really does feel like 2024 is running away from us! 

    January kicked off with Louise, Alex and I heading to the Democracy Network conference, where the theme of climate ran throughout lots of the discussions. If you are also interested in the intersections between climate, democracy and civic tech, you’ll be delighted to know that the call for proposals TICTeC 2024 is out now!

    At the start of February, Annie from Climate Emergency UK and I worked on a piece that was published in the LGC, responding to an article from Richard Clewer asking for more emissions data in the Council Climate Action Scorecards. We agreed with Richard that more scoped emissions data would strengthen the scorecards. But, without a statutory reporting framework, that data simply doesn’t exist. We pointed to our fragmented data asks, that I’ve written about in these parts before. Also on our fragmented data work, our joint response with the Centre for Public Data to the Housing & Levelling Up inquiry has been published on the committee’s website. Two great examples of collaborative working to kick off the year!

    The big ticket item for the last few months has of course been the Local Intelligence Hub, our joint project with the Climate Coalition, which launched to the public on 15th February! We’ve had such brilliant feedback from the launch, including great coverage in national and local media outlets. Zarino and I have been demonstrating the Hub to anyone who’ll have us (get in touch if you’d like your own demo!) — or watch Zarino’s brilliant short videos on YouTube. Struan and Alexander have been working through the datasets at phenomenal speed, and Myf has been doing wonderful messaging on Twitter and over on LinkedIn.

    There are plans afoot to add even more data, so if you’re sitting on datasets that you think would be useful to yourself and others as part of the Hub, let us know! We’re especially interested in data organised by the new constituency boundaries, which I explain in more detail in a blog post about the recent byelections. Zarino made the most of the extra leap year day with several of our friends from the sector, at an event about data and the new constituencies.

    Alongside all of the excitement about Local Intelligence Hub, the wheels are starting to turn for the next round of the Climate Action Scorecards. Siôn, Zarino and I have all attended different section-specific roundtables, which have involved brilliant discussions with council officers and industry experts. I’ll be joining the CE UK team at the Scorecards Report Launch & Conference on the 21st: hope to see some of you there! 

    Photo by Chandan Chaurasia on Unsplash

  3. Climate monthnotes: January 2024 and a look back over 2023

    January 2024

    It’s full steam ahead in the mySociety Climate team for January 2024, with two chunky pieces of work occupying much of the team’s attention:

    First, our preparations for a public launch of the Local Intelligence Hub we’ve been building with The Climate Coalition. The Hub brings together data from public sources like government, Parliament, and the ONS, as well as—most excitingly—datasets on climate movement presence and activity from members of The Climate Coalition, to help Coalition members (and soon, members of the public) plan and coordinate action at a parliamentary constituency level. Having soft launched to Climate Coalition members in April last year, we’ll soon be opening up most of the data on the Hub to public access, and we’re looking forward to sharing some examples of how organisations are using it in due course.

    Secondly, Siôn, Alice and I have been putting lots of effort into shaping the next few years’ work on community-led home energy actions via our Neighbourhood Warmth platform. We’re really excited about the prospect of testing Neighbourhood Warmth with retrofit organisations and community groups in 2024, to see how a digital service might be able to facilitate and encourage neighbours and communities to explore home energy actions like retrofit and energy flexibility, together. You can read more about our plans in Siôn’s series of monthnotes from 2023.

    A look back over 2023

    Before I sign off for the month, I wanted to also take a moment to recognise the amazing work my colleagues have done in mySociety’s Climate programme over 2023. Here are a few of the highlights I’m particularly proud of:

    In April 2023, we first soft-launched the Local Intelligence Hub to Climate Coalition members. The feedback was massively encouraging, with users from organisations like Green Alliance and The Wildlife Trusts already excited about how the service could help them plan engagement and advocacy activities in 2024 and beyond. As mentioned above, we’ve since spent much of this year adding more datasets, support for the upcoming 2024/2025 constituencies, and free public access, which will be launching in a few weeks.

    In July, Alex and Julia published our Unlocking Fragmented Data report, in partnership with the Centre for Public Data. While the report isn’t specific to climate data, we used our experience of trying to collect data on local climate action as a case study into how poor interoperability and poor transparency of public data can turn into a major blocker to public action. A few months later, we were encouraged to see many of our Fragmented Data recommendations adopted into Chris Skidmore’s ‘The Future Is Local’ report.

    In September, in part as a recognition of mySociety’s work campaigning for more transparent and democratic climate action, we were accepted into the Blueprint Coalition – an influential group of local government organisations, environmental groups, and research institutions working to join up local climate action in the UK. A few months later, in November, we ran a joint event with Blueprint, exploring how the public sector can make local climate data more useful for everyone.

    October saw the launch of the Council Climate Action Scorecards, in partnership with our long-time collaborators, Climate Emergency UK. This year’s Scorecards represented a step change in complexity over the 2021 Plan Scorecards, and saw us develop “GRACE”, an online system for crowdsourcing data on councils’ climate actions, as well as joining CE UK’s advisory board to shape the methodology for the year, and supporting CE UK volunteers in using WhatDoTheyKnow Projects to gather extra data from every local authority via FOI requests. The Action Scorecards were featured in over 150 national and local news stories around the launch, including an exclusive on the EPC ratings of council-owned social housing, in the Financial Times.

    In early November, we attended Business Green’s Net Zero Festival. Louise delivered a barnstorming talk about how mySociety’s services (including CAPE, Scorecards, WhatDoTheyKnow, and WriteToThem) support public action on Net Zero, and I attended a number of interesting sessions, which I blogged about here.

    A few weeks later, in mid-November, we were back in London for mySociety’s 20th Anniversary awards. Food campaigning group Sustain won our award for best use of mySociety services to accelerate climate action, in recognition of how they’d used CAPE to track local authority action on food emissions. If you couldn’t make it to the anniversary awards, I highly recommend you read Louise’s opening speech about mySociety and the history and future of digital democracy in the UK. I’m not crying, it’s just raining above my desk.

    And finally, in December, Alex blogged a round-up of a number of improvements we’d made to CAPE over the year, including a massive upgrade to the discoverability and searchability of plans in the database, using AI / machine learning. The future is here, and turns out it eats climate PDFs for breakfast.

    Thanks to everyone who’s followed along with our progress over 2023! If you’d like to be kept informed about all these projects, and more, sign up to our climate updates newsletter.

    Image: ANIRUDH

  4. Climate monthnotes: November 2023

    Following their launch in October, we have continued to improve the Council Climate Action Scorecards site — for example, the scores for all councils on any one question can now be seen on one page (like this). Find these pages from any individual council’s page, or via the section pages

    Meanwhile, CE UK have continued to network, influence and promote the site and their work around the Action Scorecards. They have created significant media interest, especially at the local level (just where it’s needed!) and also attracted coverage from ITV, the Independent, and specialist press such as LGPlus. They’ve been invited to speak to a variety of audiences from an LGA event to Mobility Ways. Having already trained up 110 local residents/campaigners since the launch, the last of CE UK’s How to use the Council Climate Action Scorecards’ training sessions will run today (7th Dec) at 5.30pm, and bring people together to learn about how to use the Scorecards in their campaigning, and network with others doing the same.

    A key learning point from CAPE and our Scorecards work has been to see just how fragmented the data around local authorities’ climate planning and action is, and how much of a barrier this is to data transparency and therefore to improvement: it can be highly ineffective, and a waste of (paid) people’s time, to compare metaphorical apples and pears.

    As such, this month we were proud to run an event focused on Fragmented Data, with support from our partners in the Blueprint Coalition. Julia Cushion, our Policy & Advocacy Manager, chaired the webinar which saw Anna Powell-Smith introduce key findings of our report Unlocking the value of fragmented public data, while a variety of speakers provided perspectives around the potential and practical application of de-fragmenting data and answer questions from a 80+ strong virtual audience.

    It was encouraging to see influential people grasping the significance of what might be seen as a bit of a dry, obscure issue to the untrained eye. This, we hope, is just the beginning of this story and I suspect we’ll see it move into the mainstream over the next few months / years, with more ‘next steps’ from Julia and our Senior Researcher, Alex, sooner. The recording is available here (with subtitles) on our YouTube channel.

    We are a month closer to launching the Local Intelligence Hub (LIH) to the public (in early 2024) with our partners the Climate Coalition. November saw more groundwork going into this, with new datasets uploaded, the ‘new constituencies’ work continuing, and functionalities enabled. Our developer Struan moved across from handling the Scorecards’ site development to double our developer capacity on LIH for the next while, and give our other developer, Alexander, someone to work alongside. Planning has also ramped up beyond the site itself, including around communications, and how it fits into the Climate Coalition’s broader plans for 2024.

    Partnership has been a solid theme for mySociety’s Climate team from the word go, but it has been particularly noticeable this month with a number of the team scoping out, listening and learning from each other and potential partners to help bring our Neighbourhood Warmth plans together. 

    As we prepare for a retrospective on our latest year in partnership with CE UK, I find myself reflecting on how vital trust, mutual respect, care and good will are for enabling people to achieve, as is learning to recognise and rise above one’s ego. Achieving with others can also be, in my experience, deeply rewarding, as we join with the best of others to achieve more than we could alone. It is a pleasure and an honour to work in a team, and with partners, who work hard to put the needs of the planet, society and the sector before themselves.

     

    Image: Hannah Domsic

  5. Climate monthnotes: October 2023

    As the seasons change and the leaves start to fall, grab your big scarf as we sum up what the climate team have been up to recently.

    We’ve been talking about scorecards for much of the year, and this month the work has fallen into place and the Climate Action Scorecards have launched. There was a load of work done, not least by our designer Lucas and the team at CE UK in the lead up to this, to get the site polished and all the data finalised and published.

    Since the launch we’ve been making tweaks and sanding off the odd rough edge. While we’ve been doing this, CE UK have been promoting all the hard work they and the volunteers have done with the result that there’s been a lot of press coverage. You may have seen some in your local paper.

    If you want to see how your local council did then check out the site. If you’re an organisation or researcher interested in using the data underlying this then it’s available to buy from CE UK in a handy, easy to process format.

    We, for Alex values of we, wrote a bit about some of the tech behind the Scorecards crowdsourcing effort.

    On the Local Intelligence Hub front we’ve been making progress on supporting multiple versions of constituencies. For those of you who don’t breathlessly follow political boundary news there was a review of the size and shape of Westminster Parliamentary constituencies which has resulted in many of these changing.

    The changes will take effect at the next general election, whenever that happens, so we need to support them, while also supporting the existing ones. Alexander has been working away on enabling the Local Intelligence Hub to display data for multiple versions of a constituency. This will also help if we want to add data for other types of area in the future. This is all working towards the new public launch date of January 2024 so you can make using local climate data part of your New Year’s resolutions.

    Should you be in a position where you need to care about constituency changes, we have some potentially helpful data and code for making the transition from the old to new boundaries. If you don’t have to care but are interested there’s also some background on the hows and whys of the changes there too.

    On the Neighbourhood Warmth front Siôn is continuing to talk to potential partners and funders, while sharpening up our plans for the next stage of development. As always more details on everything Neighbourhood Warmth can be found in its very own monthnotes.

    On the policy side Julia has been lining things up for an event about Fragmented Data which is part of our work to explain how better data will help reach climate targets. Look out for more news on that in the coming weeks. Scraping in under the spooky decorations as I write this on All Hallow’s Eve, Zarino is at the Net Zero Festival where our CEO Louise will be, or indeed was, talking about the work we do to help involve people in matters climate related.

    Image: Aaron Burden

  6. Climate monthnotes: September 2023

    Hi everyone – I’m Julia, the Policy and Advocacy Manager here at mySociety. You might have heard me mentioned around these parts before, but I’m happy to be clocking in to deliver my first monthnotes! September was a typically busy ‘back to school’ type month for us, with lots of progress on our existing projects, and some of our work in the news.

    Last week, I was delighted to attend the launch of Chris Skidmore MP’s new Local Mission Zero report launch, as many of our fragmented data recommendations were accepted into the report. We think that a few tweaks to the way that existing climate data is published will really improve the data ecosystem for everyone – and we’re delighted the Net Zero Local Coalition took forward our suggestions.

    Much of this month has been dominated by preparing for the launch of the 2023 Climate Action Scorecards. These follow on from the previous scorecards that were looking at local authorities’ climate plans, with this round of scorecards focusing on what actions councils are actually delivering on climate. Ahead of the launch next month, Climate Emergency UK released the Freedom of Information requests that went into answering many of the questions behind this years’ scorecards. Alex wrote a great blog post about how our WhatDoTheyKnow Projects Tool allowed CE UK’s team of volunteers to conduct a nationwide survey of every council, and the new findings about EPC results were covered by the Financial Times [paywalled].

    If you’re interested in your council’s track record on climate action, you’ll be pleased to hear that Alex added a load of brilliant new updates to CAPE this month. If you have a look around, you’ll find improvements to the search function using machine learning, updates for the new local councils, local polling data on attitudes to net zero, and reports from Climate Assemblies in the relevant authority areas. Once you’ve had a chance to experiment, don’t forget to tell us what you think.

    We’re not always sat behind our laptops, we promise! At the start of the month, Zarino went down to Keele to speak at the Wildlife Trusts conference about our plans for the Local Intelligence Hub, and how campaigners use our other services, such as WriteToThem and TheyWorkForYou. If you’re ever looking for inspiration, or a new tactic to add to your campaigning portfolio, our wonderful Marketing & Comms Manager, Myf, keeps our blog up-to-date with wonderful case studies such as this one about a community campaign to save local trees in Plymouth. Last but not least, in case you missed it, last week Siôn published a new dedicated monthnotes for Neighbourhood Warmth.

     

    Photo by Jacqueline O’Gara on Unsplash

  7. Neighbourhood Warmth – monthnotes #3

    This is the third part in a short series of month notes about our Neighbourhood Warmth project. It has also been cross-posted on the blog of our project partner, Dark Matter Labs.

    A recap of what we’re working on

    Home energy is a major source of carbon emissions in the UK. If we’re going to reach our Net Zero goals, our existing homes need to be more efficient in the energy they use, and need to use energy from renewable sources. This process is called ‘retrofit’.

    The UK government has set a goal to become Net Zero by 2050, and many local authorities have goals that are even more ambitious. Yet most of the homes of 2050 already exist today. If we’re going to reach this Net Zero goal, the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) estimates that we need to be retrofitting two homes every minute.

    In previous stages of this project we heard how the current individualised approach to retrofit isn’t working. Technical expertise, access to finance, limited supply, and trust in solutions and suppliers were all listed as barriers to the adoption of retrofit. Neighbourhood Warmth is our prototype of a digital service to overcome those barriers, through a community-led approach to domestic retrofit.

    What does a community-led approach look like?

    As is usually the case with early stages of a digital tool, our understanding of the core purpose of Neighbourhood Warmth (NW) has evolved with the feedback we’ve received.

    Our early versions of the prototype suggested a service that supports not only the formation of neighbourhood groups around a shared retrofit challenge, but then gives some amount of advice and support for those groups as they progress through retrofit projects together.

    As the process has gone on, we’ve come to understand these as two more separate phases in the overall retrofit journey.

    Structuring, coordinating, and delivering community retrofit projects is an incredibly complex challenge in its own right. But when demonstrating our prototype this summer, we were encouraged to discover a few organisations already attempting this – notably Novoville’s forthcoming Shared Works platform.

    It therefore became more clear that a key role Neighbourhood Warmth could play is the bit that comes before that – something that enables neighbours to kickstart action. Something that surfaces and then builds demand, and allows neighbourhood groups to connect with suitable suppliers, coordinators, or support schemes.

    Co-design & feedback workshops

    In the previous monthnotes we named some of the co-design workshops we were organising with various groups to gather feedback on what works and what doesn’t with the current alpha version of Neighbourhood Warmth.

    We hosted several online workshops with community-based groups in Birmingham and Frome, and one with local authority retrofit specialists in UKGBC’s officer forum.

    What did we learn?

    1. Local Authorities see potential for how they could talk to residents and structure funding

    With Net Zero targets in place, but huge gaps in funding and resources, many local authorities are struggling to engage and understand where interest in retrofitting and energy efficiency might be. Having a map of where neighbours are connecting and what they’re interested in organising around could support local authorities to play a convening role to unlock action that is greater than the sum of its parts. Combining that data with information on deprivation, population density or other relevant factors might reveal opportunities for better deploy funding to drive change.

    2. We should be more explicit about the problems Neighbourhood Warmth exists to solve

    In our workshops we heard that Neighbourhood Warmth was both too specific, and not specific enough. Some residents asked for a version of Neighbourhood Warmth that extended beyond just home retrofit, and into shared infrastructure like solar panels, green spaces and transport. Others felt the different types of “challenge” presented in the tool were already too confusing for most users, and that a clearer focus on one specific “ask” would be the most effective way to spur local action.

    One challenge here is that people have different motivations for exploring retrofit. Our alpha acknowledged that by flashing these up on the homepage: “We’re connecting neighbours to… stay warm… save energy… save money… improve health… save the planet…” Common Cause Foundation emphasises the importance of framing in communications. Framing activates different values and impacts on people’s propensity to exercise those in future. More consistent framing could create a more coherent experience for users of a digital service like this, and overcome confusion about its purpose.

    Other feedback suggested that we should consider gauging users’ interests, experience, capacity and preferences upfront to inform a more tailored welcome journey before encouraging them to connect with neighbours?

    3. Giving too much advice could be risky

    The one thing to remember about building science is that it’s complicated, and can go wrong quickly. If we’re enabling people to self-organise  and take home energy action, then what responsibility do we have to make sure that things go well. Because retrofitting is often highly dependent on each individual home and the residents living there, professional knowledge can’t be easily codified and made digital. But grouping people into similar house types in similar locations could reduce the cost of accessing knowledge, increase the chance of people doing so and provide safety in numbers for neighbours engaging with suppliers collectively.

    4. There are group projects in the UK that we can learn from

    Levenshulme Area Based Retrofit by Carbon Co-op – “Homes will be offered a set package of retrofit works, similar to the other houses in the scheme, but with small adjustments to fit the home and household’s priorities. The scheme’s approach is based around learnings from Carbon Co-op’s Retrofit for All Toolkit to ensure householders are centred in the process.

    POWER in Walthamstow -”a ‘show and do’ project building a solar POWER STATION across the rooftops (streets, schools, community buildings) of North East London via enacting a grassroots Green New Deal – working with art and infrastructure to tackle the interlinked climate/energy/cost of living crises.”

    HUBBUB’s work -”In partnership with OVO Energy Solutions, we’ve begun a trial to explore ways that residents of a selected street in Glasgow can make collective changes to tackle increasing costs of energy to retrofit homes at the scale needed. We aim to work with approximately twenty households to make individual and collective home improvements from ‘try-it-now’ behaviour changes to insulation and renewable energy measures. The project will also test how economies of scale can cut the cost of retrofitting.”

    Novoville – “Our ambition is clear: to be the countrywide platform for energy efficiency and decarbonisation of homes in Britain. Crucial to our ambition is building on our existing collaborative platform: retrofitting 26 million homes will not happen flat-by-flat, but block-by-block. Buying a heat pump will not be done home-by-home, but street-by-street.”

    What’s next?

    With this early alpha phase of work coming to a close, we’re a bit clearer on the research questions described in earlier monthnotes. But we haven’t got to the bottom of them yet. That said, there’s consensus around the idea of broadening our collaboration in order to do that.

    In particular we’re keen to collaborate with an organisation that engages directly with householders to help them take home energy action. This should allow more rigorous testing of the next version of Neighbourhood Warmth, based on whether householders and other actors behave differently when a digital service exists to support their efforts.

    And while we continue to grapple with the scope of the service and delve into the value it might provide to different stakeholders, some interesting avenues are emerging. Recent conversations with potential collaborators have led us to consider the potential for Neighbourhood Warmth to broaden participation in flexibility markets and heat networks. And with that, a whole new set of research questions suggest themselves. We’ll hope to share more on that in our next set of monthnotes, but we’d love to hear from you in the meantime.

    Please get in touch to share thoughts or suggest a chat – especially if you provide home energy services and have thoughts on how this work could help!

    Image: Elissar Haidar

  8. Climate monthnotes: August 2023

    We started the month with some great news – as detailed in yesterday’s blog post we’ve been accepted into the Blueprint Coalition, an influential group of local government organisations, environmental groups and research institutions, pushing for a more joined-up approach to local climate action in the UK. We’re excited to see how our services, data, and expertise can help the coalition in the coming months. Massive thanks to our new Policy and Advocacy Manager, Julia, for pushing this through!

    Meanwhile, on our Local Intelligence Hub project with The Climate Coalition, Alexander and I have been importing more datasets, and improving the metadata for datasets we already hold, in preparation for wider use of the platform (and public access) later this year. Excitingly, our Senior Researcher, Alex, got us to the point where we’re now able to import data by both current (2010) and upcoming (2025) parliamentary constituencies, which is a first step towards supporting climate campaigners and community organisers in the run up to the next general election.

    Watch this space for some upcoming blog posts about the technical detail behind how we’re transforming environmental, demographic, and public opinion data between the two generations of constituency boundaries – it’s pretty cool!

    At the very start of the month, Julia went to Manchester to work with the Youth Steering Group of the Fair Education Alliance. We talked about what an MP is, how the House of Commons works, and the top 10 things to find out about your MP using TheyWorkForYou.

    Julia with FEA steering board TWFY training

    Julia and the FEA steering board

    With our technical support, and a massive effort from their team and volunteers, our partners, Climate Emergency UK, completed their audit of the marks for the 2023 Council Climate Action Scorecards. We’re now working on getting them a dataset of processed scores for initial analysis, as well as building the web-based interface through which the scores will be published later this Autumn. Big thanks to Struan and Lucas for their tireless work on this – it’s a mammoth project, but worth it. We’ve already seen how influential last year’s data on councils’ climate plans was, and we can’t wait to share the latest data on the actions local councils have taken.

    Speaking of climate action plans – it was nice to see CAPE (our database of local authority climate action plans) getting a namecheck in this thoughtful piece from Andy Hackett of the Centre for Net Zero. Happy to be of service!

    Alongside all of this, we’ve continued to beaver away on preparing for the next stage of our Climate programme beyond the end of our current funded period in March 2024. We’ve been having some really exciting conversations with funders, as well as investigating joint projects with new partners. In particular, we’ve been looking at ways we could use our data and machine learning expertise to improve the transparency and quality of climate data, and considering next steps for Neighbourhood Warmth and our work on community-based, democratic approaches to home energy transition.

    Image: Maria Capelli

  9. Climate monthnotes: Jun/July 2023

    Ahem, well, it’s been a while… For us June and July have been all about the team both busily beavering away as deadlines loom, and looking up to the horizon to start to envisage and plan for ‘what’s next?’ 

    To provide some context, the programme has benefited from the generosity of two major funders, Quadrature Climate Foundation and the National Lottery Community Fund, over the past two and a half years. Their support has been key in enabling mySociety to firmly plant its feet in the climate space: to better understand the sector and where and how civic tech could add value, as well as bring about tangible change through our work with an array of talented partners.

    But all good things must come to an end, so as well as planning what more we can possibly achieve in the next eight months or so, we have started to think about the next stage for our climate work. Watch this space for the outcomes of our thinking on ‘what next’; suffice to say for now – we’ve learned a lot from the last couple of years and are looking forward to fundraising for and rolling out more impactful work.

    Meanwhile, back at the coal solar-panel(?) -face… 

    Scorecards

    We’re aiming for an Autumn launch for the 2023 Climate Action Plan Scorecards (aka ‘Scorecards’). Climate Emergency UK and their volunteers are mid-audit: it’s looking like a sizeable chunk of work but they are still aiming to complete it by the end of August. At the development end, Struan has set up the foundations for the Scorecards site so that Lucas could start experimenting with new branding and a header for switching between years. 

    Climate Action Plan Explorer

    On CAPE, this month finally saw the fruition of a project we’ve had bubbling over much of the year so far. Thanks to some machine learning wizardry, document search on CAPE is now much more flexible. Our new language model (based on the meaning of words and phrases, rather than basic text similarity) means you can now preview which key topics are covered in different documents, and see results for closely related terms when you search. You can read more in Alex’s blog post. Our thanks go to Louis Davidson and the Faculty Fellowship for working with us on this.

    We also attended the LGA Annual Conference in Bournemouth this month, and talked to a number of councillors and council officers about both CAPE and our plans around domestic retrofit. In particular, we were keen to test out an experimental interface that makes it easier to compare your council to its ‘climate twin’, based on the machine learning topics mentioned above. The twins algorithm isn’t quite ready for prime time, but feedback from the conference is helping us move it closer to launch.

    Neighbourhood Warmth

    Our Neighbourhood Warmth project continued to explore new territory as we held workshops with communities in Birmingham and Frome, as well as with council officers via the UK Green Building Council, to get feedback on the staging site and our ideas for rollout.

    Siôn is now leading a process of reflection with our partner, Dark Matter Labs, to pull our key lessons together and to look at the next stage of development for the project. We’ve got some ideas but are keen to collaborate and ground this project in the communities we hope to serve. Check out our Neighbourhood Warmth month notes for more detail on where we might be headed and what we’re learning along the way.

    Local Intelligence Hub

    The Local Intelligence Hub—our climate data sharing platform, built with The Climate Coalition and soft-launched to their members in April—has now served users from almost 100 different Climate Coalition organisations. This autumn, we’re planning to open up public access to most of the datasets on the platform, so community groups and citizens can benefit from the data without requesting an account.

    The detail-oriented amongst you might have noticed this means two big launches around the same time this autumn. One of our priorities for this month was to estimate the development and design requirements of both projects, before deciding we could do two launches at once. On paper it looks fine, so we look forward to seeing how that works out in reality!

    In the meantime, the data set on the Hub is getting richer and richer as Alexander continues to upload new demographic datasets and deal with the glitches with incredible commitment and good humour. We’ve also started laying the groundwork to ensure the Hub supports the new (2023) constituency boundaries, when it launches to the public later this year. 

    Last but definitely not least, we welcomed Julia Cushion as our new Policy & Advocacy Manager in June. Julia has done more than hit the ground running: speeding out of sight almost immediately, I think she’s managed the fastest first mile in mySociety history, with blogs such as From fragmentation to collaboration: strengthening local climate data and What local climate data do we need. Talented and a really great person too.

    And on to the future

    If you’ve had an idea of ‘what next’ for mySociety in the climate space, please email us at climate@mysociety.org – now’s a great time to chat with us.

    Image: H. Zell (CC by-sa/3.00)

     

  10. Neighbourhood Warmth monthnotes: month 1

    This is one in a short series of monthnotes about our Neighbourhood Warmth project. It has also been crossposted on the blog of our project partner, Dark Matter Labs.

    We wrapped up our first instalment of monthnotes with thoughts on how to tackle our overarching enquiry:

    “How can we support communities to organise locally around a simple and achievable home energy action?”

    Since then we’ve been sculpting the skeleton of a digital service that we’re planning to test in June. Currently it outlines the benefits of collaboration and enables neighbours to connect with each other, by forming teams.

    Questions lead to questions

    You may have noticed that our timescales have slipped a bit! After an initial burst of brainstorming we spotted an impending crunch and decided to extend our partnership for another month. This provided breathing space to organise workshops. And it allowed us to unpack a few questions that are bubbling up as we revisit the drawing board and iterate.

    Here’s a flavour:

    • How can digital technology facilitate purposeful connection, and on what basis (eg proximity, housing type, tenure, existing relationships or motivations)?
    • What mechanisms enable teams to form, evolve and progress together?
    • How strongly do we want to encourage a particular sequence of actions?

    As we crumble these and related questions into more granular design decisions, we’re regularly referring back to the research questions in our plan for this Alpha phase to maintain focus. We’ve made strides on the first three, and our attention is now turning towards the remaining two: 

    • How a service like this could signal demand to the council or to retrofit organisations, to help build the supply of retrofit finance and services in an area.
    • How a service like this could connect residents with suppliers for services across parts or whole of the retrofit journey.

    I’m gonna get myself connected

    We’ve also been laying foundations for the co-design workshops that we’ll use to test and learn with communities in Frome, Birmingham and hopefully at least one more location. Due to their distinctive characteristics, these communities allow us to run parallel experiments. 

    In Balsall Heath, John Christophers is at the heart of a community-led effort to make the most of government funding that involves Birmingham City Council, MECC Trust, Midlands Net Zero Hub to name a few. 

    And in Frome, thanks to funding from The National Lottery’s Climate Action Fund, the town council has partnered with the Centre for Sustainable Energy so that its Healthy Homes team can advise residents

    We’re interested to see how people’s perspectives on Neighbourhood Warmth may be shaped by these diverse contexts, histories and experiences. By shining light from different angles, we hope their responses will help us to resolve some of the questions that we’re still grappling with.

    Thanks to generous engagement with fellow travellers on the road to community-led retrofit, our thinking continues to be stimulated in the meantime. Thanks to everyone who read and shared our previous monthnotes, and made time to meet in the interim. 

    In relation to the research questions above, we’re honoured to have been invited to drop in to the UK Green Building Council’s local authority retrofit forum. This is a golden opportunity to share our work with council officers. We’re curious to know how a richer picture of home energy action could bolster their efforts to support residents. If Neighbourhood Warmth provided a clearer view of demand, how could that help in the development of local supply chains? And zooming out a bit further, we’re exploring the potential for knock-on benefits at regional and national levels with the West Midlands Combined Authority.

    As always, we’re all ears. So if you have thoughts please get in touch via climate@mysociety.org and info@darkmatterlabs.org and spread the word so that we get more feedback.


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    Image: Brian Robert Marshall, via Geograph (CC BY-SA 2.0)