Once again it’s time for our monthly roundup of what the Climate team has been doing in the last, er, two months. Plenty to write about at least.
First on the list is another milestone in the journey towards Climate Emergency UK’s Council Climate Action Scorecards – the start of the Right of Reply process. All the marking of councils’ climate actions has been completed by CEUK’s small army of volunteers, and now it’s over to councils to have a look at the results and provide any feedback. We’ve also pulled in the data from Freedom of Information requests which was gathered using our WhatDoTheyKnow Pro platform so they can check that over too.
A second launch is the Local Intelligence Hub project we’ve been working on with The Climate Coalition, to help climate campaigners across the UK wrangle climate related data. There was a bunch of work in the run up to this to improve how we were displaying information on the map to make it more accessible, plus adding yet more data. Now that TCC members have access to this we’ll be gathering feedback to decide on future work, as well as adding more data, before a full public launch.
Meanwhile, our Neighbourhood Warmth project with partners Dark Matter Labs has been moving gently but steadily forward. We’ve been meeting with organisations in our three chosen pilot areas, and fleshing out some basic content and design before we put together a very minimal working alpha, to test out with real neighbours on real streets. We’ve been thinking critically about some of our initial ideas on how to connect people interested in making energy saving improvements to their home, and have broadened out our definition of “neighbourhood” from people on the same street to people nearby – to capitalise on the connections people might have across a slightly wider local area. Alongside this we’ve been working out how we’re going to get this in front of users to gather feedback once we have something to show. You can read more about this in our first set of Neighbourhood Warmth monthnotes.
We’ve also had an update on what our second Innovations in Climate Tech grantee has been up to.
In the background we’ve been moving forward with plans for our Festival of Debate session (book here) and doing some thinking about what our Climate Programme will look like in 2024 and beyond.
Finally, with the spring new councils have bloomed which means updating CAPE to include these new councils, and to guide people looking at the old councils to their replacements.
Image: Olli Kilpi
This is the first 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.
Month 0: It’s getting hot in here
Here’s a question posed by Immy Kaur at the Retrofit Reimagined event last year:
“What if the climate transition and retrofit of our homes and streets were designed, owned and governed by the people who live there?”
This is one of those simple questions that holds within it the potential for amazing, transformative consequences. And perhaps the first of those consequences? Dark Matter Labs and mySociety are kicking off a new partnership, with this proposition at its heart.
For the next few months we’ll be exploring how we might realise the Transitioning Together hypothesis, developed by Dark Matter Labs. Together, we’ll build on lessons from testing mySociety’s Neighbourhood Warmth prototype, developed during a series of prototyping weeks in 2022 (pictured below). And we’ll co-create solutions with communities, to test our riskiest assumptions about how collective action on home energy could be catalysed through civic technology.
But how did we get here?
mySociety’s prototyping weeks allowed their Climate Programme to quickly dip a toe into several potential areas where their skills and experience could have an effect. The purpose was to understand the potential of civic technology to propel local climate action in each field. External participants generously made time to share their experience and wisdom, guiding a path through jungles of challenges and opportunities. mySociety built prototypes and tested these on the final day of each week to gather feedback. These were synthesised into tentative insights, which were woven into reports.
Home energy felt like a particularly complex domain to navigate, despite benefiting from the hard-earned knowledge of pioneers like Jonathan Atkinson during the second prototyping week. This spurred additional research and engagement, to deepen mySociety’s analysis and to explore collaboration.
Eventually, the idea coalesced that collective action on home energy could overcome critical limitations of the default, individualist approach: from the user experience and motivations, learning, risk and its perception, to level of ambition and the economies of scale. This aligns with the first of three shifts in mySociety’s current strategy – to design for the needs of society, not just provide tools for individual citizens.
mySociety discovered a handful of trailblazing initiatives that gesture towards the power of coordinated efforts: for example, Carbon Co-op’s Levenshulme Area Based Retrofit Scheme and Connected Places Catapult’s Community Retrofit Service prototype — but no sign of a mature digital infrastructure to support a shift away from atomised action.
As mySociety edged forwards with their route of enquiry, one organisation’s work proved particularly illuminating: Dark Matter Labs, who suggest that a “systemic shift can be achieved by testing strategic interventions in the ‘dark matter’ of the retrofit ecosystem: through piloting and proving out new infrastructures, new standards, new legal patterns, or new institutions.”
Dark Matter Labs’ explorations around the entanglement of home energy with questions of democracy and justice chime with core concerns for mySociety — for a flavour, check out ‘A Right to Retrofit’.
Their approach is a perfect fit for mySociety’s experimental spirit, and together we’re excited to be exploring how our work could be greater that the sum of its parts.
Friction leads to fire
Right now we’re crafting a plan to build a functioning version of our Neighbourhood Warmth prototype. This is geared to answer the immediate question that we’re trying to address by the end of May:
“How can we support communities to organise locally around a simple and achievable home energy action?”
We believe there is a role for a civic digital platform that supports the process of community coalescing and organising, to open doors to the benefits of collective retrofit.
Once we’ve built something that people can interact with, we’re planning to test it in a few communities — a mix of places to learn how different contexts make for different outcomes.
In the final phase, we’ll analyse these lessons and start thinking about where this might go next — perhaps we’ll carry on and build some sort of fully-functioning digital service in this domain.
If we do, questions will inevitably arise about how people might discover it. We’d love to hear thoughts on that and on this work as a whole, so please get in touch and share this in any relevant communities. Thanks!
Image: Belinda Fewings
It finally feels like Spring is in the air, and you know it’s been a busy start to the year when we’re rolling the first two months into one set of monthnotes – in the middle of March!
So, what have we been up to?
Well – we’ve been adding datasets to and testing our alpha version of the Local Intelligence Hub tool that we built with The Climate Coalition. Feedback has been really good and this feels like something that’s really going to level up the ability of UK climate organisations to share data and coordinate their actions, at both a local and national level. We hope to share more about this project in the coming months, once it’s been made available to TCC members.
We submitted talks to a couple of conferences/events – and lo and behold, we’ll be in Sheffield (and online) for the Festival of Debate on May 24, with a panel of exceptional guests. Our topic? “What if you could reshape democracy for the better — and you had 20 years to do so?” Climate is sure to be part of the answer. Fancy joining us? Book here.
Between all this we’ve been working hard with our friends at Climate Emergency UK on the next round of the Council Climate Scorecards. Their draft methodology was released in November 2022, and the first round of marking started in January 2023. Part of our support has included building a Django application to store the marking data – and this has already dramatically improved the experience for Climate Emergency UK’s volunteers.
Climate Emergency UK are also working with mySociety’s Transparency team, using WhatDoTheyKnow Projects (a WhatDoTheyKnow Pro beta feature that helps researchers crowdsource data out of batch FOI requests) to gather some of the data for the scoring. All their FOI requests will be published on WhatDoTheyKnow later this year.
Our IICT grants are coming to an end soon – we’ve put out a blog post about Lynsted Community Kitchen Garden and the data they’re collecting with the weather station we funded. They have a public event on March 25 if anyone lives near Lynsted and wants to visit to check it out! Updates from Possible and Better Futures should be coming soon.
On the research side, we launched our report on unlocking the value of fragmented public data, which is part of our work into the data ecosystem around climate data. Our plan over the next few months is to support a few research commissions which link in to this report and help to show use of climate data.
We’ve confirmed a partnership with Dark Matter Labs – we’ll be moving forward with them and our Neighbourhood Warmth prototype, exploring how we could encourage neighbours to come together to take their first retrofit action, such as getting a house survey. We’ll be building a working prototype over the next few weeks, then testing it out with communities in three pilot areas around the UK, to ensure that what we’re building makes sense to the people we’re aiming to serve.
And finally, we met up in person! We had a team meeting in early February which was a wonderful chance for us all to take stock of the last year, and discuss the future. We’ve been making some plans for year 3 of the Climate programme and after widening our scope through prototyping, now we’re going to be focusing back in again on building and proving the impact of the services we’re running.
That’s a very whistlestop tour of our first months of 2023!
Image: Daniel James
Today, Climate Emergency UK launches the Council Climate Plan Scorecards, an assessment of every UK council’s Climate Action Plan against several criteria of excellence.
mySociety provided technical support for the Scorecards project, which used data from CAPE which was then marked against Climate Emergency UK’s scrupulous Action Plans checklist, created with advice from Ashden, The Centre for Alternative Technology, APSE and Friends of the Earth. You can read about CEUK’s methodology here (and we recommend you do; it really helps one understand the scale of what they’ve pulled off here).
Our support for this project reflects the overarching mission of mySociety’s Climate programme, in making it easier for citizens to understand and engage with their local authorities’ actions in the face of the climate emergency; and the mission of the organisation as a whole in providing data and digital tools for meaningful citizen to government engagement.
Climate Action Plans are often long, complex documents. The Scorecards project helps residents, who may not be experts, to understand where their council is planning well and where there is still work to be done. It gives them a way to see how good their council’s preparation is in the context of the country as a whole, and understand what could be, but is not, in their local climate plan.
But another important aim of the Scorecards project is to benefit councils. Local authorities can now see how their Climate Action Plan compares to those of other similar authorities, and to learn from those councils who have scored better in specific areas. They should be able to see potential for collaboration, knowledge sharing, and improvement that perhaps weren’t immediately visible before this data was publicly available.
We were happy to provide support to this project because we’ve seen how meticulous CEUK’s scoring process has been at every step of the way. They’ve trained up an incredible cohort of dedicated volunteers, who dug into the work because they believed in doing something tangible for the good of the environment. They’ve sought feedback on the first round of marking from councils, folding in the right of reply to a second round; and they’ve worked to a double auditing process.
Meanwhile, mySociety’s input has been in two areas: help with technical development, and help in refining methodology. We were keen to ensure that the Scorecards were genuinely helpful to citizens and councils alike, rather than being a tool for mud-slinging. It’s a fact that councils are underfunded, managing multiple priorities, and dealing with a pandemic while trying to tackle their responsibilities in the face of the climate emergency.
We see public climate action plans as part of the conversation between citizens and government about how we can tackle this crisis together. Any public plan can be a starting point for discussion where we hope that councils and citizens will both ask themselves, ‘What can we do to improve this situation?’ For the fifth of UK local councils still have not published plans to tackle climate change, that conversation has yet to begin.
As part of this thinking, it was important for the design to make comparisons that are fair, and give useful contrasts to users in the public and in local government. Each council is compared only to those which have similar responsibilities. For example, district councils are grouped together and can be seen in the context of one another; and so can unitary councils, but you can’t compare a unitary council with a district council.
Within each of these groups, we’ve provided options to drill down further. We’ve made it easy to compare councils in the same region, the same political control, with similar urban/rural balance, or deprivation profile. We hope this tool is helpful for everyone in making useful comparisons, and for councils in helping them learn from their similar counterparts.
That’s it! In short: we hope you’ll learn from the Scorecard project, and we hope you’ll pass it on to others who might do so, too.
Image: Max Williams
In the first post in this series I introduced our new focus around repowering democracy, and in the second I outlined how we think we need to change as an organisation to make this happen. In this final post we’ll give an overview of the new behaviours we’ll adopt across the organisation so that we’re better able to help repower democracy.
Over the next 10 years, we might have two general elections; maybe three rounds of various local elections; and quite possibly a vote for Scottish independence in 2023 – but by and large the elected leaders, civil servants, community leaders and institutions we already have in place today are the ones who will be making the big decisions about democracy and climate over the next decade.
With this in mind we’ve identified seven cross-cutting behaviours we need to adopt in order to deliver our strategy. Below, we introduce each behaviour and the key events and outcomes we are seeking to deliver as we incorporate these into our day to day work.
1. Partner for impact and diversity
We can deliver our greatest impact through and with others. We look for partners with the ‘same goals, different skill sets’: organisations and groups that want to achieve similar outcomes to ourselves, but that might be approaching it in a different way, or have a distinct set of skills so we can each complement what the other is doing.
Understanding, learning from, and seeking to collaborate with the systematic connections and existing networks already active in tackling the democratic and climate challenges ensure that we can best understand the unique contribution we can make to drive the most positive outcomes.
2. Build community everywhere
We’ll seek to build community everywhere, inside and outside our organisation – stewarding and supporting the growth of participant communities around our existing services, enabling a greater sense of ownership by those communities. We’ll help users to help each other more, reach new users, and provide more evidence for the benefits of becoming active citizens.
Building community is a core concept for understanding how to put more power into more people’s hands and better understanding societal needs beyond the needs of individuals. To make this happen we’ll become a more porous organisation, helping us improve at working with and collaborating with others to achieve our shared goals.
3. Advocate for change
Our research work to date has played a relatively passive role in putting forward practical and actionable ideas for how things might be done differently. Considering the scale of the crises we face, we need to advocate and push for more significant and swifter change – pulling the levers of power where they are open to us; aligning with movements for change where they are not.
At its simplest this means getting the word out about how people can work with us, find common cause, and pool our resources in order to increase active pressure for change. We’ll seek to expand our public policy and public affairs skills directly and through partnering, increasing our capacity to really dig into institutions to identify key decision makers and allies.
4. A drumbeat of experimentation
We want to recapture the early approach to experimentation which kickstarted mySociety by placing new bets within each of our programmes, to try new approaches and engage new users and participants who might not be familiar with our work or how they can make use of it.
We will look for every opportunity to move quickly and experiment widely – doing what’s necessary to learn, putting that into practice and looking for ways to ‘put money behind what works’.
5. Everyday equity and inclusion
Whilst technology can achieve many things, it can often serve to reinforce structural inequality. Representation in civic tech suffers from the same shortcomings as the wider tech and civil society fields: with predominantly white leadership and staff, the majority of technical roles and positions of power held by men, limited opportunities for those from historically excluded and as a result underrepresented groups – particularly racially minoritised and disabled people.
We need to better understand and deliver our services in the UK so that they benefit more marginalised communities, and actively work to diversify our workforce – leading to better outcomes for everyone.
6. Home is where the heart is
We started in the UK and we still run our largest active services here. Over the past 18 years we’ve worked with fellow civic technologists around the globe as part of the civic tech community, sharing, adapting and collaborating on building a movement of technology led participation.
Through this strategy we are recommitting to incubating solutions to democratic and climate challenges here in the UK first of all – and working in the open to support partners to adopt this work elsewhere. Through TICTeC we seek to better connect and equip others to undertake effective, evidence-based and impactful work that enhances public participation, transparency and accountability.
7. A bigger idea of team
We have an excellent, experienced and committed team. But we are often thinly spread and constrained around our capacity to explore new ideas at pace and scale and we need to be more inclusive and diverse both as a team and through the partners and communities we serve.
If we’re going to operate in a way that is commensurate with the crises we face, we’ll need to find new and imaginative ways to do more; enhancing our collective skills further, with new staff who can help us collaborate more effectively and work better with others to achieve our goals.
We’ll invest in community building roles, with outreach and network skills to give us more capacity to better connect, learn and collaborate; we’ll rejuvenate our approach to volunteering, expanding the ways for more people to contribute their time in more meaningful ways to support and extend our work – becoming a more open and porous organisation along the way.
We’ll work in partnership with people, communities and institutions to harness digital technology in service of civic participation.
We’ve learned a lot about what we need to change in order to make the shifts we’ve identified, in order to be ready to repower democracy.
Our experience over the past 18 years has taught us that advocacy campaigns and policy influencing is more effective when it’s done in partnership, and that we offer a specific set of skills and experience that many organisations do not have inhouse. We plan to partner more with a broad range of experienced people and partners outside of the organisation.
We need to rethink our definition of the team beyond the confines of just the staff – our volunteers, board members, and not least the wider community of which we are all part helps forge a bigger, better definition of what mySociety needs to be.
We’ve recognised that we can’t just play one side of the game: it’s not enough just to empower citizens, we need to prime institutions to be capable of responding to that empowerment.
And along with all of this we’ll need to increasingly rethink where power lies, and where we refocus our activity beyond government and the public sector.
Where we go next
The thoughts outlined in these three posts set out the direction of travel for our work over the next few years – over the next few months we’ll be working through what this means for our existing programmes and services, how we live up to the three shifts and fully incorporate our new behaviours.
In developing this thinking we’ve drawn upon support from across our whole team, board members, staff and volunteers, with lots of input from external peers and advisors. I’m especially grateful to the New Citizenship Project who have helped us imagine what the #citizenshift means for our day to day work and have helped us work though how we might put that into practice.
If you have any thoughts on how you might help repower democracy, I’ll put all three of these posts on Medium for comments and further discussion.
Image: Ussama Azam
One of the aims of the Climate Action Plans Explorer (CAPE) is to help make better-informed citizens: people who understand how their local council is planning to reach Net Zero targets, and who have the ability to assess whether or not those plans are adequate.
An online database of plans is a first step towards that, but there’s no escaping the fact that Action Plans can be long, dense documents full of technical language, difficult for the novice to wade through. And plans vary, from the short and vague to the in-depth and precise. As a citizen, how can you tell whether your council’s plan is really up to the challenges ahead?
There’s no escaping the fact that Action Plans can be long, dense documents full of technical language, difficult for the novice to wade through.
The answer came in the form of an impressive mobilisation effort from our partners at Climate Emergency UK (CEUK), who are in the process of applying scores to every council’s Climate Action Plan (or every council that has one, that is — currently around 81%), with the eventual aim of creating a ranked league table.
We heard all about the undertaking from CEUK’s Campaigns and Policy Officers, Isaac Beevor and Grace McMeekin, who told us how and why they approached this challenging task. First of all, we were keen to understand where the concept of scoring the plans began.
“Once the database of Climate Action Plans was in place, it became obvious how widely they differed in quality and in the level of commitments that each council has made”, explained Grace.
“We started to wonder if it was possible to systematically compare plans and make a reliable assessment on which ones stood up to scrutiny.
“We’d already developed a checklist, detailing 60+ points that an ideal plan should contain, and so, to test the water, I used this to assess Nottingham’s Climate Action plan. At that point, Nottingham had the most comprehensive plan that we knew of, so it seemed like a good place to start.”
“So we were already thinking about scoring”, Isaac adds, “but the concept of comparing only came about when we were approached by Annie, a campaigner, with the idea of creating a “Council Climate League”, based on the People & Planet’s tool that ranks universities according to their environmental and ethical performance.”
Right to reply
The need for scoring was quite clear: it would help citizens understand the context around their own councils’ plans — but would councils themselves see it that way? It’s possible that some of them wouldn’t take too kindly to having their action plans assessed, especially if they were near the bottom of the league.
That’s why CEUK decided to get in touch with councils well ahead of time, to work transparently and to give fair notice that the scoring process was to occur. Additionally, once the plans had been scored, every council would have a right to respond and their remarks will be taken into consideration in the final score.
“Ultimately it’s all about lowering the barriers to engagement and providing citizens with the information they need to be confident when they do talk about their councils’ action plans.”
“If you give the right to respond, with the whole conversation happening in public, then the overall quality of the assessment is improved, as you ensure that no information is lost,” says Isaac. “It allows councils to have their voice heard and correct any mistakes.
“There are just over 400 councils in this country. Some of them have multiple plans and updates: we may not have been looking at the very latest version. Some plans aren’t published front and centre on the council website, but may be embedded in meeting minutes… so we may well have missed a number of plans that were, theoretically, at least, available to the public by our cut-off date of September 20th.
“We also know that despite our best efforts to make the questions objective and to train scorers to mark consistently, people will approach plans differently. They might miss information or make mistakes. It’s just human nature and you have to allow for it.”
Once councils have all had their chance to reply, the initial scoring will then be audited by a small team. Taking into account the initial assessment and the council’s response, they will confirm and finalise each score. The whole process is expected to be complete in early 2022.
CEUK have managed the arduous first round, in which they have scored more than 300 Climate Action Plans, by training up a cohort of volunteers. Was this the plan from the very beginning?
“Yes: the number of action plans, the fact that councils often don’t publish them in places that are particularly easy to find, and the fact that they’re not just static documents but might be frequently updated — all these complications made it clear that we’d need to call on others for help.
“However, what wasn’t obvious was whether we could really expect volunteers to trawl through plans that are often boring, confusing or just plain unsexy! It’s a lot of work when you’re not even being paid, so we had to think about what we might be able to give back in return.”
“If you give the right to respond, with the whole conversation happening in public, then the overall quality of the assessment is improved.”
CEUK cunningly made this potentially tedious task into a more enticing prospect that would have benefits for people taking part. They wrapped the scoring project within a training process that would leave participants better informed and with some new skills under their belt: “The idea was that if we offered people an opportunity to learn then they would be interested in scoring a higher number of plans”, says Grace.
Since not everyone can give the same amount of time and commitment, they decided to offer two different tracks.
The Local Climate Policy Programme was a course for anyone involved with or interested in local climate policy. It involved 15 hours of webinars and training over three weeks, and included the scoring of three to six action plans.
Participants on this track heard from experts such as council climate officers, analysts, project managers and prominent figures in climate policy, including Louise Evans, who wrote the Local Authorities and Sixth Carbon Budget Report, Judi Kilgallon, Climate Change Transformation Manager from the Scottish Improvement Service and Dr Anthony Hurford, Project Manager of Zero Carbon Britain Hub and Innovation Lab at Centre for Alternative Technology.
Volunteer Assessors: This simpler offering involved a more traditional model of volunteering, with a single session of training on how to score, and ongoing support via instant messaging and CEUK’s documentation as plans were marked. For this model, participants were expected to score just one or two plans within a month.
For both tracks, volunteers were recruited via websites like Charityjob and Environmentjob. “We didn’t know what sort of response to expect, and when there was an enthusiastic takeup, we were just blown away,” says Grace.
“In fact there were so many applicants — 137 of them — that the challenge became more about whittling them down rather than finding enough people. We conducted interviews to ensure that we were only recruiting the keenest people.
“In the end we maxed out our capacity for two cohorts of the Local Climate Policy Programme, involving 65 participants”.
Meanwhile the Volunteer Assessor programme attracted almost 170 applicants. Again these were trimmed down to a total of 65 who actually took part in the scoring.
Isaac says, “They were a mix of people with a mix of motivations. Some were considering jobs in policy and wanted to learn more about it, while others were just interested to scrutinise their own council’s Action Plan. Across the board there was also the very strong motivator of wanting to be involved in something bigger than yourself.
“What was nice was the diversity of the applicants in terms of age and background. The majority were a mix of students and recent graduates, but about 40% were people looking to change careers, and then there were people who had retired. They were based across England, Scotland and Wales, although there was a bit of a skew towards Londoners”.
Everyone who had completed scoring on at least three plans was offered a certificate at the end of their course.
What it’s all for
We asked Grace and Isaac to summarise what CEUK hope to achieve with all of this industrious effort. They mentioned four desired outcomes.
“First, of course, it gives councils the motivation to ensure that their plans are the very best they can be, meaning they’ll be more effective and more likely to actually meet the challenges of the climate emergency.
“We hope it’ll open up conversations between people and their council representatives.”
“Then, and this is a slightly more nuanced point — one really good outcome would be more standardisation of what’s expected from a council’s Climate Action Plan. At the very least that means that they’ve calculated their baseline and included a breakdown of where emissions currently arise. Once plans are held to the same standards, it’s so much easier to compare them, but also, this is the bare minimum of what we should be able to expect from our councils.
“The third thing is visibility. If we want everyone to be able to understand Action Plans, the first step is being able to find them in the first place, so if we make that at all easier, that’s a positive step as well.
“And then finally, and most importantly, we hope the whole project will result in more awareness from citizens and more action around the climate emergency from councils.”
mySociety and CEUK have worked closely during the creation of the Climate Action Plans Explorer, and we’ll continue to do so as new features and analysis like this are added throughout the project.
It’s proving to be a felicitous partnership that allows each organisation to play to its strengths: CEUK has indepth climate knowledge, sector contacts, interns and volunteer capacity; while at mySociety we can provide technical development and data wrangling.
“mySociety has just been incredibly useful,” says Isaac. “We couldn’t have done any of this alone.”
And what’s next, once the councils have all been given the right to reply and the final audit is over?
“We’ll be publishing the league table,” Grace says, “so that everyone can easily see how their council is doing, and how they compare to, say, neighbouring councils. We hope it’ll open up conversations between people and their council representatives.
There was the very strong motivator of wanting to be involved in something bigger than yourself.
“Ultimately it’s all about lowering the barriers to engagement and providing citizens with the information they need to be confident when they do talk about their councils’ action plans.”
But, once that’s done, it’s not as if CEUK will be putting their feet up — in fact, they’ve already got the next steps mapped out, as Isaac explained:
“Well of course, all these climate action plans are all just that — plans! Most of them came out in 2020 and some are still being published now. They’re lists of intended actions, and generally the councils will have provided a date – commonly 2030 or 2050 – by which they want to realise those actions.
“That’s a long period of time to keep on track, and is likely to involve several changes in council make-ups and majorities, so it’s absolutely vital that there’s a regular assessment of progress, and so the next step is to figure out the best way to manage that.”
Sounds like CEUK have guaranteed themselves work to do for a good long while. We’re really glad to be playing our part and helping to make it happen.
Banner image: Nguyen Dang Hoang Nhu
Hands image: Daniel Thomas
Working together image: Alexis Brown
Joining mySociety as the Climate Programme’s Delivery Manager a couple of months ago, it soon became clear I had walked into a super-organised, passionate and able team. What was there left for me to do? Turns out the answer is to variously support, organise, communicate, enable, help them look ahead, let them get on with it and occasionally help them to say ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ to the things that aren’t top of the list. I led the team through cycle planning last week. This is a particularly favorite part of the job for me: it gives us a chance to look back and see how far we’ve travelled; and then think big for the future.
The last six weeks has seen Climate Emergency UK (CEUK) steam ahead on the analysis of councils’ climate action plans, recruiting around 140 volunteers, developing and delivering training, and designing subsequent stages to the process which will include a ‘right to reply’ by councils and second marking by a smaller group. mySociety has supported CEUK by developing technical systems that enable them to carry out this work – from robust spreadsheets that minimise the risk of scores being overwritten by other volunteers, through to automatically tracking the number of plans started and completed. We expect the results to go live in January 2022.
mySociety developer Struan joined the Climate team full-time in early August and, along with designer Zarino, he has been working on improvements to the Climate Action Plan Explorer (CAPE) including better search, a zip download of all plans, and the basics of an API.
Our new Outreach and Networks Coordinator Siôn Williams started in mid-August and hit the ground running, helping the team think through its approach to outreach while bringing fresh perspectives and considerable relevant experience. Several relationships are already bearing fruit including Friends of the Earth asking all their supporters to ask their Councils for stronger Climate Action Plan commitments, using CAPE as their main source of information. Myf meanwhile has developed a set of ‘explainer resources’ to help people understand how to use CAPE to maximum effect; as well as forming key relationships and building up a database of ‘who’s who’ in a range of sectors.
We’ve also been starting to explore our assumptions about how we can best support local communities and local authorities to act quickly and effectively, laying out our Theory of Change for the programme, encouraging us to pan out and think about what change we want to see in the next few years. CAPE is a start, but we are hungry to achieve more.
Looking forward, we will develop this further over the next few weeks, using it to lead into some longer-term planning. We have also been working on mechanisms to ensure we can work emergently, and hope to detail this out in next Climate month notes. Watch this space. And enjoy the crunchy autumn leaves when they come.
Image: Andrew Ieviev
It’s a painful subject to think about — children lost and unaccounted for as they migrate across Europe — but it’s also one that it’s vital to monitor and quantify. 24 investigative journalists from 12 European countries have taken on the job, coming together in the crossborder Lost in Europe (LIE) investigation.
According to their findings, 18,292 unaccompanied child migrants went missing in Europe between January 2018 and December 2020 – that’s around 17 children slipping off the records every day, often into the world of crime, human trafficking and prostitution.
Liset Hamming is an investigative journalist who also runs Wob-Knop, the Netherlands’ Freedom of Information site, on our Alaveteli platform. Last year, she messaged to say that a contact of hers within LIE was starting a new investigation.
Liset would be assisting with sending FOI requests to immigration and border enforcement authorities in 16 European countries. We knew right away that the international Alaveteli network could provide exactly the help required.
We made introductions to partners in Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Sweden, Hungary, Belgium, Greece and of course the WhatDoTheyKnow team here in the UK. Then via our partners at Ask the EU help was offered for filing requests in Italy and Spain.
These experts were able to help Liset navigate the individual requirements of the FOI regime in each country, pointing toward the relevant authority and translating or refining the wording of the request being made. In some other countries, Liset made her own contacts.
There’s a surprising amount you need to know before you start making FOI requests abroad. The Alaveteli network contacts were indispensable for their ability to answer questions about their local regimes: what law the requests would go under, what authority to request to, whether people from outside the country were legally eligible to make requests, what the deadlines were for responses and what recourse could be taken if these weren’t met. The information gathered from the various in-country contacts was put together with the preliminary research Lost in Europe had done into the availability of documents on child immigration numbers.
Based on all of this, the requests took two different forms: in some places, it was clear exactly which document type needed to be asked for; while in others this was harder to pin down, and so the requests were more exploratory.
This March, LIE ran a data bootcamp for their member journalists, data scientists and designers, as well as any others (including ourselves and our Alaveteli partners) who were involved in the investigation. They had three objectives for this two-day event:
- Analysis of the most recent statistics, figures, calculation methods and the exchange of data between different EU countries
- Identifying gaps in European laws, procedures and regulations in the field of children’s rights and migration
- Pinning down design, communication and clear storytelling around figures and maps, for a broad public readership
The discussions and outcomes of this intensive meetup were invaluable, and so far it has directly resulted in news stories across major publications in the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Greece, France, Romania and the UK.
In the meantime the 16 requests have been filed and are in progress. The first responses from authorities are ‘dripping in’, as Liset puts it. Some FOI proceedings can take a while, as anyone who ever took up a similar challenge will confirm.
The investigation is still in progress, and you can follow along with its latest file here. As a tangible sign of the value already being uncovered, this strand of LIE’s work won first place in the global IJ4EU Impact Award for cross border journalism. We’re very glad to have been able to assist in this small way to a vital investigation.
- On Transparencia for Belgium: request 1 to the General Directorate of the Administrative Police and request 2 to the Federal Police (‘Total number of arrests at or near the border’)
- On Ma Dada for France: Procès-verbaux de la Police Aux Frontières (‘Border Police reports’) to the Ministry of the Interior
- On WhatDoTheyKnow for the UK: Total number of and reason for charges, checks, requests and/or arrests at the border regarding non EU citizens to the Home Office
- On Imamo Pravo Znati for Croatia: Policijskih izvještaja, izjava, optužbi i/ili zapisnika u vezi s provjerama, pretragama i/ili uhićenjima na granici (‘Police reports, statements, charges and / or records related to border checks, searches and / or arrests’) to the Ministry of the Interior, Zagreb
- On Frag Den Staat for Germany: Festnahme an der Grenze (‘Arrests at the border’) to the Federal Police HQ
- On Handlingar for Sweden: Gränshandlingar mellan 1 januari 2014 och 31 december 2020 (‘Boundary documents between 1 January 2014 and 31 December 2020’) to the Police Authority
- On Arthro5A for Greece (the first four requests ever filed on the brand new Alaveteli site!) συλλήψεις και αρνήσεις στα εσωτερικά σύνορα της ΕΕ (‘Arrests and denials at the Eu’s internal borders’) to the Ministry of Citizen Protection, the Greek Police, the National Coordinating Centre for Border Control, Immigration and Asylum and to the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum.
- Requests to the Ministry of Justice in the Netherlands had to be made by post, as they don’t accept FOI correspondence digitally.
Image: Aude-Andre Saturnio
UPDATE: Keep It In The Community is now run by the Plunkett Foundation: you can find it here.
KeepItInTheCommunity, the site that maps Assets of Community Value and other community-owned spaces and places, is moving to a new home with the Plunkett Foundation.
It was, in fact, Plunkett that first helped us conceive and scope KIITC (pronounced by mySociety staff, affectionately, as ‘Kitsy’); it was funded by Power to Change and launched in 2018.
The vision was, and still is, to provide a UK-wide map of assets across England, bringing together fragmented information from the country’s many local councils, and underpinned by a consistent data standard. This allows for countrywide analysis, comparisons and research.
On an individual level, it also allows citizens of England to search for local spaces and places in their area, check the status — do they have active ACV status or not? — and add photos, more detailed information, or missing assets to the map.
A perfect match
Now KIITC is moving across to Plunkett, who work closely with community organisations, in particular pubs and community shops, to help them with skills, training and general organisational support. As you can see, they’re a perfect match for the project.
In this new home, KIITC’s data can be kept better updated and even expanded to be more useful to the organisations running and managing community spaces.
Places and spaces
KIITC wasn’t coded from scratch: the underlying codebase is the open source FixMyStreet platform, showing once again how this can be purposed for any project that allows users to place assets on a map, adding details and photographs.
We’re glad to say that the site will continue to fulfil all the same purposes for which it was conceived. As we transfer the site to its new home, please direct any enquiries to the Plunkett Foundation.
Image: Vidar Nordli-Mathisen
mySociety has been a leading light in the Civic Tech movement since 2003, helping to shape and define the sector and building services used by over ten million people each year in over 40 countries worldwide.
During this time Civic Tech has grown and matured; delivering plenty of impact, but also hitting numerous stumbling blocks along the way. In mySociety’s fifteenth year we’re taking stock of the best way to achieve our long term goals and ambitions.
So today at the Code for All summit, Heroes of Tech in Bucharest, we announced our intention to become an affiliate member of the Code for All network.
mySociety and Code for All both recognise the power of working in partnership, of being honest and self-critical about the effects of our work, of working openly and transparently and seeking the best outcomes for citizens in their dealings with governments and the public sector.
Code for All is probably best known for Code for America, which set out the blueprint for a civic tech group working closely with government. Now that Code for All is growing beyond these early roots to become more than a collection of individual ‘Code For’ organisations it is broadening its own perspective to include more groups outside of government, we feel that this is a good time for mySociety to deepen our collaboration within this growing movement.
Every success we’ve had has come from working well with our partners. Each of our services internationally is run by a local partner with mySociety providing development help and support and the benefit of our service development and research experience.
In recent months through our Democratic Commons project we’ve worked with numerous Code for All partners, including CodeForPakistan, OpenUp, CodeForJapan, ePanstwo, G0v and others. Those of you who have attended our TICTeC conferences will know that they attract many members of the Code for All network as participants each year.
What mySociety can bring to the network is a unique international aspect, a commitment to collaborate and combine our efforts on cooperative democratic projects, a willingness to more widely share our research and evidence building experience and a desire to improve the positive impact of our work.
We would benefit from more of our work being seen as truly collaborative, and are no strangers to the challenges of seeking grant and project funding and the importance of working together to achieve this.
With all the challenges facing democracy — governments struggling under austerity; fake news and dark money distorting the truth; a slow burn environmental catastrophe playing out around us; hard won rights and the norms of a fair and just society under threat — now more than ever feels like an important time to be working more closely together.
So we’re excited by the opportunities that this timely partnership will deliver and keen to see where this takes us.