1. August monthnotes from the climate programme

    We’re now six days into September. We’re feeling a strong ‘back to school’ vibe after the long summer in which many of the team were away on annual leave at one point or another. 

    Prototyping is behind us and we’re shifting our focus to what we want to achieve in the last six months of the (project) year. Let’s take a quick look back at August and see what we achieved.

    Innovations in Climate Tech event

    We’ve been working flat out on finalising our agenda and speakers for our showcase event on 21st September. The lineup of speakers is shaping up to be really exciting, and they’ll be introducing key themes such as equity, diversity & inclusion, spatial planning, adaptation and engagement – all of which should spark some interesting new inspiration for councils.

    Don’t forget, if you’re a local council working on climate change, and you spot a project in the event that you might like to trial, there’s the chance to bid for one of three £5,000 grants to help make it happen.

    We’ve also been inviting people to the event and spreading the word. We’re running it as an affiliate event in Code for All’s amazing week-long Summit, packed full of other compelling climate presentations. So don’t just stop at our event, take a look at the full schedule and sign up for any that interest you – they’re all free, and it’s a great opportunity to learn more about what the global civic tech community is up to, in topics from climate and democracy to countering fake news and mass surveillance!

    Product development

    August was a light week for development, as Struan, our developer, enjoyed a well-earned break in Italy. (Travelling there by train, of course, and earning time back as part of our Climate Perks policy!)

    He’s back now, and just in time to welcome our newest developer, Alexander, to the team. Together they’ve picked up work on the next stages of our prototype around the transparency of council procurement, Contract Countdown. Once the more developed prototype is live with real data in it, we’ll put a call out for journalists to help us test our assumptions, as part of a first focus group.

    And finally we ran a stakeholder meeting around the Neighbourhood Warmth prototype – this was interesting and helped us start to shape our thoughts on where we could go next. We’ll be solidifying those over the next few months and hopefully forming a couple of strong partnerships which will help drive our thinking forward. Development on the next stage of this will start in January 2023.

    Final prototyping week

    We ran our final prototyping week in partnership with The Climate Coalition in early August, looking at how better data about local climate action, citizens, and MPs could help organisations campaign for better climate outcomes. We had a massive amount of input from a wide range of national organisations and local community groups – thank you to everyone who took part! The outcomes of the week were really exciting and we’ll be publishing a short write-up in September.

    Communications

    Now that our services have really bedded in and people are discovering how useful they can be, we’re able to produce a steady stream of case studies. The hope is that these inspire other folk to use CAPE and the Scorecards site for their own organisations. 

    This month we’ve spoken to a professor using both services in her research on healthcare and climate; and a charity dedicated to making school dinners more sustainable. There are still more varied and interesting case studies coming soon.

    A whole episode of Delib’s Practical Democracy podcast was dedicated to Myf and Siôn as together they explained our work – do have a listen if you like a chatty approach when taking things in! 

    And our climate newsletter is now a regular monthly fixture – you can sign up from that link (top left of your browser) if you’d like to receive these in your email inbox.

    Image: Pascal Debrunner

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

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

    All things are ready, if our mind be so

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

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

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

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

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

    Once more unto the breech dear friends

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

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

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

    Friends, romans, countrymen, lend us your ears!

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

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

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

     

    Photo by Red Zeppelin on Unsplash.

  3. June Monthnotes from the Climate Programme

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

    So what have we done this month?

    Trialing Github projects

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

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

    Prototyping weeks

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

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

    Communications

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

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

    Data

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

    Events planning

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

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

     

    Image: Natosha Benning

  4. Prototyping week 5: Improving energy efficiency in the private rented sector

    The goal of mySociety’s Climate programme is to reduce the carbon emissions that are either directly controlled or influenced by local government in the UK. 

    From 5-8 July, we will run a prototyping week to understand what mySociety could bring to the problem of improving energy efficiency in the private rented sector.

    If you’re interested in being involved with discussions, brainstorming, testing out whatever we build — or all of the above, please fill in this short application form

    We’ve already run one prototyping week exploring conditional commitment and home energy, but the private rental sector has different challenges, and a different role for local authorities. 

    Far more than for owner-occupiers, there is a strong opportunity for local authorities to enforce energy efficiency standards in the private rental sector. The strength of the required standard and the effort needed to enforce it will go up in the next few years. 

    Currently there are major problems in enforcement, that unaddressed will mean failing the 2030 deadlines for substantial improvements to the private rented sector stock of houses. 

    We want to think about how we could build a service that helps local authorities enforce standards, and/or helps tenants understand and use their existing rights. 

    Our initial scoping research can be read online. It summarises existing research into the problems in enforcement, and identifies some potential areas where there might be a mySociety-style approach to the problem. 

    If you think you have something to contribute to our discussions and would like to join us as we co-create and test a prototype, for as much or as little time as you can spare, you are very welcome. 

    If you are renting from a private landlord right now, we’d really welcome your input. 

    Of course, we’re also keen to hear from anyone who can bring lived experience or sector-based knowledge from every angle around the topic. Please tell us all about your areas of knowledge in our application form.

    Image:  Tracey Whitefoot: pilot net zero retrofit, Melius Homes, Nottingham (CC/by/2.0)

  5. Climate monthnotes May 2022: more prototyping

    Following hot on the heels of our first two prototyping weeks, we took a foray into the topic of  ‘access to nature’ for our third one this month. In the spirit of reflective practice, continuous improvement and our core values of justice, openness and collaboration I implemented Louise’s suggestion to blog about the week beforehand. The post included a form for people to express an interest in participating, and was promoted using our social media channels and in online communities in which we’re active such as the Collective for Climate Action. Previously I’d only identified and approached potential participants to invite them directly.

    Our fourth prototyping week from 13-17 June will explore the role we might be able to play in catalysing a fair transition, with a focus on the UK’s world of work. We’ve recently published a post inviting people to express their interest in getting involved, so please take a look and share it far and wide. As with all of these weeks, we’re keen to bring together a diverse range of people with different experiences and perspectives to help us understand the challenges and potential solutions in this space.

    Zarino’s been busy documenting our progress in reports, and along with some of the other outputs from our weeks so far these are now available on a dedicated Climate Prototyping page. Having reached the half-way mark we’ve used a bit of breathing space to reflect as a team on the prototyping weeks we’ve done so far, how we might be able to refine and test some of the prototypes that emerged and how we might use our remaining weeks.

    In trying to scope out a potential set of research to commission around energy efficiency in the private rented sector, Alex found a huge existing report that pretty much answered all the questions we already had. His summary and contextualisation of what it means for our fifth prototyping week – which will focus on this topic – can be read online. This week is heavily-pencilled for 5-11 July and there’s a blog post in the pipeline but if you’d like to express your interest right away please complete this short application form.

    Coming full circle, Zarino and I presented our public procurement prototype and wrap-up to Hampshire-based council climate officers. We were kindly invited to do this by a participant in our first prototyping week, which explored procurement as a potential lever for local climate action.

    Outreach

    Outside of our third prototyping week we met a lovely bunch of organisations this month, exploring collaboration opportunities around prototyping and beyond!

    Here’s a flavour:

    This month our relatively-new #civic-tech channel on Climate Action Tech’s Slack started to bubble. Myf and I volunteered to host the channel and we enjoyed our first Community Circle Meeting with some other volunteers from around the world, to get to know each other and discuss ways in which we can support this amazing community of tech workers using our skills to take and accelerate climate action. If you’re part of the civic tech community and you work around or are thinking about climate, please do come and join the channel!

    We also took part in an excellent Ashden event: Government-funded retrofit: how to ensure success? – and Subak’s Data Catalogue Launch. I presented at the Friends of the Earth & Ashden case studies celebrating local authority climate action launch event. And Isaac from Climate Emergency UK and I hosted an open space session at the Transition: Together We Can summit to share the live climate services we continue to collaborate on – the Climate Action Plan Explorer and Council Climate Scorecards.

    Comms

    Myf and I enjoyed recording an episode about our Climate Programme for Delib’s Practical Democracy podcast, and we’re waiting with bated breath for it to be released into the wild over the summer!

    Scorecards

    Alex took part in the inaugural stakeholder group meeting for version 2 of Council Climate Scorecards. We’re also thinking about how to make the data we produce easier to download and work with, and the first dataset we’ve applied that to is the data for the Climate Scorecards. This data can now be downloaded as an Excel file (with descriptions for all columns), or explored in datasette (this is a bit experimental).

    CAPE

    Finally, behind the scenes, Sam and Struan have moved our Climate Action Plan Explorer to new infrastructure and brought the ways it’s hosted in line with our other sites. This makes it much easier to back up the data.

  6. Care to join us for prototyping around green jobs and a just transition?

    mySociety’s Climate Programme is halfway through a series of six prototyping weeks, and having caught our breath we’re keen to hear from people who may be interested in our next one, starting 13 June 2022.

    As a reminder, our prototyping weeks bring together specialists on a topic, for a series of online workshops exploring challenges and successes, and defining a specific approach we can then go on to design and test in the second half of the week.

    In the next one we’ll be exploring the role that civic technology could play in enabling a fair (or just) transition to a world that’s reducing climate risks and harm. In particular, we suspect it might make sense to focus on employment in the UK. I’ve shared some thoughts on this below, and we’d be grateful for different perspectives on what the scope of this work could be.

    Perhaps we’ll test solutions to skills shortages that are critical to a fair transition, like the desperate need for more multi-trade home retrofitters to tackle the UK’s leaky housing stock. Or we might explore a way to enable empowered career change for workers in high carbon industries. Or maybe build on the growing recognition of undervalued and unpaid labour, such as care work, and related ideas like a 4 Day Week, Universal Basic Income and insourcing.  We’ll take our inspiration from the people in the room – so if you’d like to get involved, please fill this short form to express your interest and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

    We know that some people may be excluded from attending these sessions for financial reasons. If that applies to you, we can offer, to a limited number of participants, a gift card or payment of £20 per hour of your time as thanks for your participation.

    What is fair transition?

    The idea of a fair transition in the context of climate is open to a range of interpretations, because the concept of fairness itself is contested. Within mySociety our Climate Programme, Climate Action Group and Anti-Racism Group provide opportunities to discuss and develop our own understanding, and we’d love to hear your thoughts on this too.

    Environmental justice is a related concept that I’ve found useful. This is the idea that environmental degradation and damage tends to disproportionately harm those who are least responsible for causing it. This pronounced pattern can be observed over time and spatially, across a range of issues. For example, polluting infrastructure is often located in communities that are already highly exposed to structural oppressions like racism. Busy roads often cut through communities where car ownership is low. Places created by these injustices are sometimes described as sacrifice zones, and are discernible from local to global scales.

    A question we’re grappling with is whether to focus on addressing environmental justice within the UK, or internationally. When I campaigned for clean air in Bristol, I was swayed by an excerpt from the Universal Manifesto of the Emmaus movement that appeared on the wall of their charity shop: “Serve first those who suffer most.” On that basis there’s a compelling case to focus on supporting those constrained in their ability to adapt to climate change, in parts of the world already experiencing the most devastating impacts.

    But for a UK-based organisation there are also risks of perpetuating patterns of colonialism. While not wanting to think too rigidly or shy away from working on a decolonised approach, the #DIYAfrica theme of 2021’s Civic Tech Innovation Forum reminds us of the importance of initiatives that are rooted in place: “We are interested in African DIY democracy – how we are co-creating meaning, identity and solutions in and for Africa.”

    Another way of accelerating a global fair transition could be to focus on decarbonising the UK as quickly as possible. The UK has a huge historical responsibility for creating climate change and is very capable of action, so as a minimum contribution towards the UK’s global fair share we should reduce greenhouse gas emissions faster than most other nation states.

    Our approach so far is in line with this, relying on a theory of change that identifies local government opportunities. And while our services so far have been designed for the UK context, we know that local governments elsewhere in the world are often at the forefront of climate action and hope that by sharing our work openly it will be picked up and reused.

    We can also apply a fair transition lens within the UK. This allows us to incorporate the extreme inequalities in UK society when considering pathways towards our global fair share. In 2019 IPPR’s Environmental Justice Commission launched its final report – Fairness and opportunity: A people-powered plan for the green transition. More recently Autonomy’s Toll Gates and Money Pumps report suggests a policy that could spur climate action while redistributing wealth. And their Data Unit is brewing up a multidimensional job database to enable practical planning and implementation of a fair transition. 

    On top of this, the intergenerational and racist dimensions of climate change are of real relevance. Friends of the Earth published an emergency plan on green jobs for young people in 2021, responding to the impact of economic scarring on “Generation Covid”. The report also references work by The Resolution Foundation highlighting that structural oppressions often compound injustices: “Evidence from autumn 2020 showed that young and black, Asian and minority ethnic workers (BAME) workers were far more likely to be made unemployed after furlough ends.” These prototyping weeks offer opportunities to put mySociety’s Equity, diversity and inclusion policy into practice, in particular through a “commitment to our projects and services supporting the pursuit of equity for minoritised groups, and being accessible and inclusive – designed with, and used by, diverse communities.”

    We’re trying to figure all of this out as we go and we’re lucky to have the luxury of these prototyping weeks to invite and support people from outside of mySociety to be involved. Please do express your interest if you’d like to help shape our work – we’d love to meet you!

    Photo: iStock/sturti

  7. We’re prototyping — fancy joining us?

    Having launched two services – the Climate Action Plan Explorer and Council Climate Scorecards – mySociety’s Climate Programme is running a series of six rapid prototyping weeks to explore what we could do next.

    The next prototyping week, during the week starting 9 May 2022, will be all about access to nature. How can we use mySociety’s expertise in data and digital tools to help accelerate initiatives that integrate nature with the urban environment, open up rural spaces to a broader demographic, or encourage better stewardship, understanding and nurturing of our flora and fauna?

    If you’d like to get involved, please fill this short form to express your interest and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible. We’ll also soon be announcing the topic of prototyping week #4.

    Prototyping? What’s that?

    If you’re wondering what happens during a prototyping week, look no further than my colleague Zarino’s report on week #1, which focused on enabling local authority emissions reductions through procurement.

    Right now we’re midway through prototyping week #2, exploring the potential to catalyse local climate action on energy through conditional commitment. As with #1, we’ve had a busy couple of days with a great bunch of people from organisations outside of mySociety contributing thoughts on problems and potential solutions in this space. Several inspiring ideas emerged and we’ve whittled it down to one solution to prototype. Now our thoughts are turning towards building and testing that prototype with a few people before the end of this week.

    So it’s a real rollercoaster, trying to quickly grasp what mySociety could contribute and taking steps towards understanding if it’s useful before going any further. We hope a couple of ideas will be strong enough for us to develop further, preferably in partnership. And by working openly we hope that this series of prototyping weeks provides possibilities for people outside of mySociety to pick up and pursue ideas that we aren’t able to commit to ourselves.

    All that said, using this approach in this way – designing for the needs of society in the face of an ongoing emergency – is something of an experiment. So we’re reflecting and adapting as we go. This post is part of those broader efforts to continuously improve. We hope that by working in the open we’ll enable a richer range of feedback on, and involvement in, what we’re doing.

    So, please do join us if access to nature is an area in which you have expertise or strong ideas, or pass this on to anyone suitable.

    In line with our equity, diversity and inclusion strategy we’d be particularly grateful if you could also share this post in places that will help us in our policy of centring minoritised groups. We’ve been particularly inspired by orgs such as Black2Nature, Black Girls Hike and Nature is a Human Right but we know there must be more out there with relevant experience and expertise on access to nature — please do help us find them.