1. Climate Scorecards: helping keep Scotland accountable

    A broad range of organisations and individuals are active on climate — and our services can help them to be more effective, from grassroots movements right up to institutional authorities.

    Here’s an example of the latter: the Council Climate Plan Scorecards site, for which mySociety provides technical support, was cited in oral evidence to the Scottish Parliament Committee by the Accounts Commission for Scotland.

    Commission Member Andrew Burns used data from the site as evidence of inconsistencies across councils in the UK, supporting the Commission’s view that Scottish local councils need to work together more effectively – as reported in the committee transcript (page 9).

    Impartial accountability

    The Accounts Commission holds councils and other local government bodies in Scotland to account, and helps them improve, by reporting to the public on their performance.

    As the need for cutting emissions becomes ever more pressing, it’s vital that the public can keep an eye on how resources are being allocated and whether authorities are fulfilling their pledges. In November 2021, the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee of the Scottish Parliament launched an inquiry into the role of local government and its partners in financing and delivering a net zero Scotland.

    The inquiry aims to seek out the main barriers at a local level to Scotland reaching its target of being net zero in emissions by 2045. It will consider what practical steps councils are taking to break them down, in partnership with business, the voluntary sector, and local communities.

    It is also considering what role the Scottish Government and its agencies can play in both supporting and, where necessary, challenging local government to work well with its partners to deliver net zero; and how local government can play its part in ensuring a ‘just transition’ to net zero, ie one that is economically and socially fair.

    A source of climate data

    And that’s how the Scorecards came in useful for the Accounts Commission. They first discovered the website when collating evidence for their publication Scotland’s councils’ approach to addressing climate change.

    “The Scorecards Project gave us a specific comparison across many UK local authorities, including some councils in Scotland, as regards their approach to climate action and achieving Net Zero”, said Andrew. “The variation seen in the scorecards confirmed the need for Scotland’s councils’ targets and plans to be scrutinised further.

    “Our interest in this area is ongoing, as is the work of the Scottish Parliamentary Committee”.

    The Scorecards site and its sister site CAPE show at a glance that there are big differences in the targets that councils have set and their timescales for reaching net zero. With further scrutiny, the Accounts Commission arrived at the conclusion that increased collaboration across councils and with key partners and local communities is needed.

    Across Scotland, the Accounts Commission found that 28 councils had declared a climate emergency at the time of the report, with 81% setting a target for the council’s own emissions and 53% a more ambitious target to cover emissions for the whole area. The Accounts Commission report also clearly sets out which years the different councils are aiming to reach net zero by.

    And will the next version of the Scorecards, which aims to measure concrete action from councils, be useful as they progress?

    Andrew has no doubt: “Absolutely yes, it will be”.

    We thought so too! After all, this is an ongoing process for councils everywhere, and the bodies that keep them accountable. We’ll go on putting out the data and we hope to hear many more instances of its use like this.

    Image: Mike Newbry

  2. Scoring councils’ climate action: how FOI is helping

    Last year, mySociety provided technical support to Climate Emergency UK (CE UK) for their Council Climate Scorecards project, which marked every UK local authority’s climate action plan across 78 different areas. The resulting data made clear where plans were adequate, and where there was still work to do. It has informed campaigns, researchers, news stories and councils themselves, as well as feeding into government-level policy.

    But plans are one thing, and putting them into action is quite another — not to mention, rather more crucial. So this year, CE UK have set themselves the task of scoring councils on the progress they’ve made on climate action.

    To do so, they’ll be using many of the same methods they put to such good effect in the Action Plan Scorecards: they’re currently assembling teams of volunteers (want to get involved? See the end of this post) that they’ll train up with the research skills needed to scrutinise such a huge body of data accurately and with a good understanding of the issues at hand.

    Scoring the plans may have seemed like a big task, but at least they are documents which were  — to a greater or lesser extent — possible to find online. Action, of course, happens in the real world, so some different methods are required. 

    CE UK’s methodology for the Action Scorecards can be seen in detail here; it relies not just on the councils’ own reporting, but on a number of different documents and news reports. And where the information can’t easily be found in the public arena, they’ll be submitting Freedom of Information requests.

    Of course, this is an area in which we at mySociety have long experience, so our Transparency team is helping out. CE UK will be using our WhatDoTheyKnow Pro service to send the large batches of FOI requests and manage the responses; once the Action Scorecards are launched, the data will, of course, be made public for everyone to access.

    With our help, the requests have been refined to provide minimum disruption to busy council officers; at the same time, we hope that these requests, which are all for information that really should be available — energy standards for council-operated housing, for example, or numbers of staff members in climate-related roles — will encourage more proactive publication of data, so that it won’t need to be requested in future years.

    We’ve also been able to advise CE UK on forming good FOI requests that will surface the required information.

    Because of CE UK’s training strategy, we’re delighted that this knowledge will be passed on to their cohorts of volunteers, effectively informing a new tranche of citizens on how and why to use FOI responsibly.  They’ll be helping to classify the responses and compile useful datasets through our early-stage FOI collaboration tool.

    We’re proud to be supporting this important work from a climate perspective, too: councils have a crucial role to play in cutting emissions, and there’s an obvious public interest in how they go about doing so — how they allocate public funds, how effective their interventions are, and whether they are on track to reach carbon zero by their self-set deadlines.

    All in all, the small team at CE UK have embarked on a massive but vital task. Can it be done? Their approach, as always is: there’s only one way to find out, and that is to try it!

     —

    If you’re interested in helping out, there’s still time to apply to be a volunteer — closing date is this Thursday though, so hurry! You’ll be working from home, trained up via online webinars and then helping to collect data as part of this huge effort. Sounds good? More details are here.

  3. How The Commitment uses Climate Scorecards to inform political engagement

    The climate and nature are more important than party politics — that’s the principle behind The Commitment. They are an impartial organisation working across the political spectrum to ensure that the health of the planet is prioritised, regardless of who is elected. 

    They invite you to make a pledge that, whatever the election, at whatever level of government, you’ll vote for the politicians who are promising to work for urgent action on the climate and nature.

    When you sign up, there’s also the chance to add your reasons for doing so. These are shared with representatives as evidence that climate action is a vote winner.

    Head of Political Engagement Carina Mundle-Garratt notes, “Our research shows that it only takes around 50 Commitments to get a politician’s attention — and in some cases as few as 20. Every pledge matters.”

    Understanding what councils do around climate

    When we heard that The Commitment uses the Climate Climate Plan Scorecards to support this work, we were eager to hear more. How did they first discover the service? Good old Googling, as it turned out.

    “We came across the website on our mission to understand not only the remit and capacity of local councils”, said Carina, “but the specific action they could take to address climate change and biodiversity loss at a local level. This involved sifting through a lot of noise on the internet!”

    Preparing for informed conversations

    And how is the data helping with The Commitment’s mission?

    “Within our Political Engagement team, they help us to engage with local councillors. 

    “We use them initially to help us assess the quality of a council’s climate action plan with regard to climate and nature. We then look at the individual components of the council’s score, cross-referencing it with other available information to develop relevant local requests to make of councillors. In relation to the Scorecards these may be to improve, update or execute parts of their climate action plans. 

    “For example, we have previously asked councillors to update their action plans to include provisions for agricultural land use, nature restoration and targets for improvements to housing stock efficiency.”

    Carina continued, “Using Scorecards has really helped us to streamline our research, giving us a local starting point for assessing the performance of a council on issues of climate change and biodiversity loss and showing action plans for other comparable areas meaning that we can help join the dots and facilitate learnings between councils on good and bad practice. It really helps us to take an individualised approach to each council we work with, and by extension to each councillor we engage.”

    A resource for informing followers

    It’s great to see our work helping to ensure that conversations with representatives are informed and productive. And the Scorecards are useful as a resource for The Commitment’s followers, too:

    “Our Commitment Gathering team use them as an impartial resource to signpost Committers to when they want to learn more about their local council”.

    Unsurprisingly, then, they’re excited to see Climate Emergency UK’s recently-published methodology which has moved forward from scoring councils’ climate action plans, onto their actual action — and The Commitment plans to incorporate the new Scorecards into their work too, once they’re complete. “As we grow, we’ll seek to track and monitor more and more politicians, so Scorecards will be an invaluable resource for us in helping us to determine the progress that councils are making for more action on the climate and nature.” 

    Get involved

    If you’re interested in the work that The Commitment are facilitating, you might want to explore further. We asked Carina where to start.

    “The most important thing we would ask you to do is to make your Commitment. This means that you promise to vote only for politicians who work for urgent action on the climate and nature and then you tell us (and them) why you are doing this. Your story is important. 

    “After that, the second thing that we would ask you to do is to spread the word and get others to make The Commitment too. 

    “We know many people are voting with the future of the planet at the heart of their decision, but we want to make that decision count more often than just once every five years, by regularly reminding politicians how important these issues are to their voters.”

    Thanks very much to Carina for talking to us — we love to hear about this type of informed activism based on our climate data and services, and especially when they’re underpinning such a well co-ordinated campaign.

  4. Climate monthnotes: November 2022

    November was another busy month for our Climate programme, with progress on a number of fronts – from the return of an old friend, in the shape of the Council Climate Scorecards; to the development of two new ones, as a result of our prototyping process earlier this year. We’ve also been working hard to share our data and tools with new audiences. Here’s a quick round up:

    Constituency data for climate campaigners

    As Alexander mentioned in October, we’ve been working on a Beta version of platform that brings together data about MPs, constituencies, and local climate action, as part of a project with The Climate Coalition. The aim is to help campaigners at both national and local levels to understand where to focus their efforts on enabling real local action on climate goals.

    This month—thanks to the involvement of not only Struan and Alexander but also Graeme, on loan from our Transparency programme—we’ve made lots of progress, adding the features and importing the datasets we’ll need for testing out the minimum viable product with target users in the New Year. I look forward to sharing more with you in the coming months!

    Exposing high-emissions local authority contracts

    Another service that’s come out of one of our earlier prototyping weeks is ‘Contract Countdown’, which aims to give citizens advance notice of large, high-emissions local authority contracts that might be expiring in six, 12, or more months.

    This November, Alexander finished developing the final pieces of a working Alpha version – including the use of real contracts from UK Contracts Finder and the Find A Tender service, and pulling in the details of local authority climate officers and councillors with climate/environment responsibilities (so we could test the idea of helping users contact these representatives).

    And Siôn and I have been testing the alpha with target users – including local and national journalists, local authority climate officers and procurement officers, and local climate activists. We aim to continue getting feedback on the Alpha throughout December, and maybe January, after which point we can make a decision on whether to develop and launch a full service later in 2023.

    Climate Action Scorecards 2023

    Speaking of next year, preparations are already underway for next year’s follow-up to the Council Climate Scorecards project—this month saw Lucas and I work with Climate Emergency UK to design and publish their draft methodology for the assessment that will begin next year.

    With CEUK’s assessors now looking at councils’ climate actions, in addition to their plans, we wanted to make it as easy as possible to understand precisely which questions your local authority will be scored on. I think we came up with a nice solution, where you can filter the list of draft questions by your local authority name or postcode, as well as by local authority type.

    Sharing our data and tools

    In other news, Alex updated our deprivation and urban/rural classification datasets to show relative figures for local authorities and Westminster parliamentary constituencies. We also published a local authorities lookup dataset that makes it easy to convert between the many names and codes used to identify local authorities.

    If you want to use these new datasets—or any of our data in fact—Alex runs drop-in office hours on Thursdays and Fridays to talk about just that. We’re also happy to help collect or analyse climate-related data for free, as part of our work on supporting the UK’s climate data ecosystem – you can read more about that here.

    Speaking of data ecosystems, you’ll now find a number of mySociety’s open climate datasets listed in Subak’s Data Catalogue, and Icebreaker One’s OpenNetZero catalogue.

    Finally, Myf and Siôn in particular have continued to share and talk about our tools, and how people are using them to support local climate action, this month. Highlights include attending the Natural History Consortium’s Communicate conference; giving a hands-on workshop about all of mySociety’s tools for London’s small charities and community groups at Superhighways’ “Where’s The Power In Data” conference; and publishing a really exciting case study about how an officer at Surrey County Council used CAPE to share experiences and best practices with other similar councils elsewhere the UK.

    Image: Designecologist