The Practical Democracy Podcast. A podcast about practical change, with guests from public bodies and civil society.

Episode 13: Democracy in a climate emergency

Featuring: Myf Nixon and Siôn Williams from My Society

How are local authorities working towards their climate action plans, and how can we as citizens make sense of it and hold them accountable?

Welcome back to the Practical Democracy Podcast! We've got another great episode for you this month: host Sabine Groven talks to Myf Nixon and Siôn Williams from mySociety about democracy in a climate emergency. How can local authorities can help lead the way when it comes to both climate engagement and creating a liveable world for future generations? Tune in to find out.

You can read a full transcript for this episode, along with links to organisations that our guests mention during the podcast, down below.

Episode 13 transcript

Myfanwy Nixon: When we landed on the statistic that a third of the UK’s emissions are really under the influence of local government, so either produced by local government or within their power to minimise within the communities that they serve, we realised that there really was a space that we could work in.

Sabine Groven: Hello, and welcome to the Practical Democracy podcast by Delib. My name is Sabine Groven, and I’ll be speaking with some great movers and shakers working to make practical change today. On this episode we’ll be talking about democracy in a time of climate emergency. How are local authorities working towards their climate action plans, and how can we as citizens make sense of it and hold them to account? To answer my questions, I spoke with two of my society’s experts working on ways to solve this.

MN: I’m Myfanwy Nixon, and I’m the Communications Manager at mySociety.

Siôn Williams: I’m Siôn Elis Williams. I’m the Outreach and Networks Coordinator for mySociety’s climate programme.

SG: Firstly, I asked Siôn and Myf how mySociety is working on climate.

MN: mySociety’s working on the climate through our main areas of expertise, which are basically geekery and extreme data crunching. That’s what we like to do. We figure that every organisation, every person has a role to play in fighting the climate emergency, and we think that we can help best by playing to our own strengths. Then over the years we’ve settled into really three key areas. So we work on transparency, democracy and community.

All of that went along very well for many years, and then in the last couple of years, like everybody else, it became really clear that the climate crisis is the big issue that we all need to be focusing on. Also we realise the climate cuts right across everything else, so it cuts across transparency, democracy and community. If you think about it, we need a strong democracy if we’re going to set the right path towards the transition that we’re all going to need. We need really good transparency so that we can see that our authorities are spending resources wisely and keeping on the course that they have pledged to, and of course community. That’s going to be really, really key if we’re going to focus on a more sustainable and local way of living, which is looking like the way forward.

SW: There’s a really nice quote from mySociety's chief executive, Louise Crow, from a blog that she wrote, and so I’ll read that.

“The climate crisis puts into sharp focus all the questions we already face about how democracy can work at the scale, speed and complexity we need it to in the modern world.”

I think that really illustrates the way that climate and democracy are really deeply intertwined challenges. I mean you think about the kind of representative democracy that we have in the UK and the sort of opportunity to vote in essential government every few years, and then you compare that to the sorts of time scales that people talk about in which radical transformation needs to happen to our society in order to tackle climate change. We need to be exploring more creative democratic forms, and I think digital and data has a really critical role to play in enabling that.

MN: Having got a bit of funding to work on climate, the very first thing that we were able to do was to support the UK’s Climate Assembly, so that was a real straightforward case of us using our technical know-how to set up the website, host all the videos, and make sure that everybody in the UK could access what was going on in those rooms. And then our other area of expertise of course is around government, so we’ve been working with national government, local government for a very long time. When we landed on this statistic that a third of the UK’s emissions are really under the influence of local government, so either produced by local government or within their power to minimise within the communities that they serve, we realised that there really was a space that we could work in very usefully.

SG: mySociety has got a tool called a climate action plan explorer, something which can really help you access and understand your council’s climate plans.

SW: This is the first digital service that mySociety’s climate programme launched, and it’s rooted in some research that was highlighting how hard it was for people to establish whether their local authority has a climate action plan, and if indeed it did, to be able to find it on the local authority’s website. The service is a database which brings together all of the climate action plans that we can find from across the UK, puts them in one place, and then allows users to kind of explore those plans. For one thing they can kind be explored as a whole set, so if people are interested in the kind of patterns that are going on across the UK, you can kind of interrogate the database in that way. But for many people they just want to know what’s going on near them, so you can do a postcode search, find your council, and then access the documents directly that way, and also get a bit of context about what else the council might be up to and how that compares to other councils

MN: Yes, if anyone’s listening and they’re wondering or where they can do all of these things, that is at

SW: And I should’ve mentioned really at the outset that the whole set of plans is searchable as well, so if you’re particularly interested in a certain angle, if you’re interested in energy efficiency for instance, you can go and just search the whole database to see where that pops up.

MN: Put in your postcode and then you can go and see whether your own council has got ambitions for the whole area or just its own operation. As you might imagine with so may councils across the UK, with so many different areas that they’re all working away on, some of them have put a lot more into their climate action plans than others. Some of them - really detailed - they might include a good old assessment of how much carbon they’re already producing on a baseline year, and then looking at each area of activity, precisely what needs to be done to bring those levels down. Some of them, they’re a bit more sort of, “Oh yes, we’ve got good intentions,” hand-wavy, green transition, everybody ride a bicycle, how nice. I think just the very act of bringing these plans together was a great first step in being able to compare them with one another.

SW: Yes, and just want to emphasise as well how important Climate Emergency UK’s role has been in this. We’ve worked in partnership with them right from the very start, with them keeping track of where these emergency declarations were being made.

MN: Yes, these plans were all available in the public domain before. When a council creates any kind of plan like that they will put it on their website, but this is the first time that they’ve all been put into one place like this. We did a lot of Googling, so did Climate Emergency UK, we asked our followers to help us out as well, so we had a massive spreadsheet that people could come in, find a council that hadn’t yet been filled in, do a bit of Googling to see if they could find that plan, and then mySociety’s designers and developers started making a really nice front end so that people could do more exciting things with the lists.

SG: Can you talk about its features?

SW: This may go out of date and you might log into the site and see that there are more features since this recording, and we’d love to hear your suggestions if you have ideas as to how it can be improved, but essentially the council page, if you type in your postcode, find your council, you’ve got kind of all of the declarations and documents right at the top. We’ve got the features, we’ve called them. So it’s a way of tagging plans that have kind of, that are particularly interesting for some reason, and some of this is related to our second service, which is the council climate score cards, which we’ll come on to talk about. But for my council here in Cardiff, for instance, it’s been tagged as 'clearly communicated', 'strong on public health', and 'integrated with the local development plan'. And you can click on those tags and they’ll show you a subset of all of the climate action plans in the UK that are kind of interesting for those reasons, and a number of other features that you can kind of explore the data through.

We’ve got a breakdown of the powers and the responsibilities that each council has, so that’s quite complicated in itself. And I think probably public understanding of what their council is able to do is somewhat limited. So we’ve tried to kind of guide people really, not just with the breakdown of their particular local authority’s powers, but also the kinds of actions that that might enable them to take, and we’re borrowing the excellent analyses by the likes of UK 100 and the Institute for Government to kind of populate that section of the site. We’ve got the scorecards, which I mentioned, integrated into the individual council’s page, so this is kind of giving you a snapshot of their plan and areas for improvement and where they’ve done really well.

We’ve got a box called “More about this council” which will take you off to other similar area-based tools, so Friends of the Earth's 'Near You' tool , gives you lots of really useful information about your area. The Tyndall Centre’s carbon budget report will also kind of show you more about your council’s performance. And we’ve got emissions data which is drawn from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It’s a graph that shows you the trends over the past 15 years or so in the emissions reductions in the area, but that’s broken down as well by sector, and you often see, for instance, with my council, a very stubbornly flat line in relation to transport, for instance. So that’s kind of signalling that is a difficult problem to solve in some ways, and there’s a lot more work to be done there if the council is to reach its ambitions.

And the final thing I’ll mention, for me, is one of the most exciting features, some work our colleague, Alex, did, generating an algorithm, which looks for similar councils to yours and gives you a short list of 10 of those councils, and when you land on that it’s showing you that on the basis of a kind of composite metric, so it’s a very experimental feature. This is Version 2 of it, but this is hopefully showing you maybe some surprising councils that you wouldn't necessarily think of as similar to yours because I think quite often people will use a kind of heuristic to think my nearest council is similar for certain reasons, or people will have in their heads cities similar to mine if you live in an urban area. But this is actually based on a few separate metrics, and you can toggle between different tabs on this table to look at those individually, and it will refresh the list on that basis.

The first of those is the emissions profile of the area, so this is things like if you have a lot of the emissions in the area coming from transport then a place that’s similar to yours will be of interest for different reasons. They might be looking at similar kinds of policies and interventions to try and address that. We’ve got the proximity in there, showing the very closest councils to yours in space. The indices of multiple deprivation, that sort of profile for the area. And the final one is the rural, urban makeup of the area. And when you do think about energy efficiency, is the one I always tend to think of, it’s very salient at the moment with energy prices sky rocketing, and you think about things like the emissions profile of the area, where there are a lot of the emissions are coming from the domestic sector perhaps, and the deprivation profile of the area you can start to understand, you can start to zero in actually on councils who might be struggling with similar challenges. For instance, fuel poverty, if that is a very big challenge for your area you're probably going to be quite interested in how areas like yours are trying to address that challenge. So hopefully we’re enabling that kind of knowledge transfer to happen here.

MN: Yes, so there is a massive amount of information on each page. You could spend a long time digging in and understanding a lot more about what your own local council’s doing, and then, as Siôn says, comparing it to ones that are meaningfully similar. But all of that is fine, and of course the main thing that the page does is link off to the council’s climate action plan, so you can go and give it a good read for yourself, which is all well and good, but for the average man or woman in the street you may not fully understand everything that’s in that document. They can be quite dense, they can be quite complicated, so as an ordinary person you might not have the skills or the experience to know whether this is a good plan, is it up to the job ahead of us.

So once we had all these climate action plans in once place, the next obvious thing was to try and work out how good they all were compared to one another or standing on their own. And Climate Emergency UK, who are the organisation that we’ve been working with throughout all of this, they started up this enormous project. We just stood back and watched them in absolute awe where they started recruiting all of these volunteers, it was all done online because half of it was done during lockdown as well. They trained them all up to look at climate action plans, and they were helped by a number of organisations, so Friends of the Earth came in, Centre for Alternative Technology, Ashden, APSE Energy were all advising what makes a good climate action plan.

So what exactly do you need? Words are all very good but what is going to work? They came up with a list of I think 40 odd questions, maybe 47 questions in different categories, so right across the board, this is what these plans need if they’re going to be sufficient. And yes, gave them all scores basically.

SW: Yes, and those, as Myf said, there’s a lot of very rigorous kind of points getting down to fine detail of some of these plans. It’s not easy to do because they’re all different. But finding a yardstick that kind of makes sense for some really basic things that you would expect for any action plan for it to be successful.

One of the categories that reflects that is community engagement and communications, that obviously resonates very much with our mission to repower democracy, that it’s all well and good having a fantastic climate action plan, but if none of your residents know about it it’s very difficult for communities to play their role, and actually to hold power to account as well, which is another critical function that people can play. And straight away some patterns emerged.

So we’ve got these kind of top-level categories, and the site allows you to drill right down into the questions and actually the sub-points, the criteria that we use to award the points. So if you’re really interested in a specific aspect of the scoring you can see that. It's very transparent. For me, I was really interested to see that the category on diversity and social inclusion was one that very few local authorities scored highly on. In fact the vast majority of councils, there’s a lot of room for improvement in that category, including my own council. I felt like that’s critically undermined some of the really good work that the council has done is that they’re, that diversity and social inclusion piece of the puzzle that really sort of legitimises I think this kind of work was missing. So hopefully that is a really useful pattern to emerge so that across the UK we can start to understand the kinds of changes that we need to see.

MN: Yes, because as you’ve talked about Siôn, I remember that we should say that as well as this being for the ordinary citizen, we’re really hoping that researchers and journalists will find this data set just a really useful toolkit for them to find those sorts of stories. It’s so important. Nobody has gathered these together previously, and so those stories just haven’t been surfaced before. Yes.

SG: So how can I as a citizen use the climate action plan explorer? I asked Myf to tell me how.

MN: I can just easily go on and find out what my own council's doing. I don’t need to be an expert. It’s laid out there. Most people probably don’t even know that their council has a climate action plan. Some councils don’t have a climate action plan. That’s another very useful thing to know. You can see: is the plan ambitious? Is it just looking at the council’s own emissions or those of everyone within the council area? If it’s looking at everyone within the council area then that means it’s going to include you and your activities and may have an effect on the way that you live day-to-day. Yes, like Siôn was saying, there’s some explanation there that says exactly what type of council is responsible for what. City council might be dealing with quite different things than a county council, for example, and you can look at both because chances are that you might have two different councils affecting your own local area. I can search across the whole database, so if I have a particular interest in something like electric cars, for example, I could search for that, see how many councils are including that in their plans. And also, the whole database is available to be downloaded as well, so yes, as I was saying, researchers, journalists who want to do a real in-depth analysis, they can do that.

SG: mySociety works to help local authorities and communities cut emissions, and I wanted to hear more about how they do that.

SW: So we mentioned That is giving some kind of clear signals for particular councils where there might be room for improvement. And as we mentioned, those tags that have been generated on the Climate Action Plan Explorer, if, for instance, a council sees that, I mean we talked about it already, diversity and social inclusion is an area that they need to work on, they can go straight to that tag and see the top plans really that have scored most highly on that category and start to kind of explore those and see what is it that those councils have put in their plans that means they’ve done well and what can be learned from that.

Climate Emergency UK have done - they’ve been amazing really in terms of involving stakeholders in the design of these services, and that includes local authority actors. So we hope that means that they have been co-created to be as useful as possible. But post-launch Climate Emergency UK also ran some events for councils to kind of run through them and unpack them and just explain how they could be used for the kinds of things we’ve talked about already in terms of knowledge transfer, for instance, and kind of understanding really if things are changing in terms of the council’s climate action plan, how to kind of feed that back so that those changes are being taken into account in future work.

I think one thing to mention is mySociety is quite actively involved in a number of existing networks as well, so the Collective for Climate Action, which connects the UK public sector on climate, we’re lucky to be a critical friend that was invited to join that community. So there’s a bit of work going on slightly behind the scenes there just to kind of keep each other informed and support each other’s work. And Climate Action Tech, which is a global community of tech workers who are using their skills to take and accelerate climate action. We’re very fortunate to have been allowed to set up a civic technology channel in this workspace, and so that’s really exciting. I think just being present in some of these existing networks and making them aware of the services that we’re developing, getting their feedback on them and that kind of continuous improvement on that basis is we’re trying to do.

MN: So that’s one side of community: the civic tech community, our own little bubble, and I suppose part of the challenge for us as well has been trying to get this out to the wider world and to the communities that already exist and care deeply about climate anyway. So obviously once you have visited the Climate Action Plan Explorer, once you’re equipped with this knowledge, then one thing we think you can do is go and open a conversation with your local councillors.

So quite a lot of councillors are already tasked with climate as one of their duties or within their remit. We think that citizen input is going to be really vital here. So are there areas where maybe you think the climate action plan has missed a trick, or good ideas that you can see on the other council’s pages? You could direct your councillor to CAPE, to the action plan explorer, to have a look for themselves.

Also we think there’s so much knowledge within communities. Is there perhaps parts of the plan that you feel you could get involved with or that your community would be keen to help out with? Would you just like to ask them to work more ambitiously, faster? Because actually once citizens start demanding that sort to thing, that’s what makes it happen. Otherwise they just assume everybody’s complacent and they’re perfectly happy with them to hit their target for 2050 and they've got other things on their mind and it doesn’t really matter.

But just the mere act of opening a conversation, sending an email or meeting face-to-face and telling your councillor that this is a real priority and you want them to work on your behalf more ambitiously - that will have an effect. But we do know that that is quite a big step for a lot of people. Most people in this country don’t necessarily think of going and talking to a councillor as something they would do day-to-day, so we’re also encouraging people to join their local climate action group, and that often just means Friends of the Earth - they’ve got a really good network right across the country. There’s lots of other ones as well. Once you are part of a group like that you can sit down and you can do these things together, you can go and talk to councillors or put out public messaging and be a lot more effective that way.

SW: I mean we’re really lucky that we have a good chunk of funding and a good amount of freedom in the way that we use that funding to be able to really innovate and kind of find out what it is that’s going to have the most impact. So yes, we’re kind of working in that way, but also trying to be quite brutal about figuring out what works and moving on when things don’t have that impact. At the moment the team is composed of a researcher, a developer, a designer, myself, working on outreach and networks, some of Myf’s time on communications and a project manager, and we’re going to be bringing in more developer resource soon as well.

MN: When we first got our funding that came along with a number of targets, what we really hoped to be able to achieve. So every two weeks we can look at those targets, see how far we are inching slowly towards making them a reality. Yes, we had agreed to all of these outcomes, things as simple as how many visitors there are on the site, how many other organisations are using the data, and what sort of impacts we’re seeing.

SW: We came up with this idea of using some prototyping weeks to try and figure out what it might be that we could most usefully contribute to, what other kind of problem spaces where mySociety’s unique skills and focus could kind of be most fruitfully applied to. So these are kind of week-long, very intensive bursts of work where we involve as many people from outside of mySociety as possible who are kind of steeped in these problem spaces who maybe have direct experience with some of the things that we’re exploring, and we, as a team, came up with a whole load of possible areas to explore.

We whittled it down to a handful of those, and I’ve been quite frantically approaching lots of external participants over the last couple of months and trying to have conversations in advance of the prototype being weeks themselves to check our understanding and maybe sort of explore what scope made senses and yes, they’ve been fantastic, just starting off with really quickly getting all of the problems and the challenges flushed out right at the start, and generating a load of potential solutions to those, narrowing them down, building a prototype, which is just a kind of static clickable website usually, so far anyway, and then kind of testing that with as many people as we can and doing a wrap up meeting to share back what we’ve learnt during the week.

MN: So far we’ve done one week on procurement. So it’s council procurement: how could you encourage councils to opt for more sustainable choices when a new contract is coming up for renewal, how would you do that? That was an interesting one. Sounds dry, turned out to be really interesting. Then the second one was on conditional commitment, so actually this sort of harks back to a project that mySociety did many, many years ago called Pledge Bank, it’s one our earliest projects, and that was based on the idea that somebody would say, “I will do this thing but only if a certain number of other people promise to do it as well,” and that was a model that was then later reflected in things like Groupon and Kickstarter, but we were first.

We did it before either of those, and we didn’t try and make money out of it either! But so in this case we’re sort of looping back and revisiting that - so what would that look like if one person in your street said that they were interested in fitting solar panels or insulation, but they’ll only do it if six or seven other people in your row would do it as well? So that was a good one. And then the most recent one we’ve been looking at is access to nature: so what does that look like, specifically in the urban environment?. So how do you encourage people to create more green spaces in their neighbourhoods, how do you turn around disused, urban spaces that could be making a little haven for nature? Yes, like Siôn was saying, by the end of the week we had these basic ideas of what an app or a website would look like and how it would work.

SW: Yes, and it varied a bit. The first one had real data in there on procurement and the last one was much more just a conversation starter, but it allowed us to kind of keep learning, and we've got three more to go. So we’re half way through these, and so far we’ve got a good sense of the next one, although the scope is, just working on the scope at the moment, but we’re really interested in this idea of a fair transition with climate so that those people who are kind of least responsible for causing the problem are usually most heavily impacted by it - how can we make sure we’re transitioning to a better world? And we’re kind of addressing that injustice at the same time.

And so the next one is going to be looking at that, and probably focusing on employment in the UK, because that can kind of - we could think about this on a global scale, but in many ways, we’re a UK-based organisation, this is the context we are kind of steeped in, and the UK has heavy historical responsibility for climate change, and it’s right that we decarbonise more rapidly than other parts of the world that don’t. I think that’s probably the next one sorted. Just trying to start speaking to external participants to see if they can be involved, and then we’ve got another couple that we haven’t yet decided. There are ideas floating around about things like adaptation, climate adaptation could be an area that is a bit underexplored, and maybe spatial planning, which also has that kind of democratic link about how people are able to shape the places in which they live, which obviously has a big consequence in climate terms as well.

MN: Yes, and then I suppose once we finish these six prototypes then the challenge is going to be picking one of them to take forward. But I think enough energy and thought has gone into all of them, but hopefully even the ones that we don’t run with will be there and available perhaps for other organisations to take on.

SW: Yes, and we’ve got reports being written up for each week, so we are trying to do all of this in the open as much as possible and trying to kind of publicised these in advance with blogs, so if you are interested you should be able to track that down on our website or sign up to our newsletter if you want to hear about them.

MN: says the communications manager!

SG: mySociety has got several tools, and they’ve also been used to tackle the climate crisis. I wanted to hear how people have and are using mySociety to deal with this in different ways.

MN: Yes, absolutely. So I was saying at the beginning that the part of the reason that we were able to move into climate so easily was that all of our tools really have that relevance and interfacing. So all of our tools can be used basically to speak truth to power or to bring about change or to empower your community, change your neighbourhood or just keep an eye on really how our governing bodies are acting. So these things are really vital when it comes to climate activism.

So to look at a few sort of examples, With What do They Know - that’s our freedom of information website that just allows anyone to put in a freedom of information request. Again something that the average person in the street might not realise is available to them, but we make it as simple as possible, we talk about it in plain language, and then unusually - so freedom of information, when it was conceived, was always thought of as a sort of one-to-one transaction. You as a citizen would perhaps email an authority to ask a question or to ask for information and that would come back into your email, but With What do They Know it’s all published, so the request is published online, the response is published online, and that means a massive opening up of information that can be searched. It’s just there as an archive for everybody. So how might you use that?

Well, you might ask your local council or an authority how are they divesting from fossil fuels - or, indeed, are they at all? How well are they hitting their carbon reduction targets, just for example? You can also use it at scale, so you can ask every council in the country or every body of a particular type to get a wider picture, so again that’s where the whole research thing comes in nicely as well. So yes, loads you can do around freedom of information. That is all about keeping authorities accountable, making sure that they’re on track. Then we’ve got that’s our parliamentary monitoring website, so we publish out everything that happens in parliament, across different parliaments as well. It’s a good website for keeping up on how MPs have voted, what they have said, you can follow your own MP, you can get emails every time they speak.

If you’ve got a topic that you're interested in you can sign up as well for alerts, so you’ll get an email every time that topic is mentioned in a debate. So all of those again, really useful for keeping your representatives accountable over climate. Then we’ve got They Work for You’s little sister site, and they link to each other, so, and that lets you contact by email your MP or any other representative, your councillors. So obviously you can use that as an individual to tell your councillors or your MP that this is of great importance to you and you want them to prioritise it. Or if you’re part of a campaign you can embed Write To Them on your own website, so you can galvanise, gather together your own supporters and get them all writing to their MPs and make a real campaign of it. And then the last big website that mySociety runs, a long standing one, is, and this was set up originally so that people could just report faults in their own local neighbourhood. So if there was a pothole or a broken streetlight or something like that, but we have seen some climate-related uses.

So we’ve seen people putting in requests for tree preservation orders, for example. There was a bit of a movement to ask councils not to cut down grassy verges at the side of roads so that they could be left for wildflowers and bees and insects to thrive as well. You can use it to do things like asking for sustainable changes to your neighbourhood like cycle paths. But I think the really exciting thing about Fix My Street is that it’s an open source code base, so like all of our stuff, that code base is just sitting on github. Anybody who wants to and has the required skills can pick up the code base and make their own websites, and it can be used for anything that is map-based where you want people to identify a specific location and it will send off an email based on that location and the category to the right place.

So in the case of Fix My Street, it will say, “Right, you’ve reported a pothole on this road. We know that that road falls within the boundaries of such and such council. We'll send the report off to them.” Actually it's got more sophisticated recently, so it knows which roads are actually under Highways UK, which are local councils. It’s always been able to discern as well even between multiples councils on one area, so it’s quite clever. But we think there probably are more climate-related ways that you could use it as well. You could use it, people could just put in a flag and go, “I think this is a really good spot for trees to be planted,” or you could use it just for mapping community projects so people will know what's going on around the country. If you are technologically inclined, have a look. is where you can find all the documentation and stuff.

SG: What’s next for mySociety’s climate work then? What are they working towards?

SW: Well the partnership with Climate Emergency UK will continue, and there’s a shift now from looking at the quality of these climate action plans to the actions actually being taken by councils. So obviously really important that we, with the speed at which change needs to happen that we aren’t dwelling for too long on what’s on paper or on the websites, but what’s actually happening on the ground and kind of taking both of those things into account. So Climate Emergency UK are doing some really good engagement at the moment with stakeholders to try and figure out what are the right things to be looking at and how might those be combined so that this is a kind of, as rigorous a process as their council climate score cards. For mySociety, we'll continue to be involved in that work in the way we already have been, but as mentioned, these prototyping weeks are going to be our way of figuring out where we go next.

We’d love it if maybe for a couple of these ideas we find partners so that we can kind of work with in the way that we have done with Climate Emergency UK. It would be great if we could combine our efforts with another organisation with complementary skills. As we said, all of the outputs from the prototyping will be shared publicly, and we’re equally happy for people to grab that stuff and run with it, and we’d love to see that work kind of bearing fruit. And yes, just to kind of re-emphasise I guess the point we made at the top about the place of local authorities at the heart of our climate programme. That’s kind of recognising that they play a really pivotal role, that the Committee on Climate Change estimate that a third of the UK’s net-zero target is within the influence of local authorities.

There’s some debate about whether that should be a bigger number or not, but I think whatever the number you land on it’s likely to be significant, and it does make that point that local authorities have a really key role to play convening other actors in their areas, doing what they can to address their own footprint and so forth. So we’re just constantly looking for ways in which we can enable that, and also to kind of share what we come up with in the hope that it might get picked up and reused elsewhere. We’re really keen to learn from what else is going on internationally already. We don’t want to reinvent any wheels. We’re kind of plugged in and running events with our international network, and yes, l like I said, you can see what we’ve done, and if you're interested in reusing it or adapting it to a different context, we’d love to hear from you.

MN: So I think the mySociety website is the good jumping off place for all of those. For events, TicTec, T-I-C T-E-C, that’s our conference, how do I call it? Our conference strand, or our events strand, which has gone, like a lot of things, online since lockdown. There’s loads of resources on there, but the next TicTec is going to be looking at climate issues as well. And I do realise that actually as we’ve been talking all this time we haven’t even made mention of our research, which our researcher, Alex, would probably be very cross about, because boy has he put a lot of effort into researching really key issues that just inform all the work that we’ve been doing, and again in the general mySociety way, all of this research is openly available. is where to find that. But digging into some really, really interesting questions, like just how much do people understand about the role of local councils and what local councils are mandated to do against the climate emergency.

SW: Yes, and there’s a lovely interaction as well between these prototyping weeks and Alex, the research agenda, because often some research can kind of happen in advance and sort of lay the foundations and help guide us towards different problem spaces, but equally these prototyping weeks are kind of throwing up more questions, and that’s something that Alex is really alive to and I think kind of reflects a shift in our recently refreshed strategy towards designing for the needs of society, so sort of moving away from the idea of atomised, active citizens taking action in isolation, but much more about how it is that we can enable people to take collective action, and I think some of these prototyping weeks are helping us to dip our toes in some of those less familiar waters and driving our understanding of how we might do that, which is obviously a slightly tougher challenge but hopefully one that we’re starting to rise to.

MN: Yes, and I will tell you what else as well. On a personal level I find it really helps being able to work with such a good team. In the face of the climate emergency, rather than despairing, at least I can come to work every morning and talk to really dedicated people, and we’re all putting the best of what we can do in the areas where we know we can make a difference. It does help a little bit, and I hope that listeners will check out some of what we’ve been doing and maybe get involved as well and they’ll get some of that too.

SG: Thank you so much to Myfanwy Nixon and Siôn Williams for joining the podcast and helping us understand how we can use their tools to tackle the climate crisis. If you want to follow the work mySociety does you can find them on Twitter at @mySociety or visit If you want to use the Climate Action Plan Explorer, go to Thank you very much for listening. Should you wish to contact us you can tweet us @DelibThinks or email This episode is hosted, edited and produced for Delib by me, Sabine Groven. Our creative director is Tiffany Maddox. I’ll be back in a month with another episode. Until then you can visit for great content on people making practical change improving democracy. Bye!

Make sure to check out mySociety on Twitter. The Practical Democracy Podcast is produced and hosted by Sabine Groven with creative direction from Tiffany Maddox.