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A social sustainability analysis brings together information about perceptions of the area alongside more familiar data on unemployment and demographics. Different sorts of data – from census data, to perceptions of how the neighbourhood is faring – are synthesised to paint a picture of the local area.

The framework is designed to use existing data as far as possible, and the range of issues that need to be explored can be quantified through blending different sorts of data collected at the local level

The social sustainability framework is based on data in three categories:

  • hard data- like census data, which can be used to describe the areas we are focusing on. This can also include services data, like schools performance data.
  • predictive data- particularly Social Life’s analysis of data from national surveys held by government and research councils, which paints a picture of how residents of different areas are likely to perceive issues like their safety, wellbeing, and relationships with their neighbours (where there is a residents survey this will be used to benchmark actual data)
  • soft data- which includes a range of sources from qualitative conversations with individuals and groups, to evidence gathered locally by community organisations.

All three types of data have limitations (for example sample size for soft data) but together they can create a useful picture of how the community is faring at a very local level.

Each of the dimensions of the social sustainability framework has a number of indicators lying underneath it, which are populated by data from these three categories.

There are three key steps in the data gathering process:

  1. gathering hard data
  2. gathering predictive data
  3. gathering soft data: assessment of the built environment; audit of community facilities and amenities; initial community conversations.

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2.1 Hard data

The majority of data used in the framework is available on the government’s neighbourhood statistics website

Government’s neighbourhood statistics website

[ONS neighbourhood statistics website]

 Other data used in the framework is from:

Relevant data from local services, including numbers of social care cases, housing need statistics and other issues are also very relevant and can be added into the framework at the appropriate point. The Beddington pilot used data from the Sutton Housing Partnership on the number of tenants affected by the spare room subsidy, and data about adult social care case. Other information may be available in different neighbourhoods.

The limitations on the data used is availability. For example, ideally, the framework would include data on housing affordability, and walkability, however these are not easily available at the small local level.

Data should be broken down to natural neighbourhoods wherever possible.

Click here for sources of hard data.

Contextual data

It is also important to look at the underlying data for the area to see if there are any particular issues affecting the population, or changes over the last 10 years, that would affect the social sustainability assessment. Examples of this could be are the ethnic profile of the area, what is the dominant group and what are the largest minorities; change in the levels of affluence or disadvantage o among residents, this could be because of an area falling into decline, or because of a new housing development being occupied by more wealthy residents than the previous area average.

Contextual data is mainly from the census. HMRC child poverty data and DECC fuel poverty data are also useful.

Click here for sources of contextual data.

2.2 Predictive data

Social Life has developed a methodology for matching data from large national datasets to small local areas, using categorisations of small areas developed by ONS (the office for national statistics). This data can then be used to create comparable benchmarks. This means that local areas can be compared with areas that are broadly comparable, to understand what we would expect people  to feel about their local neighbourhood.

The datasets used are held by the government and research councils – Understanding Society Survey, Crime Survey England & Wales, the Community Life Survey and the Taking Part Survey. These all ask questions about residents perceptions of the places they live in. The sample sizes of these surveys are not large enough to break down to areas smaller than administrative regions.

Social Life uses two ways of understanding small areas to map survey data. This enables us to see how residents of small areas are likely to feel. This is predicative data, not a robust portrait of the neighbourhood. To do this we use IMD and OAC to paint a picture of how residents of these areas are likely to feel about key questions. Click here for more information on IMD and OAC.

Social Life has mapped this data on key indicators of community dynamics:

See this list of Survey questions used for benchmarking for more information about what data can be benchmarked.

2.3 Soft data

2.3.1 Assessment of the built environment

An assessment of the built environment in a neighbourhood is important in understanding social sustainability. This involves exploring how the environment supports, or fails to support, neighbourhood social life and relationships between different groups. The set of questions used is derived from the 2008 Building for Life survey, commonly used in the housebuilding industry, with some amendments and extra questions added. For more information about Building for Life, go to this link. (The Building for Life framework was updated in 2012, the questions now used by the housebuilding industry are focused on broadly the same questions as the earlier version).

This needs to be completed by one, or ideally several, people who have an appropriate planning or urban design background. Sutton’s planning department may be able to support this work.

Click here for the assessment of the built environment questions.

2.3.2 Audit of community facilities and amenities

It is also important to consider the infrastructure and services available for the neighbourhood. Information to complete this stage may be available from agency reports, or it may be necessary to speak to a number of people who are very familiar with the neighbourhood to understand this.

Click here for the Audit of community facilities and amenities

2.3.3 Initial community conversations

At this stage it is also useful to carry out a small number of interviews with residents who are knowledgeable about the area to help inform the initial picture. Getting input from ward councillors and community activists can be particular helpful. The types of questions asked should be focused around getting a picture of what it is like to living in the area for example: what do people feel proud of about the area? what are the changes that people would like to see in the future? what makes the area feel different from surrounding areas? how has it changed over time?

The next section (Stage 3) explains how to conduct in depth community conversations and a household survey.