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There are five steps in the set up of a social sustainability process:

  • Gather together a team
  • Identifying any relevant local issues in the chosen area
  • Identify natural neighbourhoods
  • Map the statistical and administrative areas needed for data analysis
  • Decide approach to gathering residents views.

1.1 The team

The officer team needs to include officers with an interest in the local area; local service commissioners; and the research and intelligence team. It is important that one or more of the team members has strong local knowledge of the neighbourhood over time, so they can understand how to structure conversations with residents, and can input knowledge of any particular local contextual issues. The team also needs to include one officer who has the authority to ask other departments, and agencies, for relevant data. The team needs to meet regularly throughout the process.

1.2 Identify local issues

In any area there will be particular contextual issues that affect how people perceive local life. This could be events that took place in the past (including emergencies like floods) or issues that have led to local opposition (for example in Beddington the proposed incinerator was important in understanding how community groups had attracted support, and how they were operating).

1.3 Understand “natural neighbourhoods”

Few local areas are homogeneous – they contain streets with different types of housing, concentrations of housing of different tenures, and small areas with strong local identities because of their geography. The larger the area that is focused on, the more dissimilar small areas within it are likely to be. This means that issues that are important at the very local level may be masked by averaging data over a larger area.

It therefore becomes important to break data down to below ward level, where possible. If the neighbourhood to be assessed contains many different smaller areas that cannot be identified simply, it will be necessary to carry out some work to find out how the different parts of the area relate to each other. This can be done by mapping “natural neighbourhoods”, the neighbourhoods that residents perceive to be important to their daily lives.

The process of mapping natural neighbourhoods can be relatively light touch, through conversations with local residents. These can be part of the community conversations stage of the social sustainability assessment.

Once neighbourhoods are mapped, they can be compared to administrative areas used for statistical analysis. Although administrative areas are not designed to capture “natural neighbourhoods”, they can be combined to reflect residents understanding and to paint a more complete picture of everyday life.

To see how this approach was used in the pilot, go to Beddington natural neighbourhoods example.

1.4 Mapping the statistical and administrative areas needed for data analysis

Data gathering for the social sustainability profile is based on the ONS’ (Office for National Statistics’) small area categorisation methodologies.

  • OAC (Output Area Classification) classifies people into social groups, and is based on an analysis of what factors affect social attitudes. It tells us about the types of people who live in the UK, and who is likely to be living in different areas.
  • IMD (Indices of Multiple Deprivation) measures poverty, the higher the score, the greater the level of poverty. OAC is the preferred method of understanding small areas, however some surveys are not coded for OAC so IMD is used as the next best methodology.

Go to description of OAC & IMD for more detail about these approaches.

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1.5 Decide approach to gathering residents views

An important decision at this stage is how residents insight is to be gathered. The options are a residents survey, or community conversations (discussions and interviews with residents, either individually or in groups).

  • A residents survey carried out by an external market research agency can be expensive, if it is to reach a sample size big enough to generate statistically significant results. However, if this is possible, then this is a robust way of gathering information that captures meaningful results. It is particularly useful in assessing information that falls within the social and cultural life, and voice and influence dimensions of the social sustainability framework. It can also be used to capture other useful information about the area (for example the survey used in Beddington explored attitudes to traffic). It is possible that an external partner, for example a housing developer, may be able to cover the costs.
  • Community conversations are a cheaper option for gathering opinion, which whilst not have the statistical reliability of a survey, can still generate valuable insight. The process can be time consuming as it is important to speak to residents who do not traditionally attend local groups of consultation forums. This work can be done by council officers, or by local community groups. See Section 3 for further information about how to conduct a residents survey and community conversations.

Stage 2 outlines the process for gathering data.