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This toolkit was created for the London Borough of Sutton by Social Life in 2014. It is intended to guide officers, and potentially other agencies, through the stages needed to carry out a social sustainability assessment. The toolkit has been put together with a group of Sutton officers from the Research and Intelligence team, the Beddington programme, and the Chief Executives office.

For help and guidance on how to use the toolkit, contact Sam Barker in the Research & Intelligence Team,

The approach

Sutton’s brief to Social Life was to create a framework that generates accessible results; that could help residents, the council and other agencies plan projects and services that will help local areas to thrive; and to make sure that the framework could be used by council officers (or even other agencies) in the future without calling on consultancy support.

Gathering data

The framework that has been developed is structured around the four dimensions of the social sustainability framework. A social sustainability analysis brings together information about residents’ perceptions of an area alongside more familiar data on unemployment and demographics. Different sorts of data – from census data, to statistics about residents’ sense of belonging or fear of crime – are synthesised to paint a picture of the local area. The framework is designed to use existing data as far as possible, to make the best use of what already exists, and to reduce costs (although there is an option to commission a residents survey).

The range of issues that need to be explored can be quantified through different sorts of data. The framework blends:

  • 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.

Unfortunately, census data will become increasingly out of date, and in some areas significant changes will already have taken place since 2011. The data will become less useful the further away we get from 2011. The neighbourhood statistics website and the GLA’s London data store will have the latest data available.

Testing against resident opinion

In an assessment, the data picture that emerges from these different sources is tested against resident opinion. Residents are asked whether it paints a fair portrait of the area, does it leave out important issues, does it put appropriate emphasis on the different factors that emerge, what underlying factors in the history or current circumstances of the area explain the data?

Resident opinion can be gathered through a systematic survey carried out by a specialist market research firm, or through more informal conversations with residents.

The pilot

The approach was tested in Beddington, to help Sutton direct resources within the Beddington programme.  A full description of the Beddington results are here.

 A five stage guide to the social sustainability toolkit

The social sustainability toolkit has five stages: setting up an approach that is appropriate to the institutional and local context (see Stage 1); gathering data from various sources at a local level (see Stage 2); getting input from local residents on the initial picture gathered from the data (see Stage 3); scoring and analysing the results of the social sustainability assessment (see Stage 4) and finally using these insights to plan for the future (see Stage 5).