Screenshot of London Civic Strength Index

Urban health

Measuring civic strength: Why it matters 

We joined forces with the Greater London Authority to find new ways to measure the strength of our communities.

At Impact on Urban Health, we know that strong communities help to support healthy lives in cities. Studies show that better social relationships can even reduce mortality rates by 50%. Beyond clinical benefits, people generally tend to prefer living in a strong community because it offers more security, support, and a more fulfilling social life.  

However, the features of a strong community like relationships, trust and social capital tend to be hard to define and measure. To explore this, we have partnered with the Greater London Authority (GLA) to understand communities better by improving data on civic strength. 

What is civic strength?

The GLA and Young Foundation worked together to produce an Index of Civic Strength for London last year and came to the following definition:

Civic strength exists when communities are supported by robust public and social infrastructure to build strong relationships and feel able to meaningfully engage in the issues that matter to them.

GLA and Young Foundation

Civic strength is broken down into three themes which form the data index: 

  • Relationships and social capital – feelings of belonging, community ties, and a sense of opportunity from community members 
  • Democratic engagement – how supported people feel to participate and make change in their community 
  • Public and social infrastructure – how community members feel about the services and support available to them 

Each of these are formed through many lower-level indicators and measures. For example, as a measurement for relationships, the index uses survey responses to ascertain whether people chat to their neighbours at least once a month.  

Why do we care about civic data?

Research has demonstrated links between social capital, institutional trust and positive effects on health. For example, individuals or communities with greater social capital will have better support and resources as a buffer against stress and will better be able to spread useful health knowledge. On institutional trust, patients with greater trust in their health care professionals tend to report fewer symptoms and a higher quality of life. 

Given the links to better health, we would like to see stronger communities, and data is the first step to understanding how we can get there. But good data on subjective points like this are hard to find. Common issues with civic data are that it can often be infrequent, too geographically broad, non-robustly measured, or too loosely linked to the variable they’re meant to be measuring.  

This is especially true for measuring concepts such as institutional trust, social capital, and the strength of relationships. That’s why we are inviting researchers to help us find new and innovative ways to capture and measure civic data through the Civic Data Innovation Challenge. 

Civic Data Innovators

The Civic Data Innovation Challenge was established to find new ways of measuring and scaling the indicators where there are currently data gaps in the Civic Strength Index. The priority research areas for the challenge are relationships, trust and social capital, civic responsibility, institutional trust and accessible engagement. 

Alongside the GLA, we are delighted to announce that we have nine winning applicants who will be taking part in the challenge. The winning researchers are aiming to plug the data gaps through diverse approaches. .  

One group of researchers will attempt to measure the prevalence of online communities within neighbourhoods and determine which Londoners are disproportionately excluded from those spaces. Another team will gather data on London councillors to understand how representative they are of the citizens of their boroughs and what this means for democratic engagement.  

While one team is putting people at the heart of the process by testing new ways of measuring civic strength through community research and narrative analysis, another is leaning heavily on technology analysing what they can extrapolate about civic strength through proxy data sources like satellite imagery and social media. 

All nine winners will receive initial grant funding to help them develop their idea alongside a dedicated six-month support programme which includes mentorship, networking, and a curriculum tailored to the needs of the cohort.  

At the end of this programme, the participants will be eligible to apply for an additional round of grant funding in order to further scale their research.

Have questions about our work in measuring civic strength?

Get in touch with Robin Minchom, On Purpose Associate.

Contact Robin