Community Dynamics: What does it mean and why does it matter?

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It should come as no surprise to anybody that at OCSI HQ we get very excited about new data. It is at the heart of everything we do. We love finding new datasets that can help us and you on the quest to tell engaging and convincing stories with data.

This is why our tool Local Insight gives instant access to more than 1,100 diverse, local level datasets. And why we pride ourselves on keeping everything up to date (a big shout out to the OCSI Research Team who tirelessly mine open data sites looking for new updates and releases!).

Our newest additions to Local Insight, data on Community Dynamics are particularly interesting, as they bring qualitative elements of how people feel about the place they live in. When sat alongside other datasets about deprivation, health and employment, we can start asking some interesting questions around what factors potentially contribute to residents’ perceptions of where they live. And similarly, challenge some of our assumptions as to what makes a thriving community.

What is Community Dynamics?

The Community Dynamics data has been constructed by Social Life; an organisation specialising in research and community projects exploring how people are affected by changes in the built environment.

The datasets use modeled data from the annual Community Life Survey and Understanding Society Survey to map this data to Output Areas. This can then be used to help predict how people are likely to feel about the areas they live in.

The datasets are presented indexed against the country within Local Insight, where a positive score (greater than zero) indicates that an area is performing better than the national average and a negative score (below zero) indicates an area is performing worse than the national average. The datasets available in Local Insight are:

  • Belonging: Shows predicted average levels of belonging for local areas
  • Local social relationships: Shows predicted strength of local social relationships
  • Satisfaction with local areas as a place to live: Shows predicted average levels of satisfaction with local area

What could it be used for?

For commissioners, policy-makers and anybody else involved in the design and delivery of local services, Community Dynamics data can be used to bring additional depth into the understanding of your local areas.

Particularly, these datasets could have a role to play in projects and initiatives looking to work in a more asset-based way.

We’ve outlined a few examples below – and as always we would love to hear your use cases too!

Matching service provision to need

The Community Dynamics data gives valuable insight into how people feel about the place they live in and can shape decisions about which services are offered in particular neighbourhoods.

For example, if a neighbourhood scores particularly lowly on “Local social relationships”, it could be useful to see what community groups, clubs and activities are currently operating in that area.

Overlaying these two pieces of data on a map could help answer questions and influence decision-making on:

  • Are there enough community groups and spaces that encourage people to build new relationships?
  • Are the services used regularly?
  • Are there any demographic groups that are not catered for?
  • Are the local services advertised and signposted clearly for residents?
  • How could community groups be used more effectively?

This could be used to make a compelling, evidence-based case for funding for local projects.

Learn lessons from what is working

The Community Dynamics data highlights areas that score highly on sense of belonging, satisfaction and local social relationships.

Comparing the Community Dynamics data to other contextual datasets could help identify areas that are similar on a range of socio-economic indicators, but differ greatly in terms of social relationships and perceptions of the area. Examining this information side by side could help you select case studies of similar areas with different community dynamic outcomes to explore what other factors are in play that lead to residents in these similar areas feeling particular isolated/included or positive/negative about their local area.

Pin-pointing these areas can provide a platform for important conversations with residents about why they think this is. Insights from these conversations can be used to learn from what is working, and export particular initiatives and ideas to other neighbourhoods.

Designing the built environment

Understanding how people feel about the places they live can be useful information when considering the built environment. Are particular designs and spaces more likely to foster positive perceptions of belonging and encourage social relationships?

We have blogged before on how data on the prevalence of loneliness could be used to shape environments to be more inclusive for elderly people. And the same could be said for using Community Dynamics data to inform the design of community spaces.

It goes without saying (although we will say it anyway…) that no single dataset can tell us the whole story about a particular area. However, adding subjective data around perceptions alongside the socio-economic and demographic context sets us on the way to a more rounded picture.

Explore the data for yourself

The Community Dynamics data is now available in Local Insight for you to explore, alongside more than 800 other socio-economic datasets for local areas.

Register for a free trial of Local Insight now and

  • Visualise Community Dynamics data on maps and dashboards, with the data matched to the areas you care about
  • Compare Community Dynamics to other key datasets to test perceptions on what makes a thriving community
  • Overlay Community Dynamics data with the location of your key services to assess service provision and need
  • Gain a fuller picture of what life is like in your service patch for the residents that live there.


Social Life often use Community Dynamics Data as a starting point in their work with clients, who are interested in finding out more about the strengths of communities in specific neighbourhoods. These clients could be local authorities, housing associations, developers or other agencies who are keen to gain a better understanding of communities affected by their work and, in doing so, want to take a more assets based approach to working in those areas.  Social Life’s team can provide further research in that locality to explore and test the issues indicated by the data – providing a more thorough picture of the community’s dynamics. If you are interested in working with Social Life in this way, please get in touch with their team.

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