The Community Needs Index

By Thames Menteth-Wheelwright - on 30/01/2020

The Community Needs Index, recently published on Community Insight, can help social housing providers target areas of greatest social and cultural need.

Community Insight was the first platform to publish the Community Needs Index (CNI), which can be used to help policymakers target investment in social infrastructure.


Unlike the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) which uses economically based measures of local need, the CNI has been produced by OCSI to measure social and cultural factors that can contribute to poorer life outcomes.


Four new datasets have been added to Community Insight from the CNI: civic assets, connectedness, active and engaged community, and community needs. These include the scores for each individual domain and the overall CNI, with a higher score indicating a higher level of community need.


On Community Insight, these new indicators will not be shown on the map by default, but Group Admin users can add these datasets to the maps using the Manage Indicators function.


The index as a whole covers 19 indicators across three domains:

  • Civic assets: measures the presence of key community, civic, educational and cultural assets in close proximity of the area. These include pubs, libraries, green space, community centres, swimming pools – facilities that provide things to do often, at no or little cost, which are important to how positive a community feels about its area.
  • Connectedness: measures the connectivity to key services, digital infrastructure, isolation and strength of the local jobs market. It looks at whether residents have access to key services, such as health services, within a reasonable travel distance. It considers how good public transport and digital infrastructure are and how strong the local job market is.
  • Active and engaged community: measures the levels of third sector civic and community activity and barriers to participation and engagement. It shows whether charities are active in the area and whether people appear to be engaged in the broader civic life of their community.

The CNI attempts to group all the various sources of information on these themes into a single register, so that users can identify which areas have the greatest challenges across those factors.


As such, it’s an important addition to the data landscape. The sorts of issues that the index covers, such as falling levels of civic and community participation, problems associated with loneliness and isolation and the continued closure of local services, have been observed sociologically for some time.


The CNI, however, is the first attempt to produce a comprehensive, quantitative measure of the social landscape in this way, bringing to the forefront issues that haven’t previously been identified. While more economic measures such as the IMD often highlight the same set of areas, the CNI’s focus on the social reveals a slightly different set of areas.


Notably, the CNI is a neighbourhood level measure rather than a measure of a town, city or local authority area. OCSI developed the Index at ward, rather than town, level, to recognise small area inequality. Wards, rather than other statistical geographies such as Lower Super Output Areas (LSOA), were more appropriate for the needs of this project which was specifically about communities.


The challenges within communities that have been identified by the CNI are exacerbated when they are combined with deprivation. Particularly interesting to see, therefore, is when the two challenges – social and economic – interact with each other.


Most strikingly, the CNI reveals the levels of funding in left-behind areas, other deprived areas and England as a whole. The expectation would be that the areas of the greatest need would be getting the most funding. However, the CNI reveals that left-behind areas are getting less funding than the other deprived areas and that both of these two categories are getting less funding than the national average.


For social housing organisations, therefore, the CNI is invaluable; not only does it give them a greater insight into local need at ward level, it also opens up more opportunities to understand and identify where partnerships between housing and service providers are most needed. Using the CNI, social housing organisations, local authorities and other partners can know where to target their resources more effectively and be confident of their impact.


OCSI is now moving into the next phase of the left-behind areas project, which will include updating some of the data (including IMD 2019), looking for additional data sources and a methodological review. 


If you have any questions on the left-behind areas project, please get in touch with Jeremy Yung at Local Trust at


Local Insight Community Insight England subscribers can explore the Community Needs Index in full.



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