The future role of city sustainability communities

The Bristol Green Capital Partnership  case study is a massively collaborative venture bringing together the skills and expertise of UWE researchers, myself, Billy Clayton and Tom Calvert, and Professor Jim Longhurst who is also a director on BGCP’s board, and the practical experience and knowledge of Ian, Vicki and Claire in the BGCP CIC executive team. In addition, colleagues at University of Bristol contribute on research methods, for example, Ges Rosenberg on systems analysis and Jenny Barke on narrative interviewing.


Urban ID has the idea of ‘co-production’ at its heart, meaning designing and developing research with communities in an open, co-operative way that can lead to policy- and practice-relevant outputs, products and tools. My view is that this is a beneficial approach. Together we can devise research questions and activities that not only help us at UWE to understand the challenges to a more sustainable Bristol Urban Area, but also helping BGCP to better understand its membership, these challenges and how to go about addressing them.


The first research activity for this case study was in March: a workshop with a varied sample of BGCP member organisations. We gathered member organisation representatives’ views on Bristol’s sustainability challenges, BGCP itself, the Partnership’s five themes (energy, food, nature, resources and transport) and how these inter-relate (or otherwise) with the four Urban ID challenge themes.


On the academic side, this gave us a chance to test our research methods (a mapping activity and systems analysis) which can form part of the integrated diagnostic tools which are core to the Urban ID project. These are tools other cities could use to identify barriers to the major change needed to become sustainable.


The BGCP team also gained from a fresh perspective of member organisations’ views, which sparked ideas about how the case study could be slightly reoriented to support thinking about the future role of BGCP, now in its 10th year, and how to share their learning with other cities.


Over the next few months we will be developing and carrying out a number of other activities, coinciding with BGCP events, including:

  • surveying member organisations to gather their views on the activities and plans of BGCP
  • working with the Partnership team to analyse their membership data and how members engage
  • arranging a workshop where BGCP member organisation representatives will be able to interview their peers, and share stories about the Partnership, which will feed into the 10th Anniversary event planned for 6 July
  • designing and running a ‘visioning activity’, where representatives will consider the different routes to a carbon neutral city.


Case study outputs will explore the role city sustainability partnerships like BGCP CIC can play in developing thinking around, and structures for, tackling the barriers to sustainable development in Bristol, and the potential for writing a new chapter of the ‘Bristol Method’: the extensive knowledge transfer package from Bristol’s European Green Capital Year in 2015. We will also explore how outputs could be utilised by other cities. Both those involved in the Urban Living Partnership (Birmingham, York, Leeds and Newcastle) and across the UK.


We are look forward to working together with the BGCP team to co-create both academic and practitioner focussed case study outputs. Recently, I wrote a paper for the 9th International Conference on Sustainable Development and Planning, giving an overview of the Urban ID project and summarising the initial findings of the case study workshop. This paper is co-authored by Ian Townsend, as well as project team members at UWE and at the University of Bristol.