The Bristol Approach in action

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in action


With thanks to Ideas for Change, Mara Balestrini, Caleb Parkin and Paul Hurley for being part of the collaborative writing process for this booklet.

Contents Are ‘smart cities’ really smarter? ..................................................................... 4 What is The Bristol Approach? ........................................................................ 6 What is Citizen Sensing? ................................................................................. 7 Making sense of ‘the city commons’ ............................................................... 8 Using the framework ..................................................................................... 10 Identification .................................................................................................. 12 Framing ......................................................................................................... 14 Design ........................................................................................................... 16 Deployment ................................................................................................... 18 Orchestration ................................................................................................. 20 Outcome ........................................................................................................ 22 Conclusions ................................................................................................... 24 Useful terms .................................................................................................. 26 Get in touch ................................................................................................... 27


Are ‘smart cities’ really smarter? Across the world, cities are becoming ‘smarter’: more people have access to more technology; ‘connected devices’ are everywhere, from lamppost sensors measuring air pollution and driverless cars to the smartphones in our back pockets. ‘Smart city’ initiatives have the potential to connect people more easily, make cities more efficient, and use technology to address issues affecting our urban centres. But just because a city is ‘smart’, it doesn’t automatically follow that everyone who lives there is more empowered. ‘Smart city’ programmes are often developed and driven by the few and don’t always take into account the majority of people who live, work and collaboratively make the city. “Ultimately if you’re trying to make things better for the people who live in a community the first thing you need to understand is what it’s like to live in that community - what the issues and problems are. We all think we know the answers to that but once you start talking to a wider group of people you can be surprised.” (local trader)


A 2015 report by the UK charity Nesta identified a number of things that have held ‘smart cities’ back from delivering real value:1 -not addressing the issues people really care about; -not taking human behaviour as seriously as technology; -a lack of focus on the skills people need to use smart technologies; -a lack of integration with other things going on in cities; -not providing clear roles for people; -not focusing on shared, open resources. At Knowle West Media Centre we believe that all people, whatever their background, should be able to imagine, design and build the future they want to see – for themselves and their city. So we’ve collaborated with Ideas for Change to develop “The Bristol Approach to Citizen Sensing” a framework that can help us create ‘smart cities’ where the power of technology is harnessed to tackle the issues that people care about. 1. Saunders, T. & Baeck, P. (2015) Rethinking Smart Cities From The Ground Up. Nesta.


What is The Bristol Approach? The Bristol Approach to Citizen Sensing is about placing people at the heart of innovation and understanding the issues they care about: rather than ‘pushing’ technology or pre-determined ‘solutions’ onto people, following The Bristol Approach enables us to work together to ‘pull-in’ the know-how, technology and resources we need to tackle a problem.

Why Bristol? In 2016 Bristol was named by the first UK Smart Cities Index as the leading ‘smart city’ outside London and a leader in the UK for digital innovation. Bristol city leaders recognise that ‘smart city’ thinking and planning needs to address exclusion and other issues affecting people’s day-to-day lives, and have supported us in our work to address these challenges alongside local communities.


What is Citizen Sensing? ‘Citizen Sensing’ sounds complex but it’s essentially a process where citizens build, use, or act as, sensors: individuals (or ‘citizens’) identify and gather information (or ‘data’) that will help them to tackle an issue that’s important to them. This sensing process could involve creating a bespoke temperature sensor from scratch or using a piece of technology that already has an in-built sensor, like a smartphone. However simple or complex the technology, and whatever the data being gathered, citizen sensing is about empowering and enabling people to take positive action in their communities by using tech for social good.

The Bristol Approach has been designed so everyone can use it, whether you’re looking for a new business model, some advice on starting a community-based project, or some inspiration for your ‘smart city’ programme. Knowle West Media Centre tested the Approach in Bristol between November 2015 and August 2016. In this booklet we want to share our experience and what we learned as we worked with a mix of people including artists, citizens and technologists. We hope that sharing the ups and downs of this process will be valuable to others wanting to make better cities for all of us.


Making sense of ‘the city commons’ By using The Bristol Approach, we can draw on the wealth of resources that already exist in our cities and agree how to use them for the common good, creating a new ‘city commons’. There isn’t one single definition of ‘the commons’. For us, ‘the commons’ encompasses the resources we create, the way we share the resources, and the collective agreement about how we will use the resources for the common good. We believe that through commoning, any asset can become a shared resource. Ideas for Change suggest that “the commons is a shared mindset and that ‘commoning’ is an action.” Wikipedia is an example of a successful digital commons - created, used and maintained by all. The resource is open and shared but there is a collective agreement about how it should be used, to ensure no one uses it for malicious purposes or in ways that would be damaging to others.


Ideas for Change also shared the following story from Bologna, Italy, which is useful. A group of people tried to donate benches to their local park to improve the environment but the local council wouldn’t allow people to add permanent objects or structures. Although it would’ve cost the council much more to source and install their own benches, their rules meant they couldn’t accept this free and useful offer from enthusiastic citizens. In this example there is the potential for a ‘commons’ but it’s not functioning properly - how can we work with decision-making organisations like local councils to avoid situations like this and create opportunities for people to contribute to the common good? To make ‘commoning’ more easily understandable we will highlight some key things to consider throughout this booklet. A commons ‘thread’ runs across every page from page 12 onwards. We’re sure you will discover your own practical ways of ‘commoning’ by using The Bristol Approach and we would love to hear your stories.


Using the framework The Bristol Approach has six phases. Although not intended as a strict formula, the phases follow one another and there is a natural flow to the process. When you are working through the framework it may not feel entirely linear – and it will probably feel messier than the diagram suggests! In fact, you might notice that you move back into other phases before moving forward. This is all ok and everyone’s journey will be different. Over the next few pages we will outline each phase of the framework, explain its aim, give practical examples of things we did during that phase and share what we learned. We will draw on a project called ‘Dampbusters’ which tackled the problem of damp and mould in rented accommodation in east Bristol.










The Bristol Approach begins by engaging with people, not implementing processes. The first phase of the framework is identifying the issues that people care about and are prepared to give their time and energy to address. This includes mapping out communities, organisations, businesses and other bodies that are affected by the issues and who might be interested in working together towards a solution. Before moving beyond this phase it is important to agree on shared goals (what do you want to achieve together?) and how they will be assessed, as well as considering any funds you might need. Identification in action: 3-4 months; November 2015 to February 2016; focusing on east and south Bristol





• Working with artists to have ‘hotspot conversations’ with residents. This entailed talking to people in places they visit regularly such as tattoo parlours, chicken shops, cafes and nail bars to find out the issues that affect them on a daily basis. • Conducting a broad ‘city-wide network analysis’ to identify groups and organisations working in the area. This included speaking to and visiting local Neighbourhood Partnership meetings, charities, community groups and a range of city council departments. s • Running a networking event in partnership with Bristol HackSpace and ui l tr a University of Bristol, where people could play with sensor technologies, om (fr learn more about The Bristol Approach, and share their interests, s’ n o skills and availability. m

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What we learned: • Be patient and open-minded: identifying issues takes time and requires open, two-way communication. • Collaborate: running a networking event in partnership with other organisations helped us to broaden our networks. • Interact in person: face-to face conversations and visits to groups generated interest in The Bristol Approach, which later rewards will be needed t translated into large numbers of hrou and s e gh o t iv n ut t e participants. h inc t re








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This phase involves exploring the issues in more detail: identifying how technology and data can be utilised to help you achieve your aims, uncovering resources that are already available and can be drawn upon, and noting if there are any gaps in resources or knowledge that need to be filled. Framing in action: 3 months; February to April 2016; focusing on east and south Bristol




• Interrogating the issues by asking three key questions: - How active is the issue? (Are there enough people interested in this area to take action?) - Can sensor technologies and open data help to tackle the issue? - Is the issue realistic in scale? (Could a prototype tool make a real change to the issue by the end of a pilot?) • Exploring selected issues in more detail. The issues we explored through a series of artist led workshops were: damp homes, use of high-streets, and the correlation between city biodiversity and health. It became apparent early on that the issue of damp homes had more momentum and interest than the others. Damp homes contribute to a range of health issues and social stigma, and the perpetuation of poor quality housing stock which is often low in value because the problem is not owned or dealt with. • Contacting and (re)visiting community groups with an interest in the issues, inviting them to a workshop to explore how The Bristol Approach could be applied. • Reviewing existing and missing knowledge. We asked ourselves what we already knew about the issues and if there were any gaps in our knowledge. In the case of damp homes, we involved experts from Open Data Institute and energy and retrofitting specialists to identify the ‘commons tools’ that could help tackle the issue, from sensor technologies to data that was readily available to learn from. Jargon


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What we learned: • Develop and agree criteria to help you choose the issue that will be addressed. For example: is it possible to use or develop technologies to tackle the issue? How pressing is the issue? Think about who is doing the choosing and make the process as inclusive as possible. • Be transparent and set realistic expectations: not all issues can be taken forward or addressed using digital technologies or sensors. It is essential to be transparent about this from the beginning. • Harness energy: creative workshops led by artists can successfully create a buzz around the project and bring a diverse range of people together. It is important to consider ways of maintaining this energy and enabling on-going communication. • Focus on people rather than tech: demystifying terms like ‘data’ during workshops and delaying the introduction of technology creates an environment of transparency and inclusivity where everyone is valued for their knowledge and expertise – whether tech or ‘non-tech’.


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This is the time to create any tools you’ll need to help you tackle the issue, whether it’s collecting data, visualizing it for others to see, or creating physical objects. At this stage you will need to discuss privacy and ownership concerns and agree how the tools you create and the data you collect will be managed. Design in action: 4 months; April to July 2016





• Running a range of activities facilitated by artists including workshops, maker sessions and a ‘hack day’ to maintain energy, agree next steps and support participants to develop their skills. This resulted in the development of a series of damp-busting tools and technical discussions about data infrastructure and licensing. Together, we understood that we needed tech tools to do the following: - Map homes affected by damp to visualise the scale of the problem - Measure temperature and humidity in homes to gain more evidence - Trigger and enable actions: e.g. issue advice or recommendations to a landlord or tenant




• Sharing roles and budgeting together. One volunteer led the making of the sensors, another focused on constructing the cases, and another coordinated the design and development of the online damp map. Participants did a participatory budgeting exercise to decide how ’) or flo to assign resources and time to production and development tasks. low


• Creating tech tools in collaboration with the people who will use them. Through conversations with damp and technology experts and people who have damp at home, we were able to create design briefs for the tools we needed. Together we built a prototype sensor called the Frogbox using ‘open’ technology (Raspberry Pi). Anyone can use the open design to produce the frog-shaped case in a maker space. (See Useful Terms for more on ‘open data’ and tech). We also built an online platform to map damp reports.

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What we learned: • Design requires time and iteration: it’s important to test a basic working prototype of a whole system, rather than perfect each piece in isolation. • Address concerns about the user experience: people responded well to the Frogboxes and were excited at the prospect of having them in their homes. They were less concerned about where their data was being sent than how the issue of damp would be solved. • Find ways to make co-creation work: creative co-designing sessions are good for sharing ideas, but it is often a small number of people who do most of the making. Workshops should be held in the local area so that travel is not a barrier to attendance. Shared online spaces can aid the design process, such as programs that allow you to upload photos, documents and comments. • Involve people with a range of skills: not everyone will want to be physically involved in the designing and making process, but the work still needs to be open and transparent so that anyone can join (“on-board”) at any time.


This phase involves taking the tools back out into the community to be tested. Deployment in action: 2 months; June to July 2016



• Creating an ‘on the ground’ engagement team by developing and maintaining good relationships with energy companies, charities and other organisations in east Bristol. The participants (acting as the ‘commons’) agreed to pay Easton Energy Group (EEG) to work with the homes that were testing the Frogboxes. Five households were involved, having come to the project through EEG, local meetings, and call-outs in the local newsletter. The Frogboxes were deployed for two weeks and the tenants were trained to understand how the technology worked and the data was collected. They also signed a data agreement that was co-created with other members of the ‘commons’. • Developing skills as well as deploying tools. An important aspect of the deployment was to ensure everyone understood how the sensors worked – face to face conversations took place at the beginning and end of the phase. The Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) also trained 16 people to become ‘community damp busters’ and they are now a knowledgeable local team who can share their skills with their neighbours. We held an evaluation dinner where participants could decide how to move forward, which included sharing of the data collected by the Frogboxes and discussions about how we could make the data meaningful and easily understandable. “The Bristol Approach is interesting because it is not just a matter of getting the technology right - it’s taking a much more holistic approach to gathering data and using it.” (workshop participant)

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What we learned: • Establish local partnerships and communication channels: it’s essential to work with local partners who have existing relationships with residents. However, the logistics of coordinating with multiple partners can be tricky and it requires a lead project manager or a very effective communication tool (and it can be hard to agree on one!) • Encourage openness and inclusion: the more we made our resources open and accessible – at workshops and ‘hack days’ – the more others came forward to contribute. Bristol City Council made 10 years of damp report data available, while Bristol Hackspace were inspired by The Bristol Approach and ran an open sensor-making workshop which paired technologists with people who had no technical experience. • Factor in opportunities for skills development: a training programme can run alongside deployment but it is difficult to plan this before the tech tools have been developed. As you build the tools training opportunities become easier to identify. • Consider opportunities for social entrepreneurs: the participant who led the technical development of the Frogbox has been approached to sell them, which demonstrates the opportunities that exist for small businesses when you develop technical solutions in response to local needs. However, these developments raise ownership and licensing concerns that need to be dealt with by the ‘commons’ community.


The penultimate phase aims to draw attention to what has been made (beyond the immediate participants), encourage others to use the tools and data, and celebrate what has been co-created by the ‘commons’. Orchestration in action: 3 months; July to September 2016




• Holding a data ‘hack day’ with data enthusiasts, damp experts, researchers, designers and citizens to explore how bringing different data sets together (including Frogbox data, self-reported damp homes, Bristol City Council health and community data and Land Registry house price information) could help tackle the problem of damp in homes. The aim of the day was to support participants to discover how visualising and mapping data could increase understanding of the issue and enthusiasm to tackle it. • An extended network of participants contributing evidence of damp to Council officers and cooperating with experts to identify the type of damp. The project has encouraged landlords and tenants to work together to collaborate for mutual benefit and move away from a climate of blame and stalemate. • Holding a performance event at the At-Bristol Science Centre and a launch event to celebrate the achievements of the project so far. • Developing a learning programme for schools, including how to make Frogbox sensors, how to read and visualise data, and what data privacy means. “I enjoyed working with people from different backgrounds. There were designers, there were people who work in housing, there were artists, there were students. That was an interesting experience because we all brought something different to the discussion.” (workshop participant) On-



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What we learned: • Use public events to open up new data: as ‘hack days’ are a well-known phenomenon, local authorities and other organisations will often share data to be publicly visualised on these days (and, on occasion, make data sets permanently open beyond this). • Share with a range of stakeholders: ensure that you engage a range of stakeholders, from community activists to businesses to policy makers, explaining how the solutions could be useful to them and help to bring about change. • Celebrate achievements together: marking achievements and thanking individuals, even in small ways, is essential to maintain interest and commitment. • Share the story: picking the right moment to share success stories is key to gaining further support. Although we communicated with people outside the ‘commons’ community throughout the Dampbusters project, we chose to wait until we had a strong body of evidence to illustrate what we’d achieved before we launched a public awareness campaign.






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The final phase involves assessing if and how you have achieved the goals you outlined at the beginning of the process. It also includes rewarding participants for their contributions, finding out what they’ve learned, and sharing insights gained from using the framework. This could lead to creating new solutions to the issue, identifying opportunities for new business, and making changes to the available infrastructure. Outcomes: • The development of shared ‘commons’ tools that can empower communities to tackle the issue of damp homes: - New tools have been co-designed, from the Frogboxes to an online mapping tool. - Open data has been gathered to help us visualise the size of the problem and its correlation with other important factors such as health, house prices, and people’s habits at home. - New networks have been created to extend the reach of the project and involve as many people as possible. - Participants have developed new skills and understanding of hardware, software and data visualisation. - Business opportunities have emerged, demonstrating that a ‘commons-based’ approach can support the development of local enterprises that respond to citizens’ needs.





• The Bristol Approach is being shared and recognized through a variety of local, national and international channels. We hope that sharing these findings will both help others to see the potential of the Approach and anticipate some of the challenges involved in running large-scale ‘smart city’ programmes with communities, so they can take steps to make their work and cities more collaborative.


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What we learned: • Share your knowledge: it’s important to reflect on the work that has been done and consider how what you’ve learned can help you develop future programmes. This includes identifying areas of improvement. • ‘The commons’ can sound complicated: it can be challenging to explain the ‘commons’ and demonstrate how using The Bristol Approach can benefit cities and citizens. It’s vital to understand any barriers that exist to understanding and taking part – and work through them together. • Consider rewards and incentives for participants: what would encourage people to remain involved? Do they want to see a return on the time they’ve invested? • Understand the impact: record how your work impacts others outside the immediate participants to illustrate the benefits of using a ‘commons’ approach. For example, did the work lead to changes in policy? Are people more aware of the issue? • Scale up: make contact with other cities and become part of a wider ‘movement’ to support citizens to design the future of their city. This not only raises the profile of your work but enables learning from others too.


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“The Bristol Approach comes at the problem from the citizen’s point of view, and gives old tools and approaches new life.” (participant) By using The Bristol Approach we have seen how successful this way of working can be in creating positive change, led by the people who want to see it happen. We hope our story inspires you to take steps to make your city or initiative ‘smarter’ for everyone. Reflections on The Bristol Approach: Tech is only a small part of making citizen sensing work - in fact, it can be really helpful to remember that we are all human sensors, registering information all the time. A citizen sensing project requires a wide range of skills and expertise, well beyond data and programming skills. De-mystifying big concepts like tech, data and collaborative design and providing opportunities for people to learn new skills can help increase confidence and the ability to create change themselves. The framework can directly impact on city services, infrastructure and new models of community action and business development.

Reflections on the vision of the ‘commons’: The idea of the ‘commons’ is the engine that drives The Bristol Approach. When it is clearly defined and its guiding principles explained, the ‘commons’ can act as a motivating force that incorporates contributions from lots of different people.


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Reflections on the tools: There are a lot of great open source tools out there, but they’re not necessarily the right ones to aid the process of ‘commoning’. More work needs to be done to create digital tools that enable ‘commons’ action groups to form, communicate, organise, and make decisions together, as well as map, visualise and make sense of citizen generated data. ‘Commoning’ would also benefit from access to templates and guidance about how to create new ‘commons’ structures, including tips on governance, creative commons licensing, open data licensing and open standards. “Anything that’s going to create change needs to be built on what people actually need and it’s only by getting to know them and understanding what it’s like to live in their shoes that you can say ‘ok, well actually this is what we really need to do.’” (workshop participant)

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Smart city: the smart city is a big idea in urban development, where digital technologies and infrastructure are built into the design and running of our cities. For example, alongside water and gas pipes are high speed internet cables and sensing technologies. Data: raw information. People often think of numbers, facts or statistics, but ‘data’ can also be applied to resources, conversations and imagery. Data can be analysed and interpreted to find meaning. Open data: open data is created to be accessible. That means it’s stored somewhere that other people can access it (e.g. online or in a public library), in a digital format that other people can use (e.g. a spreadsheet), and is licensed in a way that means it can be used by others (e.g. available for public, commercial and/or non-commercial use, and not copyrighted). Citizen: essentially, a citizen is a person who lives in a place. It has recently come to mean someone who actively takes part in a community. Citizen-producer: someone who contributes to the data that is placed in the ‘commons’ for others to use, access and benefit from. What defines them as a citizen-producer is an awareness and ownership of: what they’re producing (I’m giving readings about the temperature in my living room); why they’re producing it (I’m doing it so we can try to solve damp in rented housing); where it’s going (My data is going to the server at the community centre); who can use it and under what terms (I’ve licensed my data for non-profits only). Sensor: a sensor is a thing that senses, usually by counting or measuring. There are sensors that can record temperature, movement, light, sound, moisture, and particulates in the air. The data can be used to give us information about a range of things, from air quality and crowd density to how efficient our washing machine is. 1/9/9


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This booklet records Knowle West Media Centre’s first use, or iteration, of The Bristol Approach framework. Every new use of the framework will reveal more learning. This booklet is not intended as a ‘fixed’ document, but as a provocation and a starting point for you to begin your own journey. We would love to hear more about your experiences and are happy to answer your questions. Please contact us on 0117 903 0444 or



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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 691735

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