The Bristol Civic Leadership Project is a research collaboration between the University of the West of England and the University of Bristol, and is supported by Bristol City Council. It commenced in 2012, prompted by the introduction of a mayoral system of governance in the city, and has received funding from the Economic and Social Research Council, and Bristol City Council. It has led to the production of policy-focused reports and academic outputs, and enabled the researchers involved to contribute to a variety of events in Bristol and beyond. We are currently, winter 2019/20, analysing data from survey research carried out in late 2018 and carrying out interviews with a number of civic leaders to round out our understanding of the latest developments. We plan to publish a third policy report, following up on our 2012 and 2015 reports, in early 2020.
The project is guided by two broad aims:
- To assess the difference the introduction of a directly elected mayor makes to city governance;
- To ensure that the mayoral system works to maximise benefits and avoid disadvantages.
To address these aims we are carrying out a ‘before and after’, longitudinal evaluation of the governance of the city, and have run surveys of the public and of Bristol’s stakeholders, held focus groups and workshops, conducted interviews and contributed in different ways to public debates on city leadership.
We hope that such evidence will have value, not just in assisting local learning in the context of the City of Bristol, but also in providing insights that could be useful to other cities or city regions contemplating leadership change. Our intention is that the findings of this research will be of interest to central government and others interested in improving the effectiveness of local governance.
Throughout the project we have worked closely with various stakeholders in Bristol to learn from their experience of changing the governance of the city and to contribute ideas drawn from research on other cities. This involves a method in which the researchers engage with those involved in the reform effort to help the process of discovery and lesson drawing. We are grateful to Voscur and Business West for their support, as well as all the individuals – councillors, people working in public, private, and third sectors, members of community groups, and individual members of the public for their time.
The project applies ideas relating to place-based leadership that have been developed over many years by the researchers involved from projects funded by bodies such as the Economic and Social Research Council, the Nuffield Foundation, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and the European Commission. It is very much guided by the ethos of ‘engaged scholarship’; that universities can and should engage with the issues surrounding them in an attempt to bring about positive change.