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The Bristol Approach to Citizen Sensing

A new framework for running inclusive, community-driven digital projects that involve sensor technologies.

Bristol has an innovative and expanding digital industry and was recently ranked as one of the top two cities in the UK Smart Cities Index (2016), which described the city as a ‘leader in open data access, energy innovation, and imaginative forms of community engagement.’

Working with Ideas for Change and Bristol City Council, we have developed The Bristol Approach: a way of working that ensures that new ‘smart city’ technologies address the needs and priorities of the people who will use them, particularly in communities that are in danger of ‘being left behind” or excluded.

We believe that using the methods of The Bristol Approach will enable technologists, businesses, artists and local people to work together to address relevant community issues using digital tools, creating a ‘smart city’ with ‘smart citizens’ at its heart.

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The Approach is a guide to delivering projects that use sensor technologies.  These projects can range from gathering and sharing data in order to monitor radiation levels in the environment to using applications that augment a mobile phone (using its existing functions to expand what it’s technically capable of).  However, the principles of the Approach are relevant to other projects too.

Below are several examples of current and previous KWMC projects that utilise new technologies to meet local needs:

Girls Making History: supporting a group of young women to develop prototypes for digital tools that can be used to raise awareness of partner violence in teen relationships.

IES Cities: creating a series of apps that meet local needs and use open data (such as the locations of trees and air quality) and information uploaded by local people, such as photographs and polls.

3eHouses: using ‘smart metres’ to monitor electricity usage in local homes and working with an artist to visualise the information in creative, fun and accessible ways.

The Junior Digital Producer Programme: supporting young people to develop skills in data visualisation and coding as they work with communities to deliver a project that has a positive social impact.

Read more about The Bristol Approach

The Story So Far…

In early 2016, we worked with artists Paul Hurley and Caleb Parkin and communities across Bristol to identify issues that people were passionate about tackling:

  • Private tenants and advocacy groups reported damp problems in homes
  • Independent traders said they found it difficult to predict customer flow and numbers
  • Wildlife groups were keen to measure the biodiversity of parks and green spaces, to demonstrate the health of the local ecosystem and protect it in the future

Diverse groups of residents, artists, technologists, makers and activists are forming around these issues. Together, they’re following the six steps of The Bristol Approach (shown below) to investigate if sensors or other sensing technologies could be used to gather relevant data and tackle the issues.

The Framework

The Bristol Approach framework contains three phases and three sets of actions and it has been structured to ensure that community technology programmes are driven by issues that are relevant to local needs and take place at community level, with local people actively involved in design, testing and evaluation.

The three phases are:


The three sets of actions are


This is explained in the diagram below.

The Bristol Approach

Find out more

For more detailed information about the framework download The Bristol Approach booklet.

If your community has an issue or challenge that you think sensor technology could help to tackle, please contact Makala on 0117 903 0444.  If you are interested in working with us to develop technical solutions or manufacture casings for new sensor technologies please contact Carolyn.

Contact Us

Knowle West Media Centre
Leinster Avenue
Knowle West
+44 (0) 117 903 0444

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