Bringing Intellectual Fire Power to Bear on our City Challenges

Last Friday (29 March) saw the inaugural Bristol Forum taking place in City Hall. The Forum marks an innovative new collaboration between the Bristol City Office, University of Bristol (UoB) and University of the West of England (UWE), and aims to advance the problem-solving capacity of our city. With cooperation at its heart, the daylong event was co-created by a Collaborative Design Group comprised of organisations including Power to Change, Creative Youth Network, Babbasa, We the Curious, Bristol Health Partners, Bristol Green Capital Partnership, Voscur, Care Forum and Black South West Network, working alongside the City Office, UoB and UWE.

Attended by almost 200 people from across academia, the business, third, and public sectors, the Forum brought together research and creative approaches to address challenges relevant to the city and its communities, set out by the One City Approach. The programme saw sessions taking place across the day, with each session seeing academics collaborating positively with a wide range of city leaders to explore themes that are central to the goals set out in the One City Plan [hyperlink]. Topics tabled for discussion ranged from high level city wide initiatives to more focussed interventions. Discussions included improving the city’s air quality, new approaches to talking violence and abuse, education and social mobility, economic inclusion, and the role of communities and universities in developing solutions, to name just a few. We hope that the Forum will be an annual opportunity to share solutions, ideas and constructive challenge.

It is clear that Bristol City Council acting in isolation is unable to achieve the aims set out in the One City Plan. The Forum marks the perfect example of the One City model of working – coming together to collaboratively explore creative solutions to long term challenges. For me, the Forum is about bringing the intellectual fire power of our City Region’s two world class universities to bear on our city challenges. Most importantly, it is also about ensuring that the policy decisions we make as a city are underpinned by a clear evidence base.

Examples of the civic university are seen in the United States where universities play an important role in tackling problems of the cities in which they are based. The Bristol Forum provides Bristol’s Universities with a platform to engage in the national debate about this topic and demonstrate the role they can play in local policy making and problem solving. Professor Robin Hambleton, a key pioneer of the civic university model and Chair of the Bristol Forum planning group recently wrote an article on this theme, which is available to read here. I look forward to the next Bristol Forum and the positive influence that wide-reaching city collaboration continues to play in building a city of hope and ambition where everyone benefits from Bristol’s success.

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