What is the Bristol Approach?

The Bristol Approach is people-led and issue-led. Rather than pushing pre-determined ‘tech solutions’ onto people, The Bristol Approach provides a set of tools and a way of working that helps different groups – from councils and businesses, to schools and community organisations – to tackle the pressing issues in their community.

It does this by using a range of sensors – usually a mix of new and old technology – and meshing it with the wider resources and knowhow that already exists in that community.

Illustration of girl showing an elderly man how to use the Air Quality sensor

The Bristol Approach believes 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.

The Commons

At the heart of The Bristol Approach is the idea of the ‘commons’. The Bristol Approach stems from a belief that the city is a place of abundance where so many resources, skills, tools and knowledge already exist. Instead of reinventing the wheel, the Approach asks:

  • How can we work together to use what’s already in our cities and connect the right people to create new resources that will address what’s missing?
  • How can we ensure new technologies, tools and systems work for the common good?

“The Bristol Approach comes at the problem from the citizen’s point of view, and gives old tools and approaches new life.” (participant) Photographer: Ibolya Feher

How does it work?

The Bristol Approach comprises a six-step framework:


identifying the key issue you want to address and the change that you want to bring about.


looking at the issue in more detail and exploring how you could harness the power of technology and data to address it.


creating any tools you’ll need to help you gather data or understand the issue further.


testing the tools in a ‘real world’ environment.


sharing the tools and data with others and celebrating what you’ve achieved!


Evaluating whether you’ve achieved your goals.

How does it work?

The Bristol Approach comprises a six-step framework:

Using the framework

You can move through all of the six phases of The Approach or use it to focus on the most relevant aspects that fit your needs and priorities. For example, you might be interested in learning how to:

  • find out what issues are affecting your area and how they could be ‘sensed’
  • work with people to develop new sensing technologies • develop skills around data and sensing
  • make sense of data through storytelling and visualisation The Bristol Approach can help! The team at Knowle West Media Centre also offer a range of workshops and consultation options to support you.

Find out more about how we could work with you HERE and take a look at projects that have used The Bristol Approach HERE.

What makes it Bristol’s Approach?

Bristol has a long history of innovation, civic action and creativity. In 2017 the city was named the leading UK ‘smart city’ in the UK Smart Cities Index (commissioned by Huawei).

Bristol is also home to Knowle West Media Centre, an arts organisation and charity that supports people to make positive changes in their lives and communities by using the power of digital technology and the arts. KWMC are Bristol’s Living Lab and part of the European Network of Living Labs (ENOLL).

Working with innovation company Ideas for Change and Bristol City Council, KWMC crafted The Bristol Approach based on the latest ‘smart cities’ research and insights from a 20-year history of supporting people to shape their communities. In 2017 The Bristol Approach was awarded an URBACT Good Practice award for sustainable urban development, shortlisted for a NextGen Digital Challenge award, and highlighted as a key ‘area of focus’ in Bristol’s entry in the UK Smart Cities Index.

Illustration of people carrying out friendly protest

“A Living Lab Is a place where citizens, artists, technologists, businesses and public sector organisations can come together to co-create ideas, tools and technologies that will address local challenges.” – Penny Evans, Knowle West Media Centre, Bristol’s Living Lab


At the heart of The Bristol Approach is the idea of the ‘commons’ – find out more about it here.

We are Bristol’s Living Lab – access the Living Lab Methodology handbook here.

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