Morag McDermont: City Fellowship Progress Report January 2021

1.Developing collaborative infrastructures for social justice 

In my first City Fellowship report I referred to the conclusions from the Productive Margins research programme : that to engage communities at the margins generally excluded from structures of power and decision-making we need to support and maintain an ‘experientially sensitive’ infrastructure of community-focused organisations working in collaboration with local universities and local government.  

IN this last period I have completed a paper with colleagues Bronwen Morgan (University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia) and Tehseen Noorani (Durham University, UK) ‘Collaborative Infrastructures for Social Justice’ which develops this idea. A copy is available here (or, if this does not work, by contacting me on 

2. Communities in Focus – harnessing the potential of community-generated data 

2.1 Wellspring Settlement Research: community response to Covod-19 pandemic

With the support of UoB research was carried out by Wellspring Settlement to capture the impact of its support during lockdown on those using its services. The research and reports are available here. 

2.2 Exploring the potential of the Wellspring Settlement Focus database

With funding from an Office for Students grant, student researchers are working with Wellspring Settlement to explore innovative ways in which community-generated data can be used to inform new initiatives and policy interventions within the city. The second phase of this project will explore the potential for the database being adopted more broadly across the City in order to build up comprehensive, comparable information about the needs and attributes of the city’s diverse communities. Having explored with staff of WS how they use the database and how they ideally would like to develop data use, the next stage will be for researchers to interview service users of Wellspring Settlement. These interviews will explore the extent to which data already collected can demonstrate the social value of residents coming together in multi-service environments such as WS and other community anchor organisations. With this residents’ perspective we will be able to make recommendations as to how the Focus database can be utilised and developed to support community-driven service delivery.

3.Working with the One City Economy Board

One of the aims of the City Fellowships has been to work with the City Office to bring the experience and expertise of communities at the margins of city decision-making into the One City Plan processes.  

3.1 In Sept 2020 comments were provided to the City Office to the draft Bristol One City Economic Recovery and Renewal Plan, which can be found here. In this it was argued that the draft Plan lacked a sense of the diverse communities that make up the city of Bristol and the differing ways in which the Covid-19 crisis has played out in different neighbourhoods and different communities. The effect is to produce a plan that feels it is for the businesses of Bristol and not the citizens and communities of Bristol.” The knowledge held by community anchor organisations about these diverse communities needs to be engaged in future reworkings of the Plan 

3.2 Following discussions at the October 2020 Social Justice Project, Anya Mulcahy-Bowman and I have been working with Nick Sturge, a member of the One City Economy Board, to develop proposals for ‘Recovering from Coronavirus – tackling unemployment -a joined-up approach’ (see Anya’s report for more detail). Our draft paper is currently being considered by the Chair and Vice-chair of the Economy Board.

4.Locality/Social Justice Project Research Project

Many Neighbourhoods, One City: Co-creating Collaborative Decision-Making

Following on from a paper brought to the December meeting of the Social Justice Project by Locality, funding has been secured from the University of Bristol Strategic Research Fund for a 6 month research project co-designed with Locality. Work will begin on this research in February 2021. 

Project Summary 

Building strategies based on knowledge of Bristol’s diverse communities is key to enabling a socially just pandemic recovery. The overall aim of this project is to work with the One City Approach to bring about a resetting of decision-making processes in the city so that the knowledge, experience and expertise of the city’s communities and neighbourhoods, as embedded in the Community Anchor organisations, becomes a central element. 

The project begins with a mapping or sense-making exercise that would establish what is already happening on the ground. Stage 2 would focus down on three communities/ neighbourhoods to identify the key matters of concern and to explore tangible and concrete examples of how these concerns are being tackled by CAOs and other voluntary organisations in those communities. Stage 3 would explore possible iterations and experimentations of these concrete examples, seeking to understand their potential for translation and mutation across the city, thus creating a framework for future action and research. 

Whilst we do not want to be specific about outputs or impacts as our central methodology is one of co-production, we see the project producing change in two directions: 

  1. Develop principles, processes and practices that can provide a roadmap for future city decision-making based on the experiences and knowledge of co-production and co-creation identified across practice and research;
  2. Provide a framework for a comprehensive UoB research programme that can support this roadmap that is collaboratively co-produced with communities in the city. 

Morag McDermont 

Bristol City Fellow/31st January 2021 

Morag McDermont: Update September 2020

Portrait of Morag McDermont: a smiling lady in her 40's with long brown and grey hair tied in a bun.Before setting up the City Fellows programme, Helen Manchester and I were working on a 5 year programme of co-produced research with community organisations, Productive MarginsOne of the main conclusions for me from this work was the following: that to engage communities at the margins generally excluded from structures of power and decision-making we need to support and maintain an experientially sensitive infrastructure of community-focused organisations working in collaboration with local universities and local government. (You can find more in the final chapter of the book the team produced, Imagining Regulation Differently. We used the (rather clumsy) term ‘experientially sensitive’ to denote the idea that expertise derived from everyday experience is an essential form of knowledge and practice that needs to be central to structures of power and decision-making. 

 Communities in Focus – harnessing the potential of community-generated data

With this concern for infrastructure came an interest in the role and potentialities of data generated by and in communities. Data is an essential part of infrastructures in the same way as communication and transport systems are. The project aims to make community-generated data more productive – making data flow in ways that enable the experiential expertise of communities to intervene and influence city governance. 

At the instigation of Wellspring Settlement, the project set out to i) explore innovative ways in which community-generated data can be used to inform new initiatives and policy interventions within the city, and ii) explore the potential for the database being adopted more broadly across the City in order to build up comprehensive, comparable information about the needs and attributes of the city’s diverse communities. 

The Coronavirus context

When Wellspring Settlement was appointed one of Bristol’s community hubs to respond to community needs in the current Covid-19 crisis the direction of data flows shifted slightlyFrom just before lockdown WS set up a survey to engage with those in the local Lawrence Hill Community, alongside those who access their services across East Bristol, to gather information about community needs during the Coronavirus pandemic. The intention was to give the Settlement real time and ongoing community information to inform how the hub services should be developed and as empirical evidence to lobby for the area with the City Council and others. The Settlement asked for help in analysing data, to devise and implement data collection methods into the future and to produce reports. Over the spring and summer of 2020 myself, a research associate Jack Nicholls, and three student researchers Gwen Brown, Nia Jones and Judith Kibuye, produced a series of reports  (available on the Wellspring Settlement and City Fellows website). 

However, one limitation of the survey as a tool for collecting data is the respondents to the survey do not reflect ethnic mix of the Lawrence Hill area nor the mix of communities who engage with the Settlement. This is an important learning point for a project that seeks to use the power of community-generated data, and important to reflect back to policy-makers who very often place great weight on seemingly large-scale survey information.   

The project to realise the potential of the Wellspring Settlement database and the potential for data collection across the city is now about to begin, with resources for more student researchers and a research associate funded through a successful UoB grant bid to the Office for Students One of the aims of this project is to generate data that can feed into Bristol’s future-looking One City Plan, data that arises from the communities of Lawrence Hill and the wider communities that engage in the Wellspring SettlementA longer-term aim of this project is to explore the potential for the database – or similar approaches to community-generated data collection – to be brought into play across the City. 

Alongside this data project, I and others in the University of Bristol are now working on a project with Locality South West to look at the future for the infrastructure of community organisations in the City 

Challenges and Opportunities

The Locality Research 

Locality has just launched a research report which shows the importance of existing social infrastructure and community resources that have been built up over time: including community assets, local services, volunteer capacity, partnerships and networks. The aims for their future work are: 

  • To demonstrate to policymakers that community organisations have the answers to the big challenges they are trying to solve 
  • To demonstrate the essential role of community organisations in the coronavirus/post coronavirus context. 
  • To set out path/recommendations for strengthening and harnessing the power of community organisations as a response to big social and economic challenges we are facing and will face 
  • To support the power of community brand campaign to champion the community organisation model. 

Locality SW have proposed that UoB bring its research potential to work with a collaboration of local community anchors to looking to developing an ‘invest-able proposition’ to put to the City, Region and communities to take them forward for the next 10-15 years which would 

  • Examine the consequences of recession: exponentially increased needs in communities alongside dramatic depletion in community organisations’ resources  
  • Rethink financial models  
  • Examine the opportunities and challenges of mergers and partnerships  

Priorities for moving forward

  • to establish a working brief for the community anchors project with Locality which enables UoB research resources to complement the expertise and knowledge of Locality members to shape strategy-making in the City  
  • bringing others in UoB into the collaboration – the work so far has been in collaboration with others in UoB, particularly Malu Villela-Garcia and Martin Parker of Inclusive Economies Institute  
  • possibly identify another City for comparative study/to enable cross-fertilisation of ideas 
  • to identify connections and linkages with other City Fellows work  
  • to work with the Social Justice Projects as advisers and reflectors to take this forward