Aligning Bristol’s One City Plan with the SDGs
The City of Bristol in the United Kingdom has pledged its support to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and has worked to identify alignment between the Goals and the recently launched One City Plan. A mapping exercise was undertaken to identify a framework for monitoring progress against the targets embedded in both the One City Plan and the SDGs. This project was part of the LDA-SI 2018-2019 microgrant program.
Written by Sean Fox and Allan Macleod, University of Bristol. Editing by Sandra Ruckstuhl, Jessica Espey, and Jay Neuner. Design by Micha Dugan, Ryan Swaney, and Jay Neuner.
The City of Bristol in the United Kingdom has pledged its support to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and has worked to identify alignment between the Goals and the recently launched One City Plan. This plan articulates a vision for the city and a set of explicit targets to be achieved by 2050. Alignment with the goals was achieved through a 12-month partnership between the University of Bristol, Bristol City Council, and two key networks of stakeholders. Through this process, a mapping exercise was undertaken to identify a framework for monitoring progress against the targets embedded in both the One City Plan and the SDGs.
This process highlighted obstacles such as the paucity of local-level indicators that matched the official indicators of the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDG) and the limited relevance of some official IAEG-SDG indicators to city-level monitoring. A methodology was developed to assess the relevance of target areas and to identify contextually-relevant local indicators and proxies to assess progress. This involved consulting city council experts, partner organizations, civic leaders, and academics, and has helped increase resources with which key Bristol institutions can engage to understand the SDGs at the local level.
Bristol is a thriving U.K. city experiencing strong economic growth1. It is also widely seen as the UK’s most sustainable city and was awarded the status of European Green Capital in 2015. The city has a diverse and nationally-renowned cultural, arts, and music scene, and is frequently voted one of the best places to live in the U.K.2 and even the world3. Yet Bristol faces challenges: There are around 300 premature deaths a year due to poor air quality; the disparity in access to higher education is almost 80 percent between local government wards; 19,700 (24 percent) of all Bristol’s children live in income-deprived households; nearly 16 percent of the population live in parts of the city that are in the top 10 percent of most deprived of areas in England; and the gap in life expectancy between some wards is as large as 12 years4.
In an effort to develop a more coherent and joined-up approach to tackling these challenges against the backdrop of a prolonged program of budget cuts imposed by central government, the city embarked on a major new strategic planning initiative and reform of governance structures.
The result was Bristol’s One City Plan5 (Box 1) and new governance arrangements designed to improve coordination between units within the Council, and between the Council and key stakeholders in the city.
This reform moment offered a unique opportunity to align the city’s strategic One City Plan with the SDGs and develop a harmonized monitoring framework to track progress against both. However, while there was political will both within the Mayor’s Office and among many external stakeholders to integrate the SDGs into the One City Plan and in a planned “city dashboard,” there was insufficient capacity and expertise to achieve this. Lack of capacity was compounded by the complexities of monitoring the SDGs locally, for which there was limited freely available guidance. Aside from the IAEG-SDG indicators (many of which are irrelevant to cities6) there is an ever-expanding number of city sustainability metrics, but none map perfectly to the IAEG-SDG indicator framework7.
In sum, Bristol faced the challenge of aligning a locally-developed strategic plan with the SDGs and establishing a harmonized framework for monitoring progress against the backdrop of acute resource and capacity constraints.
Box 1. Bristol’s One City Plan
In January 2019 Bristol launched the first iteration of the One City Plan, outlining the following vision:
By 2050, Bristol is a fair, healthy, and sustainable city. A city of hope and aspiration, where everyone can share in its success.
The One City Plan was championed by the mayor and the city council and developed through extensive consultation, including five “city gatherings” with key city leaders across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors; over 30 engagement events with more than 300 attendees from all sectors of society; and weekly drop-in sessions over the course of a year for residents, stakeholders, and civil servants to share their opinions on how the plan should develop. The resulting document is meant to reflect the city’s collective direction of progress and the current ideas as to how to move there. However, while it is intended to be a strategic document, it is not meant to be static. The aim is to annually update the plan through iterative consultation to be responsive to shifting priorities, challenges, and political change. The plan is organized around six core themes: Connectivity, Economy, Environment, Health and Well-being, Homes and Communities, Learning and Skills. These are not to be understood in isolation, but rather as interconnected. A systems thinking approach embedded in the plan encourages leaders from these areas to understand and consider the implications that their policies and decisions have on other themes and objectives for the city. By considering the interrelations and interactions within the plan in a holistic manner, decision-makers are better able improve positive interactions and reduce the negative. This inherent interrelatedness of the plan lends itself to the application of the SDGs.
Our solution to these challenges involved three steps: (1) establishing knowledge partnerships, (2) target mapping, and (3) indicator identification and harmonization.
The first obstacle to overcome was the lack of capacity and expertise needed to align the developing One City Plan with the SDGs and establish a harmonized monitoring framework. This was overcome through a unique partnership between the University of Bristol, Bristol City Council, and two networks. The first, Bristol Green Capital Partnership, is a well established network of over 800 organizations committed to “working towards Bristol becoming a sustainable city with a high-quality of life for all.” The second is a more recently established stakeholder network known as the Bristol SDG Alliance (Box 2), devoted explicitly to promoting the implementation and monitoring of the SDGs locally.
Box 2. The Bristol SDG Alliance
The Alliance is a network of 70-plus stakeholders from across Bristol who are interested in driving the Sustainable Development Goals in Bristol. Established at the start of 2016 after meetings to consider how the SDGs could be applied in Bristol, the Alliance incorporates members from public, private, and third sector organizations, including groups that focus on all three aspects of sustainable development (economic, environmental, and social). The Alliance has been involved in local, regional, and national advocacy for the uptake of the SDGs more broadly and it has been key in leveraging resource to develop SDG activity in Bristol8.
These partnerships helped to establish the capacity needed to undertake a target mapping exercise. By applying the tool outlined in “Hacking the SDGs for US Cities”9, which provides a methodology for understanding the SDG targets and the IAEG-SDG indicators in the context of a city, we identified a sub-set of 75 relevant targets and 50 relevant indicators for Bristol.
The final step involved identifying specific indicators that could be used to monitor objectives set out in the One City Plan and the SDGs. This involved a wide-ranging review of existing city monitoring frameworksand the identification of specific indicators that overlapped with both One City Plan objectives and the SDGs. This has been complemented by ongoing consultation with City Council teams responsible for delivering these objectives and with the city’s data team to identify what data are actually available. While this process is not complete as of this writing, the final result will be a set of indicators suitable for monitoring both locally defined priorities and the SDGs.
Building Knowledge Partnerships
The formation of strategic partnerships began in 2016 when the Bristol SDG Alliance submitted a proposal to the University of Bristol for a graduate student research project. A group of students was tasked with conducting an initial assessment of the relevance of the goals to the city and a survey of local SDG initiatives. As a result of this report and increased interest in understanding the SDGs in the context of Bristol, the Alliance and the Bristol Green Capital Partnership teamed up with an academic at the university to apply for funding to pursue further local implementation through the creation of an SDG Research and Engagement Associate (“Associate”) position; this aimed to provide increased capacity for the University of Bristol, the City Council, and the Bristol Green Capital Partnership to engage with the SDGs. This full-time paid position was funded for 12 months from the university’s Strategic Research Fund. Follow-on funding to extend the post for six months in order to produce a Voluntary Local Review (VLR) was subsequently secured from the University’s Economic and Social Research Council Impact Acceleration Account. The Associate position was filled through a competitive recruitment process.
The Associate was tasked with supporting coordination among stakeholders in the Alliance in collaboration with the Bristol Green Capital Partnership and serving as an embedded advocate for the SDGs within the City Council. The creation of this post was particularly important for the City Council as it added dedicated capacity to explore integrating the SDGs into planning and monitoring processes at a time of wide-ranging budget cuts.
The Associate began by reviewing existing academic and practitioner literature on SDG localization, including those produced by the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments. The next step involved consulting with members of the Alliance and city partners (including Bristol’s European Union Office). The online publication of a report outlining Bristol’s growing engagement with the SDGs10, which coincided with the 2018 High-level Political Forum, as well as blog posts and social media activity helped increase awareness of the work being done in Bristol and led to new international contacts and knowledge sharing opportunities. Over the course of 12 months, we received invitations to attend workshops and conferences where we were able to learn from other cities undertaking similar initiatives at the time, such as Baltimore, Manheim, Malmö, Hannover, Los Angeles, New York, San José, Mexico City, Bogotá, and Nairobi.
The insights gained from this research, consultation, and networking were used to provide direct advice and support to the City Council team working on developing the One City Plan. The result was successful alignment of locally generated goals with the SDGs.
As the One City Plan was being developed, the Associate undertook a mapping exercise with colleagues from the City Office team, the Council data team and the thematic leads from the One City Plan to assess the local relevance of SDG targets. There were two mapping stages: First, the “Hacking the SDGs” methodology developed at the Urban Institute11 was adapted and applied to assess the relevance of the SDG targets to Bristol. A target was deemed relevant if city leaders could directly influence progress through public policies, programs and initiatives. Generally, there were three reasons why a target was deemed irrelevant: (1) if the target focused on or was limited to developing or least developed countries, (2) if the target explicitly referenced laws or policies at higher levels of government, or (3) if the target addressed sustainable development issues that occur outside urban contexts. This process, which was undertaken early in the development of the One City Plan, identified 75 SDG targets relevant for Bristol.
Second, we identified SDG targets that were relevant to the specific objectives articulated in the final One City Plan, which contains 558 initiatives, objectives, and milestones—many of which were adapted directly from the SDGs or aligned to the SDGs. This exercise yielded a set of 79 targets that were directly relevant to the plan and contained most, but not all, of the 75 targets that the “Hacking the SDGs” method had identified as relevant to Bristol. The discrepancy between the research methodology and the applied target mapping can largely be attributed to a more expansive interpretation of the SDG targets in the second round of mapping.
One such example is SDG target 9.c: “Significantly increase access to information and communications technology [ICT] and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.” Our initial mapping excluded this target for Bristol because it refers explicitly to “least developed countries.” However, there is a big digital divide within Bristol, and addressing this by improving broadband access in social housing is one of the objectives in the One City Plan. While Bristol cannot monitor progress on expanding ICT in least developed countries, it can and should monitor and report on progress in addressing its own digital divide in the spirit of the SDG’s underlying principle of “leave no one behind.”
In sum, an initial mapping using the “Hacking the SDGs” approach identified 75 locally relevant SDGs targets that could be monitored, while the second mapping against the final One City Plan yielded a slightly different set of 79 locally relevant targets when a more expansive interpretation of the goals was applied. Although the final monitoring framework has yet to be finalised, this latter set is likely to form the basis for Bristol’s efforts to monitor progress against both local priorities and the SDGs.
Indicator Identification and Harmonization
Having conducted a mapping of targets, the final step was to identify specific indicators that were suitable for monitoring the One City Plan objectives alongside the SDGs. This was done through consultation with the city’s data team, as well as a survey of existing city data frameworks used elsewhere in the world. The objective was to develop a harmonized indicator framework that allows us to monitor progress towards locally-defined goals and the SDGs in a way that also facilitates comparison with other cities around the world.
Using the Greene and Meixell methodology for identifying suitable city-level indicators, we identified 50 out of the 244 that were relevant for Bristol. We arrived at this figure by discounting all IAEG-SDG indicators linked to targets that had been found irrelevant in Step 2 and reviewing the remainder, many of which were irrelevant because of their national or international focus. For example, while Target 13.1 (“Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate related hazards”) is certainly relevant for the city, two of the three associated indicators are inappropriate due to their national and international scope.
To fill gaps in our indicator framework, we then turned our focus to the ever-growing number of alternative urban indicator frameworks, many of which have been mapped onto the SDGs. To generate ideas about the best indicators for Bristol, we compared the most popular indictor frameworks to identify overlaps, omissions, and synergy with the One City Plan objectives and the SDGs (see Table 1).
This overlap assessment provided us with an extra set of common urban sustainability indicators, often filling gaps left in the IAEG-SDG indicators (e.g. Gini coefficient, Average Daily Travel time, and square meters of public indoor/outdoor recreation space per capita). These additional 58 indicators were added to the 50 SDG indicators previously identified to form the basis for our monitoring framework.
Our final step was to assess the availability of data through consultation with the City Council’s data experts. Potential sources include council plans and documents, Bristol’s “Quality of life” survey, the “State of Bristol” documents, and the Bristol Open Data platform. Many of these indicators mapped well onto the targets for the city or filled in the gaps where SDG indicators were not relevant. In a handful of cases, we drafted our own alternative indicators where no suitable precedent was found (Table 2). The wording of these was designed (a) to be suitable to the city scale, and (b) to reflect the fact that progress is not necessarily the sole responsibility of city governments by referring to “policies or initiatives.”
Using the SDG targets that had been mapped onto local priority aims, proxy measurements were developed in place of irrelevant or unrecorded IAEG-SDG indicators. Using the indicators that local experts were already monitoring and that the city was already assessing made it easier to understand the progress the city was making towards the SDGs through indirect measures. The final proposal is provided in Annex A.
Table 1. Alternative Indicators to Monitor Specific Targets
|Indicator Framework||Number of Indicators||Number of Cities|
|World Council on City Data ISO 3712013||100||79+|
|United Smart Cities Smart Sustainable Cities14||90||50+|
|IESCE Cities in motion index15||79||180|
|SDSN U.S.A. Cities Index16||44||100|
|Arcadis Sustainable Cities17||32||100|
|Indicators for Sustainbility18||32||11|
|UN-Habitat City Prosperity Index19||25||400|
|Urban Ecosystem Europe20||25||32|
The indicator frameworks assessed including the number of indicators they contain and the number of cities that are currently monitored by these frameworks.
Table 2. Alternative Indicators to Monitor Specific Targets
|SDG Target||Alternative Indicator|
|5.6 Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences||Have new policies or initiatives been implemented in Bristol to improve access to sexual and reproductive health care?|
|5.c Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels||Have new policies or initiatives been implemented to improve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in Bristol?|
|13.2 Integrate climate change measures into (national) policies, strategies and planning||Have new climate change policies or initiatives been introduced by city stakeholders?|
|15.9 By 2020, integrate ecosystem and biodiversity values into national and local planning, development processes, poverty reduction strategies and accounts||Have new ecosystem and biodiversity values been integrated into planning processes or development initiatives in Bristol?|
|17.17 Encourage and promote effective public, public-private, and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships||Have new public, public-private and civil society partnerships formed in Bristol to enhance capacity to achieve local sustainability goals?|
Strengths and Weaknesses
The integration of the SDGs into the One City Plan and the development of a harmonized indicator framework was made possible through partnerships and the creation of a dedicated post funded by the University of Bristol. For other cities facing similarly acute resource constraints, leveraging partnerships may be the only means of securing the resources required to overcome the considerable “learning costs” associated with developing a practical framework for monitoring the SDGs locally.
A second strength of our approach was the harmonization of the monitoring framework achieved by identifying indicators that were directly relevant to locally defined objectives as well as the SDGs. This will institutionalize SDG monitoring going forward as it will not require a separate or additional activity for the Council. Moreover, the process of harmonization required extensive consultation, which increased awareness of the SDGs within the council.
Finally, adopting a more expansive interpretation of the SDG targets and drawing on alternative indicator frameworks to fill gaps where IAEG-SDG indicators were simply irrelevant has allowed for the development of a framework that is both comprehensive and locally appropriate. Moreover, because the alternative indicators were drawn from indicators already in use by many other cities, this will increase comparability between Bristol and other cities.
Like many cities, the functional area of Bristol is much larger than the area controlled and monitored by Bristol City Council. The City of Bristol has a population of roughly a half million people. However, the functional area of the city is over one million people. Monitoring progress towards the SDGs in the core could be highly misleading. For example, a reduction in homelessness in the City of Bristol could correspond with an increase in a local authority area that is just meters away. Resolving the appropriate geographic scale of measurement for local monitoring is an unresolved challenge.
A second weakness relates to the limited consultation on data sources, largely due to time and resource constraints. We know that “official” data developed and curated by the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics has significant limitations and omissions. Although we did look at other sources, there is likely a wealth of information being collected by firms and nonprofit organizations that could provide more granular insight into changes directly relevant to the SDG progress. Expanding the sources of data used for local monitoring could greatly enrich our understanding of relevant local conditions and trends, as evidenced by the work of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s Local Data Action grantees.
References and Additional Resources
Ambiente Italia. 2007. “Urban Ecosystem Europe: An Integrated Assessment on the Sustainability of 32 European Cities.” http://www.dexia.com/EN/journalist/press_releases/Documents/20080201_urban_ecosystem_UK.pdf.
Ahvenniemi, Hannele, Aapo Huovila, Isabel Pinto-Seppä, and Miimu Airaksinen. 2017. “What Are the Differences between Sustainable and Smart Cities?” Cities 60 (February): 234–45. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cities.2016.09.009.
Arcadis. 2016. “Sustainable Cities Index 2016.” https://www.arcadis.com/media/0/6/6/%7B06687980-3179-47AD-89FD-F6AFA76EBB73%7DSustainable%20Cities%20Index%202016%20Global%20Web.pdf.
BBC News. 2017. “Bristol Named Best Place to Live in Britain in 2017.” March 19, 2017. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-39320118.
Bristol City Office. 2019. “One City Plan.” Bristol. https://www.bristolonecity.com/one-city-plan.
Espey, Jessica, Hayden Dahmm, Laurie Manderino, John Biberman, Yingxin Ye, Gary Verburg, and Juan Puyana. 2018. “Leaving No U.S. City Behind: The U.S. Cities Sustainable Development Goals Index 2018.” http://unsdsn.org/resources/publications/leaving-no-u-s-city-behind-the-2018-u-s-cities-sdgs-index.
McCarney, Patricia, James Patava, Birgitte Hansen, Matthew Lynch, Sahifa Imran, and Nicholas Bakewell. 2017. “WCCD City Data for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2017.” Toronto: World Council on City Data (WCCD). https://www.dataforcities.org/publications.
United for Smart Sustainable Cities. 2018. “United for Smart Sustainable Cities: United Smart Cities Index.” https://www.itu.int/en/publications/Documents/tsb/2017-U4SSC-Collection-Methodology/mobile/index.html.
1. Bristol City Council. 2019. “State of Bristol: Key Facts 2018-19.” https://www.bristol.gov.uk/documents/20182/32947/State+of+Bristol+-+Key+Facts+2018-19.PDF/263d5f0f-763e-9553-467d-c9704f307d7c.
2. BBC News. 2017. “Bristol Named Best Place to Live in Britain in 2017.” March 19, 2017. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-39320118.
3. Earl, Grace. 2017. “Bristol is now officially Europe’s coolest city and in the Top 20 in the world.” The Bristol Post. December 5, 2017. https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/whats-on/whats-on-news/bristol-coolest-city-in-world-878497.
4. Bristol City Council, 2018.
5. Bristol City Office. 2019. “One City Plan.” Bristol. https://www.bristolonecity.com/one-city-plan.
6. Greene, Solomon and Brady Meixell. 2017. “Hacking the Sustainable Development Goals: Can US Cities Measure Up?” http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/92946/hacking-the-sustainable-development-goals_0.pdf.
7. Ahvenniemi, Hannele, Aapo Huovila, Isabel Pinto-Seppä, and Miimu Airaksinen. 2017. “What Are the Differences between Sustainable and Smart Cities?” Cities 60 (February): 234–45. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cities.2016.09.009.
8. Macleod, Allan and Ian Townsend. 2018. “Bristol Method+: Driving the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda at the city level in Bristol.” Bristol Green Capital Partnership. https://bristolgreencapital.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Bristol-Method_Driving-the-SDGs-agenda-at-city-level-in-Bristol_17-Jul-2018.pdf.
9. See “Hacking the Sustainable Development Goals: Can US Cities Measure Up?” (2017).
10. See “Bristol Method+: Driving the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda at the city level in Bristol.” (2018).
11. See “Hacking the Sustainable Development Goals: Can US Cities Measure Up?” (2017).
12. UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. n.d. “SDG Indicators.” https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/indicators/indicators-list.
13. McCarney, Patricia, James Patava, Birgitte Hansen, Matthew Lynch, Sahifa Imran, and Nicholas Bakewell. 2017. “WCCD City Data for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2017.” Toronto: World Council on City Data (WCCD). https://www.dataforcities.org/publications.
14. United for Smart Sustainable Cities. 2018. “United for Smart Sustainable Cities: United Smart Cities Index.” https://www.itu.int/en/publications/Documents/tsb/2017-U4SSC-Collection-Methodology/mobile/index.html.
15. IESE Business School – University of Navarra. 2017. “IESE Cities in Motion Index.” https://media.iese.edu/research/pdfs/ST-0442-E.pdf.
16. Espey, Jessica, Hayden Dahmm, Laurie Manderino, John Biberman, Yingxin Ye, Gary Verburg, and Juan Puyana. 2018. “Leaving No U.S. City Behind: The U.S. Cities Sustainable Development Goals Index 2018.” http://unsdsn.org/resources/publications/leaving-no-u-s-city-behind-the-2018-u-s-cities-sdgs-index.
17. Arcadis. 2016. “Sustainable Cities Index 2016.” https://www.arcadis.com/media/0/6/6/%7B06687980-3179-47AD-89FD-F6AFA76EBB73%7DSustainable%20Cities%20Index%202016%20Global%20Web.pdf.
18. Sustainable Cities International. 2012. “Indicators for Sustainability: How Cities Are Monitoring and Evaluating Their Success.” https://sustainablecities.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/indicators-for-sustainability-intl-case-studies-final.pdf.
19. UN-Habitat. 2016. “The Global Goals for Sustainable Development and City Prosperity Initiative.” http://cpi.unhabitat.org/sites/default/files/resources/CPI%20and%20SDGs.pdf.
20. Ambiente Italia. 2007. “Urban Ecosystem Europe: An Integrated Assessment on the Sustainability of 32 European Cities.” http://www.dexia.com/EN/journalist/press_releases/Documents/20080201_urban_ecosystem_UK.pdf.