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The Bristol Civic Leadership Project

Academic context

International scholarship on place-based leadership attempts, inter alia, to throw new light on how different institutional designs for city and regional governance might help or hinder the exercise of effective place-based leadership and, also, whether the leadership styles adopted by senior place-based leaders make any difference to what actually happens.

The Bristol Civic Leadership Project is a detailed examination of bold innovation in place-based leadership in a particular city. Informed by studies of governance change in cities elsewhere the project aims to contribute to the expanding literature on place-based leadership by drawing insights from the radical changes to urban governance now taking place in Bristol, UK.


Public policy context

The UK Localism Act 2011 required the largest English cities, outside London, to hold referendums on whether or not to adopt a directly elected mayor model of governance. Ten referendums were held in 2012 and nine cities, including Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle, rejected the idea.

Bristol bucked the national trend and voted in favour of introducing a directly elected mayor to lead the city. In a startling move the citizens opted for a radical change in urban leadership and the first directly elected mayor, that is an individual with executive powers to lead Bristol, was elected in November 2012. This radical shake-up in urban governance, one that has continued to attract national interest in UK public policy circles, provides an interesting example of bold innovation in place-based leadership.


About the Bristol Civic Leadership Project

Launched in 2012, ahead of the election of the first executive mayor, the Bristol Civic Leadership Project is an ongoing study designed to assess what difference, if any, the switch to a directly elected mayor model of governance has made, and is making.

The project is a collaborative effort involving the two local universities – University of Bristol and University of the West of England, Bristol – working in close collaboration with Bristol City Council, other public agencies, community leaders, business leaders and trade union leaders. It aims to evaluate the impacts of the changes that are taking place, and to advise on how to improve the effectiveness of place-based leadership in the city and the city region.

Initially, the project was designed to provide a ‘before’ and ‘after’ study of the impact of mayoral governance on the city. The research has assembled evidence on ‘public’ perceptions and ‘civic leader’ perceptions of the quality of urban governance ‘before’ and ‘after’ the introduction of a directly elected mayor, and these findings are striking. In more recent research the focus of analysis has shifted to consider the impact of different mayoral leadership styles on the governance of the city.

More details on this project at


About the researchers

 The Bristol Civic Leadership Project is co-directed by Dr David Sweeting, University of Bristol and Emeritus Professor Robin Hambleton, University of the West of England, Bristol.

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