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Creating sustainable communities through partnerships

26 March 2018

3 minutes to read

Creating sustainable communities through partnerships

The University of Exeter has partnered with Exeter City Council and local community interest company Exeter City Futures on an innovative grass-roots project which is seeking to understand and co-create solutions to local traffic-related problems in Exeter.

This has included:

  • Listening and engagement activities to identify and understand local traffic-related challenges
  • Community-led prioritisation and challenge definition process to generate Challenge Questions
  • Co-creating practical solution(s) with the support of students and academics

Kerry Deacon, Education and Engagement for Exeter City Futures said: “At Exeter City Futures, we believe that enabling communities to tackle social problems is the best way to effect lasting change. We are engaging with and empowering people within the city to articulate and understand the barriers they face when considering a specific challenge and to co-create solutions which satisfy the needs of communities on a very local scale.”

The problem

The Community Partnership is unique collaboration between the University of Exeter, Exeter City Council, and Exeter City Futures, a Community Interest Company which aims to make Exeter congestion-free and energy-independent by 2025.

Many neighbourhoods have traffic and congestion problems. This project sought to bring together community members to take a data-driven approach to tackle these issues, making their neighbourhood an even better place to live.

The team has been working in the Exeter ward of Heavitree, on a project which is the first community deployment of the Exeter City Futures Innovation Approach.

How we helped

The Community Partnership has refined and validated the delivery of the Innovation Approach, which aims to build capacity within communities and provide them with the skills to undertake their own research and design creative solutions to reduce congestion.

The project started with six-weeks’ listening and engagement activities, talking with people at various events and places around Heavitree.

Dr Lindsey Anderson from the University of Exeter, along with colleagues Kerry Deacon from Exeter City Futures and Dawn Rivers from Exeter City Council, engaged with more than 250 residents and listened to what they loved about Heavitree as well as their views on traffic and congestion on their streets.

More than 200 residents also completed a travel behaviour survey to capture current commuting practice and identify opportunities for influencing behaviour change.

A series of facilitated workshops helped residents to prioritise the issues raised and determine underlying causes. This was followed by a challenge definition process which generated two Challenge Questions:

    • How can we motivate and incentivise parents and staff who currently drive to school to use alternative modes of travel?
    • How can we enable and encourage the use of sustainable and attractive alternative modes of transport to reduce the number of cars driving through Heavitree?

Jo Spinks, Heavitree (Exeter) resident, and Founder, Interwoven Productions CIC, said: “The project has introduced the notion that change is possible. The most common phrase we heard before was ‘you’ll never do anything about that’. Now people are asking ‘I wonder what we can do about that?’ It’s a really important change because it creates a space where things can grow.”

Lucinda Murley, Undergraduate Geography student, University of Exeter, added: “My main aim is to see how theory enters the real world. Much of my knowledge is based on a theoretical understanding on people engagement with the environment and society. With my long term plan to go onto carbon consultancy, seeing real world application would be highly beneficial.”


The process has brought together two working groups of Heavitree residents who are seeking to co-design practical solutions to these two Challenge Questions.

The groups are working with the support of academic experts and undergraduate students from the University of Exeter, providing an opportunity for undergraduates with an interest in sustainability to work on a local societal problem. They are also partnering with local schools, sustainable transport organisation Sustrans, and local place-based, community practitioners Interwoven Production CIC in this truly collaborative project.

Engaged research, which recognises and values the expertise, skills and knowledge of non-academics, is an increasingly important area for the university. We are seeking to grow our expertise through working with communities in real partnerships, in positive sustainable ways within the region.


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