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    Innovation Festival

    Northumbrian Water

    Northumbrian Water Group’s Innovation Festivals bring hundreds of companies and individuals together from around the world to spend five days using design sprints and hackathons to search for new ways of tackling social, environmental and business problems that can have benefits reaching far beyond NWG’s own direct needs or normal sphere of influence.

    What objectives did you set out to achieve?

    • Generate ideas to tackle key issues to not only improve our business but to benefit wider society and the environment.
    • Demonstrate open innovation collaboration on a large-scale as a pathfinder for the industry openly sharing to create cross industry customer benefit in what is ultimately a competitive industry between companies.
    • Showcase to stakeholders the innovative thinking that exists within the regions in which we operate.
    • Increase the innovation and digital acumen of our people reinforcing our innovation culture.
    • To be bold and to be different, to defy the norm and dare to realise a dream.

    What was your single biggest challenge in achieving them?

    The biggest challenge faced was making others believe; selling the vision of ultimately what was a unique ‘world first’ event wise, and securing the buy-in from everyone from our own people to decision makers in external participators, up to and including global players such as Microsoft and IBM. Without the ability to achieve this, we would not have been able to get the breadth of input and thinking and deliver upon the ambition of the idea. Aligned to this we were worried people wouldn’t want to co-create ideas and protectionism may scupper our intent.

    What did you do differently to overcome that challenge?

    We believed, and made others believe, in the concept, which became infectious. Bold, passionate “selling” of the idea and a refusal to accept or demonstrate small, or closed thinking, showed our belief in the Innovation Festival and brought initial partners on board that created a positive, domino effect and resulted in increasing support. This ran up to, throughout, and after the first festival in 2017, through the 2018 festival, which consequently more than doubled in size, and is still ongoing, with interest from around the world in the event, the concept and outcomes.

    What were your most impactful outcomes?

    Festival outputs include: -

    • England’s first Moss Tree installed in Newcastle city centre, helping measure and tackle urban pollution.
    • Implemented data-led heat maps, enabling more targeted responses to leaks, prioritising highest impact areas.
    • Created a common underground utilities map of Newcastle; this’ll reduce third party damage to infrastructure, make work safer but also speed it up.
    • Are developing Alexa skills to help future-proof Customer communication.
    • Development of Barnacle, a new toilet mounted sensor array to identify internal/external water quality issues, bursts and it could potentially help influence customer behaviour.
    • Established the Refill campaign to reduce single-use plastics in our supply areas.
    • Using satellites to identify water leakage.

    In a sentence, what was the biggest learning you took away from this?

    If you create the right environment people from many different sectors and society itself can work and innovate together. Just believe in your ideas and do not allow yourself or others to put false limitations upon what you can achieve with the right mind-set and the right partners you can break new ground and achieve great things.

    Find out more about Innovation Festival here