Festival frenzy hits the innovation world

18 July 2017

Festival season is upon us and even the world of innovation is getting involved! Our Innovation Manager Dr Angela MacOscar has just returned from the tented village that was Northumbrian Water Group’s first ever Innovation Festival. There she helped to deliver a series of events to encourage innovative thinking. She explains more below …


Northumbrian Water Innovation Festival was the brain child of Information Services Director Nigel Watson who is keen to take their collaboration and innovation to a new level – and the event did not disappoint.

Over five days, six companies hosted design sprints with the objective of identifying new projects that addressed common issues and could be worked on collaboratively. The companies were: Reece Innovation, CGI, Ordnance Survey, BT, IBM and Microsoft. They worked with other businesses, universities, schools and members of the public to look at a range of issues, including flooding, leakage and the environment.

Infrastructure for the 21st Century

The Innovation SuperNetwork supported the Reece Innovation design sprint which set out to explore the weighty topic of infrastructure for the 21st Century.  The sprint was designed to first identify the key problems relating to housing, energy, water, transport, health & welfare and telecoms.

Then, over the next three days we ran a variety of exercises to push out thinking about these topics and to define how they can be future-proofed.

To inspire the team over the week we had a wide range of speakers which provided food for thought. These ranged from in-depth reviews from experts, tips from innovators and briefing from Innovate UK about the current infrastructure funding call.

It was clear from day two that the same issues ran across the different infrastructures and common themes were identified.  Going into the event I thought it would all be about concrete and technology but it was very clear that people were at the heart of the ideas, it was all about collaboration and building community.

Positive spirit and sense of community

The spirit of the whole event was very positive and there was a real sense of community across all the sprints.  Everyone was willing to give advice, build ideas and put forward thoughts, even if slightly out there!

There was encouragement to cross-pollinate activity and thinking across the various sprints taking place under the canvas of the village of tents which really supports how innovation can happen.  You were made to feel welcome and not an outsider from another tent!

The festival magic infected everyone, so there was lots of fun and smiles but also hard work and a willingness to collaborate and contribute which made the event unique.

In the Reece Innovation tent we had attendees from all five regional universities, 25 businesses, NWG customers and university students.  By the end of the week, our tent felt like a family with all businesses wanting to get involved in the identified projects.

Turning talk into innovation

Everyone worked really hard and were very excited about the projects coming out at the end.  But this is just the beginning. The hard work is now getting under way to turn these into projects with funding and resources.

The Innovation SuperNetwork is well placed to support this work with our Innovation Challenge project, which makes connections within the North East innovation community and we can provide exposure at VentureFest North East.

I thought the event was a triumph because there was tangible output.  It has set out to be the starting place for projects not just a talking shop so I am very excited to see how these projects progress and to be part of them.

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