Innovation isn't just for boffins
On 12 September 2012, Nesta held the first of its UK road show events in Scotland. I reflected on what I had heard and learned from the day. Thanks to the many organisations and people who turned out to support the event- we try and bring together the 'unusual suspects' to work together to support innovation and this is reflected in the day.
This is my takeaway from the event:
Lesson 1: Innovation isn't just about inventions or gizmos
While new products or services can irrevocably change our lives, it's the incremental everyday innovations that can enhance or improve our worlds. Ena Brown from the Hub Café talked about her community venture that supports older people to get out once a week and connect with others. Driven by a team of volunteers, this community-led innovation has a tremendous local impact on reducing the social isolation and improving the lives of older people in East Kilbride.
Lesson 2: Innovation doesn't happen in isolation
Often the best innovations happen through a collaboration of people from different worlds. Geoff Mulgan referred to a chance meeting in a pub between a ship's engineer and a doctor (Prof Ian Donald) that led to the use of ultrasound technology being used with pregnant women after Prof Donald had seen the technology used in the Glasgow shipyards. This is now a routine procedure used to support pregnant mothers, midwives and obstetricians worldwide.
Of course, today, the opportunity for different worlds colliding and creating collaborative ventures has been opened up through the use of the internet and social media. Many of Nesta's programmes involve collaboration, whether that be technologists working alongside the cultural/public sector or community organisations.
Lesson 3: Innovation involving technology is travelling at a rapid rate
Rob Woodward talked about STV's shift from an analogue to digital world. TV has completely changed from being a passive, sit back experience at a scheduled time, to one that involves interaction and the use of 'second screen' to engage the community. The result has been a power shift to the consumer - we can now watch what we want when we want it (and skip the adverts) on a device of our choosing. His words of wisdom: 'Take nothing for granted, the digital clock runs faster than the analogue'.
Glasgow Film Theatre also talked about their innovative hook-up with technology partner Distrify in Nesta's Digital R&D programme, which will offer an 'extra screen' to customers worldwide, where you will have the choice of buying tickets for seats at the cinema or paying for a live stream direct to your home. The pace is indeed rapid and Nesta is working with partners on an initiative to ensure that our young people are part of this fast pace of change by supporting them to be digital creators as well as digital consumers.
Lesson 4: Innovative partnerships are of key importance
Who you choose to get into bed with can make a difference. Rob talked about STV's successful link up with Technology partner MirriAd, which saw their advertising revenues from the Brave promotion increase to £100,000, where a normal revenue expectation would be around the £10 thousand mark. Sally Kerr of Edinburgh City Council talked about their work on open data with local developer, James Baster, a freelance independent developer who is working with a large public sector organisation to create a new service to help us make better use of our parks and green spaces (Edinburgh Outdoors, to be launched soon).
Lesson 5: Innovate to provide customers with a service/product they need and put the customer/service user at the centre
A common theme throughout the day was the need to put the customer/client at the centre. Safehinge talked about their journey to create a hingeless door that would help prevent the 30,000 children who trap and seriously injure their fingers in doors in the UK every year. Through rigorous customer engagement, testing and feedback, they now supply over a third of the local authorities in the UK.
Angela Morgan of IncludeM talked about the need to provide a service to young people that isn't 9 to 5, where there they have more staff on duty on a Friday night at 9pm, than a Monday morning at 9am, because that meets the needs of their clients. It means they provide a relevant service tailored to the needs of their client group, putting the individual at the centre.
Ian Watt of Aberdeen City Council talked about how the council will mash up travel/transport/road gritting/local service data to improve our experience of trying to cope with snow conditions using data provided by the public, council staff and external sources - a service that most people in Scotland will value.
And finally, not a lesson, but a prompt.
During the day, delegates talked and reflected on the innovative people, initiatives and products in Scotland and the rest of the world. Some of these were very well known, some were contested and some seemed relatively unknown. There can be great stuff happening on our doorstep, but we aren't always aware it's there as we get caught up in the 'noise' of our own lives. There was a suggestion that there was a need for this to be captured and perhaps geo-tagged - creating a map of local innovations that would allow people to connect more easily. Would anyone like to pick up this challenge?