The Potential of Open Innovation

Posted on by Steve Whipp

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Steve Whipp – Water Innovation Consultant – UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR)

Following on from our article that detailed the project earlier in the year, Steve Whipp, Water Innovation Consultant for UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR) shares the results of the experimental crowdsourced innovation platform. So – can open innovation help the UK Water Industry…?

Research project ‘A Design and Innovation Competition: Report of a trial on how water companies can innovate with their customers using open innovation’ explores whether ‘open innovation’ can be used to develop ideas that would encourage customers to change their behaviour, based on a better understanding of the issues faced by the industry. Water use featured prominently throughout the project.

The contractor, 100%Open, used its ‘Consumer Co-Creation Community’ approach. The first stage was to explore online conversations about water, using social media, in order to understand what, how and why people talk about water issues. This was used to identify ideas that could encourage and engender behaviour change.

Over 5,000 relevant conversations were identified across a broad range of social media. These were analysed and reviewed to draw out insights around consumer behaviours and attitudes and ideas on how to influence them. A workshop identified three key themes:

  • Meaningful Measures: to crowdsource ideas for getting everyone engaged in how much water they use
  • Water Aware: to crowdsource ideas for motivating people to save water
  • Loo Litter: to crowdsource ideas for getting people to think more about what they flush away and to change their behaviour.

A ‘crowdsourcing’ website Water Talkers was designed, and members of the public recruited from across the UK to explore, discuss and develop the ideas and solutions to the challenges. The report includes these community-generated ideas.

For ‘Meaningful Measures’, suggestions included providing a tap clicker so that customers would be more aware of the water they use. Water companies could do more to provide information – maybe through smart metering – and the idea of providing stickers to use in the bath and elsewhere to indicate the water being used was popular. Another idea was for companies to sponsor art work that had a volume equivalent to the amount of water used every day by customers.

For ‘Water Aware’, ideas included having a water awareness day every year, having better communications between suppliers and customers and especially to recognise the outstanding water quality of tap water. It was also suggested that people should lie in and then take a super-fast shower – lie in and save water.

For ‘Loo Litter’, ideas included using a “Poo Bus” to take the message about responsible flushing to the public. Also clear labelling would help people know what is safe to flush and again stickers were seen as a good way to help get the message across.

It was concluded that Open Innovation with a new community identified novel ideas and really positive engagement around water related issues. It also resulted in some ideas that overlapped with current campaigns being carried out by water companies and against which those campaigns could be compared. It was further noted that crowdsourcing could also be deployed to find new technology and other solutions from existing and new water industry suppliers.

For the full benefit from the Open Innovation to be realised, the project report recommends that water companies review and build upon the outcome of this work to determine what value can be extracted and exploited in the context of their customer and corporate communications.

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