Dreamers and Do-ers at NWG’s Innovation Festival

Last week, OTA attended the closing day of the Northumbrian Water Group’s Innovation Festival. Spread over five action packed days, the festival took six challenges that face our environment, and asked its participants to apply design thinking techniques to try to solve them. The feeling of a summer festival, with a tented village and engaging evening events, made the venue and experience unique.


Photo: Nigel Watson and Heidi Mottram of NWG.

The resilience of existing business models to societal and environmental challenges was questioned across the following design ‘sprints’:

  1. Rain, Hail or Shine: How can we reduce flooding?
  2. Keep it Flowing: What do we know about leakage and how can we fix it?
  3. Preparing for the Future: How do we upgrade our infrastructure?
  4. Tomorrow’s world: What will living and working look like in 2030?
  5. How Green is your City: What can businesses do to improve the environment?
  6. 21st Century Reach: How can we optimise a mobile workforce?

Photo: PR19 banner artwork.

OTA attended the first ‘sprint’ on flooding, led by NWG’s R&D Manager, Chris Jones. Over five days, this sprint refined 1500 ideas to 4 solutions they felt were most deliverable and impactful, including:

  1. Flood Ranger – a combination of a digital platform and a man on the ground, to identify risk and flood events, and use this to inform the local community.
  2. Marketing Genius – based on the premise of making the situation “less scary for Mary (a typical customer).” The concept involves providing advice, information and education relating to flooding.
  3. Rain to River – using technologies and sustainable drainage strategies to keep surface water on the surface. Based on a network of blue-green corridors, connected through the landscape.
  4. FAST: Flood Assistant Service Technology – an app/ AI technology providing a single point of contact for the customer/end user, allowing them to prepare for, respond to and recover from floods.

Photos left to right: flipchart development of FAST; Rain to River artwork; a section of the banner artwork depicting the sprint’s core message (predict-mitigate-respond).

The solutions were supported by excellent artwork – creating something tangible that NWG could take away from the event and use to get the cogs in motion to kickstart these ideas. The afternoon session provided an opportunity for those who had been completely immersed in one sprint to see the innovative solutions and technological advances proposed by the other sprints. From moss trees, to ‘wombling’ (underground, overground…) mobile sensors and a life assistant named LISA, the festival didn’t disappoint in its quest to generate ideas.


Photo: The artist at work.

With NWG confirming a second festival next year, and many sponsors echoing their interest in participating again, the event can be chalked off as a big success. What remains to be seen, is how many of these smart ideas will be implemented. Heidi Mottram’s (CEO NWG) closing remarks,  summed up the OTA ethos…

“The world needs dreamers, and the world needs people who do things. More than anything, however, it needs people who do the things they dream about”.

We’re looking forward to collaborating with partners to deliver solutions to these challenges in the months ahead.

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