25th January 2016

Geovation Masterclass Tour Supports £60K Water Challenge

Gauri Kangai

The Geovation Challenge 2015:  ‘How can we better manage water use in Britain, sustainably?’ – closes for ideas this week, on Wednesday 27 January at noon with the chance of winning a share of £60,000 to develop your idea as a new venture, mentored through our Geovation Programme.

Over the last 6 weeks we have taken the Challenge on tour through a series of exciting Geovation masterclasses. Starting at the Geovation Hub, London in December with a team drawn from Geovation and Ordnance Survey, the Masterclass tour has visited Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham and Swansea; introducing the challenge and geospatial data resources to potential participants.

The key principle of Geovation is to think globally, but act locally; in tackling problems locally and collaboratively and openly; using the powerful tools of geography, geographic information and design thinking as key ingredients to solutions that can be launched as new ventures.

Each masterclass introduced participants to problems Britain experiences with: too much water, too little water, water quality, ageing infrastructures, and water use behaviour. These problems were explored further with stimulating presentations from our challenge partners: Defra, Environment Agency, Southern Water and United Utilities, which really got participants thinking about the problems they face daily. This was supported by introductions to open geospatial data from EA and OS and hands on exercises in their use using open source GIS software. Defra and Environment Agency are planning to release up to 8000 open datasets by July 2016 under their OpenDefra initiative, and available to contribute to smarter, water management solutions.

In Glasgow, Mohammed Haq from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency shared useful practice in how they collate diverse water datasets in order to develop intelligence on diffuse pollution for example. In Liverpool, John Murray from Fusion Data Science shared further geospatial techniques for deriving value from data, seeing “Geography as a common currency for joining lots of different data together”.

Challenge partners Southern Water and United Utilities saw the Geovation Water Challenge as a great opportunity to solve existing problems differently by maximising the use of geospatial knowhow across their networks. For example, in locating assets, misconnections and leakages.

ImpactHub, Birmingham, Barry Cleasby, Head of Innovation at Southern Water

ImpactHub, Birmingham, Barry Cleasby, Head of Innovation at Southern Water

At the ImpactHub, Birmingham, Barry Cleasby, Head of Innovation at Southern Water said: “We need to become more savvy with what data we have”.

“The challenge is finding where those needles in the haystacks are and geography is an enabler” – Barry Cleasby, Head of Innovation, Southern Water

Other water problems beyond simply the remit of water companies were explored: for example, the need to change customer behaviour at point of water use, highlighting how cross-collaboration in addressing our water challenges is key.

At Liverpool John Moores University’s OpenLabs, Head of Innovation at United Utilities, Kieran Brocklebank indicated: “Customers cause 60% of United Utilities’ problems such as flushing the wrong things down toilets and drains, creating blockages. We need to instrumentally change the ‘flush and forget’ approach”. How can technology, design thinking and data help solve this?

At the TechHub Swansea, an inspirational talk from Andy Middleton from Tyf Group (and a previous Geovation Challenge judging panel Chair) emphasised the importance of thinking differently to achieve country scale change, rapidly. Andy gave us a “view from the edge”; emphasising the importance of sensing the world in different ways, capitalising on science at the community level, and taking actions that acheive real change at country scale, at speed.  He emphasised the need to build connections, ask better questions to get better answers, and to educate ourselves if we are to “design business for good”. For example, Andy identified the connections between the plastic that litters our beaches, the nets that get used to catch our fish, what is flushed down the toilet and chucked into rivers, what ends up in our sea, and where our food comes from.

“We need to stand far enough away back from what we’re working on to understand what the connections really are.” – Andy Middleton, Founder and Director, TYF Group.

Demonstrating this different and innovative thinking, Ioan Jenkins, Development Director, from Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project shared their approach behind what aims to be one of the most advanced tidal energy projects in the world – a currently untapped renewable energy resource.  The plan considers social, economic and environmental benefits, fostering a closer relationship between locals and the water, boosting mariculture and promoting conservation.

The masterclasses and presentations revealed the expanding open data resource and the motivation to use this to solve existing problems in new sustainable ways.  All the presentations from the masterclasses and the ‘Exploring the Challenge’ debate event we held earlier this month are available here.

So if you have a good idea for the Geovation Challenge, then find out more about what we are looking for and the other problem themes and enter your ideas on the Geovation Challenge online. But don’t delay, the Challenge closes 27 January 2016 (12 noon). We will invite those with the best ideas to a Geovation Weekend Camp from 4-6 March 2016 at Ordnance Survey, Southampton, and help you transform your idea into a sustainable venture.

Our grateful thanks to our challenge partners; Defra, EA, Southern Water and United Utilities; our presenters and participants; and our masterclass hosts.