1st December 2015

Geovation Water Challenge: Funding innovation that improves our relationship with water


Today, we are excited to launch Ordnance Survey’s ninth Geovation Challenge; this time focussed on our relationship with water and finding solutions to the Challenge question ‘How can we better manage water in Britain, sustainably?’

Take part

As previously, this Geovation Challenge is looking for solutions grounded in a problem worth solving using our established methodology of ‘Innovation = problem x solution x execution’ To enable us to unlock the problems associated with water we ran a Water Problem Deep Dive and identified 5 key themes as the focus for this Challenge: too little water; too much water; poor water quality; aging water infrastructure, and; water use behaviour.  You can find out more about these problems in detail here

To help you identify with these problems we have created a persona for each of the themes:

Too Little Water

Too Much Water

Poor Water Quality

Ageing Infrastructure 

Water Use Behaviour

We are looking for a business or venture developing a well scoped, sustainable solution and business model and we are interested in how these ideas and ventures can potentially scale to offer solutions throughout Britain or even globally, using geographic information, design thinking and technology as key ingredients.  Geovation Challenges are a special experience. Since 2009 we have providing almost £750,000 in development funding, creating 31 new ventures.  So join us in helping find ways to improve the way we use and manage water and enter your ideas on the Geovation Challenge online between 1 December 2015 and 27 January 2016 (12 noon).

Ideas identified for their potential impact will be invited to a Geovation Weekend Camp from 4-6 March 2016, where you will be asked to work on transforming your idea into a prototype venture. You will also identify how to overcome problems in implementing your idea and learn to pitch your idea ‘pecha kucha’ style to the independent judging panel.  Those selected to be invited into a 12 month funded Geovation Programme will be announced at the end of this camp.

We are delighted to be collaborating with Environment Agency, DEFRA (whose release of thousands of open data sets coincides with the Geovation Challenge), Southern Water, and United Utilities on our Geovation Challenge:

“I grew up believing that we can live well and take care of resources and the world around us. This process has never been straightforward, but we have gradually learnt more and more about the environment and how we can help it to thrive. We have an opportunity today and over the next year to build a new approach for the decades ahead that will continue to improve our environment. By releasing this OpenData and supporting the Geovation Challenge, DEFRA is demonstrating its commitment to equipping people and businesses in their decision-making, as well as enabling developers to design powerful new applications.”  The Rt Hon. Liz Truss MP

The five themes we are focussing on in Geovation Water Challenge are:


Too little water Too Little Water

A global water shortage of 40% is forecast by 2030. In the UK, in 2012, there were as many as 1 in 4 days of drought. Water affects everything in life: from tap water to water in our food, products and services, and of course 70% of our very own bloodstream!

Typically, 2 tonnes of water is needed to produce only 1 kilo of staple cereal crop. Both climate change – altering the distribution of water, and society – our increasing urbanisation, consumption demands and attitudes, are driving this shortage. 30% of Britain’s imports are already threatened by water shortage along the supply chain, and currently there is less water availability per capita in London than in Sudan or Syria.

Too much water

Too Much Water

The changing distribution of water is real: we are simultaneously experiencing flooding in some places and drought in others. Increasing flood risk became a reality in the summer of 2007 in Gloucestershire. The Pitt Review stated there were over 200 major floods worldwide during 2007, affecting 180 million people. The human cost was more than 8,000 deaths and over £40 billion worth of damage.




Poor Water Quality

In England and Wales, only around a quarter of surface water bodies meet ‘good ecological status’ (Environment Agency, Water Framework Directive 2013) according to the biological community present and chemical and physical characteristics of water. Several water quality problems are associated with pollutants and treatment mechanisms. Carbon and nitrate contaminants are introduced by fertiliser and pesticide use running off farms upstream. In large cities water tends to be recycled through human consumers several times, consequently sharing hormones and even drug traces. A complex contributing factor to water quality is urbanisation, leading to extra pollution by surface run-off and heavy rainfall causing sewer overflows.



Ageing Infrastructure

In the UK, ageing infrastructure is identified as a particular challenge, being the greatest contributor to flood risk. Urbanisation massively reduces natural drainage processes leading to greater surface run-off, flash flooding and sewer system overflows. Currently a lot of our water systems are outdated – such as London’s Victorian sewers – originally built to serve populations only a third of what they have to now. By 2030, the majority of urban dwellers in the world are expected to live in towns with infrastructures unlikely to cope with these growing water challenges, particularly flooding.

Water use behaviour

Water Use Behaviour

Behaviour by organisations and ourselves as consumers of water have significant influence on these problems. We need to use fresh water as a limited resource, recognising that poor practise in one part of the water cycle has impacts on other parts. For example, the effects of badly managed water use is not confined to political or administrative boundaries. Actions upstream have implications downstream. Yet we are not all managing our water sustainably within its natural administrative unit – the water catchment. Households in the UK are now using almost 50% more water than 25 years ago. How can we manage water use effectively and sustainably against these growing pressures?


For the full list of problems and how to submit an entry, visit: https://geovation.uk//challenge/

Our challenges are open to UK-based organisations and/or UK residents aged 18 or over and we encourage entrepreneurs, developers, geographers, community groups, and innovators to enter