Innovation for the water industry

A £3.9 million research consortium of six universities, led by academics at Sheffield, is working with industry partners to investigate how Britain’s ageing water infrastructure can deliver sustainable supplies across the country in the face of population growth and climate change.

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Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) the consortium, called TWENTY65 (Tailored Water to Ensure sustainability beyond 2065), with the Sheffield Water Centre as its hub, is an interdisciplinary team comprising leading engineering, science and social science researchers. It is tasked with developing innovative ideas that will have a ‘transformative’ impact on the long-term future of the water industry.

We have held a series of collaborative Thought Leadership workshops over the last ten months that bring industry, policy makers and academia together to identify where research efforts should be concentrated to find a more integrated and sustainable solution.

DR kamal birdi

To stimulate innovation, the consortium will draw heavily on the work of Dr Kamal Birdi, a renowned occupational psychologist at Sheffield University Management School and creator of the pioneering CLEAR IDEAS approach to helping people and organisations make paradigm shifts in the way they work.

“This is an incredibly exciting project that recognises and builds upon the innovative interdisciplinary work that the Sheffield Water Centre is doing,” says Dr Birdi. “My role is to help the members of the consortium – five other universities and over 70 industrial/NGO/regulator partners – come up with disruptive innovations that have the potential to transform the water services we receive in 2065.”

With the sector often narrowly focused on five-year cycles, Dr Birdi said it was vital for the industry to work with researchers to think about the long term. "We have held a series of collaborative Thought Leadership workshops over the last ten months that bring industry, policy makers and academia together to identify where research efforts should be concentrated to find a more integrated and sustainable solution."

This model has now been developed into an app which is available via iTunes.

Download the app for iOS (iTunes)

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CLEAR IDEAS methodology

The Thought Leadership programme builds on Dr Birdi’s CLEAR IDEAS methodology, which has been used to powerful effect for organisations in the public, private and third sector. The IDEAS part of the model stands for Illuminate, Diagnose, Erupt, Assess, Select and is designed to help users generate more creative ideas. CLEAR stands for Commit, Lead, Engage, Align, Review and are steps designed to help effectively implement new ideas. His work with Sheffield City Council, for instance, supported the development of new adult social care services. The new approach maintained the quality and integrity of the service, but helped save more than £1.7 million from a hard-pressed council budget.

“They noticed there were often long queues of people waiting to be seen, only to find out they did not need an assessment,” Dr Birdi said. “Council staff came up with the idea, used by some high street banks, where staff walk up and down the queue to see if there were more appropriate solutions to reducing waiting times. It has worked very well."

“This approach goes way beyond creative thinking towards embedding new ways of thinking and doing things in an organisation,” said Dr Birdi. “Our model is a simple and systematic vehicle that makes it memorable, easily applicable and keeps its accessibility as wide as possible. The CLEAR aspect is unique in encouraging participants to develop a plan for the implementation of their ideas.”