Utilities Digital Solutions Europe

Viewpoint: Angela MacOscar on sparking serendipitous conversations for water innovation

Tuesday, 18 July 2023

Angela MacOscar, head of innovation at Northumbrian Water (NWG) is a firm believer in the profound impact that stepping outside the office and immersing oneself in events can have on professional growth and innovation.

Knowledge sharing

We are all busy and taking time to look outside can be hard to schedule when your to-do list keeps growing.  It could be seen as a luxury or maybe not essential but as an innovation practitioner, taking time to look outside and attend events is a key part of the job.

Being outside brings the much needed oxygen to fan the flames of creativity, it stimulates new thoughts and I get to meet fabulous new contacts. It is also super important to look beyond the obvious and attend knowledge sharing events in adjacent and non-obvious sectors as this could stimulate new ideas and certainly new contacts.  

Time for change

It is also important to share what knowledge and thoughts you have, especially if you are a new and alternative voice in a sector which can look a little bit one dimensional. Let’s be honest the line ups are often the same and very often with very little diversity of any type, I believe it’s time for a change so that events reflect the sector we want to create and the society which we serve.  

I always look forward to learning about something new and growing my knowledge and I relish a conversation that I had not planned. This is very special now that many of us are home working, so those serendipitous conversations do not happen as often and many of our interactions are planned and time focused.   

Aquatech Sydney Water Innovation Festival

In the past 12 months I have loved getting out and about to attend some brilliant events like Aquatech, Sydney Water’s Innovation Festival and Blue Tech Research Forum. Besides NWG’s Innovation Festival these are shining examples that disrupt the traditional conference format and place an emphasis on relationship building, interactive sessions and less of the traditional one-way knowledge transfer.  

Have you noticed the number of delegates on their phones and laptops at conferences these days?  That is why we formulate our Innovation Festival as a ‘doing’ event.  We run design sprints and data hacks that are run in a fun and creative environment. 

Innovation and passion

NWG’s version of innovation is a full contact sport that requires input, passion and action to bring change and make things happen. The festival is in its seventh year which is testament to how well the formula works to create groundbreaking solutions to tough challenges. This is something we have delivered year on year working with a wonderfully diverse network of partners from over 38 different business sectors and from many countries around the world.  

The water sector globally shares many of the same massive challenges, and we all have so much that we can learn from each other as we are not competing. We can be more effective by taking the time to share what we are doing, the trials we have done so we can all save time and money so we can all better deliver for our customers.

Collaboration at the heart of innovation

I have gained so much from hearing about the work going on around the world and bringing this back to my colleagues at NWG. Collaboration lies at the heart of open innovation and well-structured events play a crucial role in fostering collaboration and co-creation opportunities. The dynamic nature of events encourages spontaneous interactions that can lead to innovative partnership and importantly action.

So invest in yourself and your business to get outside and learn something new. These events serve as a pulse check for the industry, enabling you to benchmark your organisation's performance, evaluate competitors, and recalibrate your innovation efforts accordingly.  

The technology landscape is moving fast and you might just find that solution that will make a difference to your business and solve that tough challenge.  And even more valuable is the opportunity to develop relationships with partners, supply chain and academia.

The investment in creating these relationships that have depth, trust and texture will bear fruit for many years to come.  

  • Angela MacOscar, head of innovation at Northumbrian Water (NWG).