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Tackling innovation challenges in the city of Bristol


The Innovation Programme Manager for Bristol Energy shares his experiences of delivering innovation projects with the One City Plan and what blocks him from innovating better.

While at Bristol City Council my role focused on continuous improvement. In practice this meant supporting departments to develop their service models in ways that dealt with the challenges of reduced budgets, while maintaining or improving current service levels.

To achieve this I needed to think like an innovator. I began by focusing on our core purpose and outcomes, and built service offers that focused on value-adding processes.

Facilitating the team to identify new innovations that would add value to their services – and empowering them to implement these measures – was a big learning experience for me. There is huge value in methods that unlock the intrinsic innovation capabilities that exist within teams – sometimes all the team needs is some space to explore ideas with the backing and trust of senior leadership.

Applying systems thinking to a city

The European Commission has recognised Bristol for its city-wide strategy – the One City Plan – with Bristol being awarded a winning city in the 2019 iCapital award.

The innovation in this approach is in its leadership model. I supported this process by exploring the use of a holistic and ‘systems thinking’ approach to achieving city goals. This led to the development of six strategic boards. Each board brings together leaders from across sectors in Bristol to collaborate on systemic challenges facing the city including environmental sustainability, health, housing and the economy.

At Bristol Energy I’ve moved into the role of Innovation Programme Manager, working with a team to deliver trial innovation projects.

Rapid transformation – going carbon neutral

Bristol aims to be carbon neutral by 2030. Bristol Energy supports this goal and recognises the need for a more diverse portfolio of energy service offers for its customers. This level of rapid transformation in terms of core business and technology requires an innovative approach.

We are building strategic partnerships with other companies and organisations who share the same values and ambitions as us. Within our team we are actively delivering trial projects and building new service capabilities. These projects are building core capabilities for the organisation while also proving the value of energy service propositions that can attract further investment and support the rapid decarbonisation of Bristol.

As Programme Manager I am responsible for delivery assurance and managing the scope of the project portfolio so that it aligns with our corporate objectives.

Blockers to innovation

We’re lucky at Bristol Energy that the culture is supportive of innovation and we’ve not had a lot of struggle engaging people in the innovation process. Going through this testing process allows us to begin validating our ideas on what services will deliver the best return on investment for Bristol Energy and the city.

A key challenge, however, is continuous improvement in the way in which we innovate – to do this more rapidly and to release value quicker. We need more structure throughout the phases that take us from the idea generation to service implementation.

Within this structure should be clear ways our team can measure innovation performance and how rapidly we can move through phases, test ideas and progress them through a pipeline. This will enable us to be clear about which innovations and trial projects we are choosing to progress and why.

Some measures we’ve introduced is to highlight the projects that the Innovation Team is developing across the whole business through ‘Innovation Huddles’. These are lunch and learn events for all staff. This is demystifying the innovation aspect of the business and helping other staff members to be engaged about where the business is heading.

What would help me #InnovateBetter?

A consistent approach to innovation that would enable myself and my team to forecast where we’ll need support from other areas of the business.

A tool that can help us to manage a dynamic innovation pipeline and quickly develop and test ideas in a ‘sandbox’ way.

A set of innovation metrics that can help with developing our capability around innovation and highlight areas of improvement.

A way of managing industry research along with project delivery to support insights and decision making.

My current biggest blockers to innovation include:

  • Innovation pipeline management and prioritisation.
  • Using metrics and data associated with innovation to support reporting to senior leadership about the progress of projects, focus of efforts and expected value to the business.
  • Resource forecasting for where innovation needs to interact with BAU and will require collaboration.
  • Capture of future business/system requirements which are exposed through innovation projects and understanding how these will impact on BAU going forwards e.g. the technology roadmap.
  • Developing industry insight and keeping up with new technologies while being focused on project delivery.

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