In a fast-paced world of smart thinking where innovation is often driven by sassy start-ups with disruptive tendencies, public sector bodies may not always be in the same league. While the bright young things in the private sector are agile enough to make rapid decisions – ditching what doesn’t work, always a step ahead – the public sector carries on making services run, delivering healthcare and ensuring our day-to-day lives can function.
But then again, two of the world’s most disruptive innovations, the worldwide web and the internet, were delivered by public organisations.
It was at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva that the web was born and the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) which developed the internet – and changed forever the way we communicate.
Closer to home, Scottish public bodies are ideally placed to stimulate change. Working day to day in complex environments covering an immense range of services and with a mind-boggling array of technologies – from collecting rubbish to performing life-saving surgery – they touch every area of our lives.
On their doorstep are smart start-ups fuelled by bright minds from world class universities, supported by a devolved government that has already established initiatives designed to stimulate innovation.
So with a private sector brimming with talent and public bodies anxious to become better, faster, more efficient, it should be a match made in heaven.
But stretching public sector budgets to play with innovative ideas that may or may not reap rewards, connecting them with the right companies to bring them to life and bureaucratic barriers, have created obstacles to innovation.
Now, though, there’s a fresh “can do” attitude and an innovative spark unites the sassy disrupters with the dependable service providers.
The £9.2 million CAN DO Innovation Challenge Fund aims to connect Scottish public bodies and industry to create a mutually beneficial environment for ideas and solutions to flourish.
Unveiled in November, it is a single point of contact for public sector-led innovation, with support and funding for projects and access to multiple sources of open innovation assistance.
“Our ambition is clear: to create a culture in Scotland that supports businesses to use innovation to grow, all underpinned by a clear, easy-to-navigate, well-connected system of information, advice and support,” said Paul Wheelhouse Scottish Minister for Business, Energy and Innovation, as he unveiled the fund in Edinburgh.
Public bodies have already submitted 43 initial expressions of interest to the fund – each one an issue which would benefit from change to make it more efficient, robust or effective.
The first five public bodies are now being supported by the fund to collaborate with industry and develop innovative solutions to their challenges.
The fund is now looking to support a second tranche of public bodies to solve their niggling problems; this second call closes on 19 January.
Scottish Enterprise’s Terry Hogg, project manager of the CAN DO fund, says: “The problem we had was how to link public bodies and their challenges with the private sector who could solve them, without creating more hoops for a small business to jump through.
“They can then take forward the problem, which ultimately may well end up going to market.”
Businesses whose solutions appear most viable receive research and development contracts of between £10,000 and £50,000 to deliver their vision of a solution in three to six months.
Those with the most potential enter the next phase, with additional contracts of up to £200,000 and around 18 months to create a prototype and demonstrate its efficiency. “We then expect the public body to buy the solution if it meets their requirements,” adds Hogg.
“The company concerned always retains its IP, they’ll have a ready-made product to take to market elsewhere and have a big large-scale public body as their first customer to show it has already secured a credible customer.
“They come away with a product to sell, a customer and are not out of pocket.”
For businesses who don’t make it through the process but with ideas that show potential, doors can open to new funding and support from the fund partners.
The CAN DO fund is a joint project between the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Scottish Funding Council.
And it’s already proved its worth: a pilot project resulted in six Scottish SMEs collaborating with NHS Scotland on problems linked to dermatology, diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease.
Among the latest challenges is a call from South Ayrshire Council for technology to create a new generation of CCTV cameras, self-powered and portable for use where and when they are needed most.
Peter Henderson, the council’s resources and performance portfolio holder, said: “The challenge fund gives us the chance to work with businesses, local communities and Police Scotland to develop a modern, flexible, durable and affordable CCTV system which can be used where it’s needed. I’m sure this approach will also benefit others beyond South Ayrshire.”
In Edinburgh, where the council wants off-street electric vehicle chargers to use renewable sources of energy, Councillor Gavin Barrie, housing and economy convener, said: “The challenge has the potential to provide significant economic development opportunities as it will be opened up to SMEs to develop marketable solutions.
“It will also allow successful SMEs to bring their solution to the market, which has the potential to bring in additional investment and create jobs.”
At Glasgow City Council, Michael Gillespie, principal officer in the city’s health and social care partnership, hopes the CAN DO approach can modernise the technology which helps keep elderly and frail people independent at home.
“The current range of telecare devices is narrow and relatively conservative in how it uses technology to raise alerts and trigger environmental risks,” he says, adding that a modern device could have global appeal.
Indeed, the CAN DO spark may well uncover home-grown solutions to problems which exist around the globe – putting Scottish innovation on the worldwide map.
The CAN DO Innovation Challenge Fund is looking for answers to these five challenges:
Smart electric vehicle charging solutions
Electric vehicles are the future. But if they are to fulfil their potential as the complete green solution, they need to harness power from sources that are truly renewable.
City of Edinburgh Council wants to develop EV chargers which embrace the smart city of the future and use renewable energy.
Helping the vulnerable
Helping the frail and elderly stay independent has a range of benefits.
Glasgow City Council’s Telecare service provides motion detector sensors, in-house alarms and direct links to help. But the switch from analogue to digital means there is an increasing need for new technology equipment that enables easy access to the right kind of support.
Rural Water solutions
Delivering pure, drinkable water to rural communities can mean complex treatment facilities and infrastructure to deal with the high level of organics found in raw surface waters in Scotland.
This can impact the sustainability of Scottish Water’s service in remote and rural areas. One potential solution is to treat water to drinking standard at the point of use, however the high organics make this difficult to implement.
A low maintenance and low cost solution could transform the way rural communities around the world are served.
CCTV where it’s needed most
CCTV cameras are currently fixed in place, connected to their power source. South Ayrshire Council wants to develop CCTV units containing their own power source, which can be temporarily placed wherever the need may arise.
Improving how surgical equipment is prepared
In healthcare, it’s vital that risks of contamination are limited in the theatre and elsewhere.
NHS Highland wants to reduce the risk of hospital waste water contamination of aquatic environments, reduce staff health and safety concerns, cut costs and resources connected to pre-cleaning reusable surgical instruments and create a higher level of decontamination which would benefit patients.
More information on the CAN DO Innovation Challenge Fund and the challenges seeking solutions is available at www.scottish-enterprise.com/services/new-opportunities/solve-a-challenge/apply-for-a-challenge
This article appears in the WINTER 2017 edition of Vision Scotland. Further information about Vision Scotland here