Howell Davies: Collaboration can bring about positive solutions leading to positive impacts

Howell Davies, Sector Engagement Manager, Interface.
Howell Davies, Sector Engagement Manager, Interface.
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A problem shared is a problem halved, and this is never more true than when like-minded businesses join forces with academic know-how to solve a challenge.

Our team at Interface works with businesses to present challenges and opportunities to Scottish universities, colleges and research institutes to encourage innovation. While my colleagues match individual businesses to universities and colleges, the Sector Engagement Team supports groups of business in three sectors – food & drink, tourism and creative industries – bringing them together with academic expertise to tackle sector-wide challenges. Their collective strength from pooling resources can bring greater achievements, even when working closely with competing organisations.

Rosslyn Chapel

Rosslyn Chapel

Here are some examples of groups of companies which have come together, with our support, to work with universities, and the benefits and impacts achieved as a result:

Not many people know that Scotland has a burgeoning tea growing industry. A group of small growers is looking to develop a high-end quality product with its branding centred on Scottish provenance. By pooling their resources, the Tea Gardens of Scotland group has been working with the University of Aberdeen to authenticate the provenance of Scottish tea, based on chemical and molecular analysis.

Together, they have been able to share knowledge and best practise, apply for funding and, excuse the pun, establish roots to develop a supply of tea plants to market and sell collectively.

A higher profile industry in Scotland – and one which is proud of maintaining traditional methods - is distilling.

The Scottish Distillers Association started as a small group of distilleries keen to collaborate with each other and with academic researchers. Our objective in setting up the Association with Heriot-Watt University was to accelerate the growth of the sector through enhancing the knowledge of those establishing distilleries. Innovation is still seen as a key element in driving growth in an increasingly competitive global industry.

This joined up approach worked well to improve energy efficiency, develop fruit spirits and establish a botanical library, which have been useful to the distillers to meet environmental goals, launch new products and meet international export requirements. To date, over 30 MSc students from Heriot-Watt University have been involved in projects with member distillers, giving them valuable industry experience.

The Association now represents 21 Scottish distilleries and focuses on protecting the provenance of Scottish spirits through accreditation, as well as giving access to market intelligence and insights to members.

Interface is in a privileged position where we build up relationships and intelligence with stakeholders, companies and academia. We can provide a valuable overview of industry-wide challenges around sustainability and productivity at a company, sectoral and national level. We are already engaging with companies and academics from a wide range of sectors and disciplines who are developing technology, expertise and resources which could potentially help solve some of these short, medium and longer term challenges.

A recent example of a collaboration brought together to help tackle a specific challenge has been with Arran’s hospitality sector. Lead by environmental group EcoSavvy and local tourism organisation VisitArran, the community aims to build a circular economy to minimise waste and, where possible, add value to it.

Working with Topolytics, a data analytics and mapping company, and the University of Strathclyde, the multiparty group will develop innovative and sophisticated models to assess the operational, environmental and economic performance of various waste processing options and systems for the island community, whose population rockets from 5,000 to 40,000 in peak season. This could help Arran in its ambitions to become the first fully sustainable island in Scotland.

A very different multi-group collaboration involved four major tourist attractions, including Rosslyn Chapel and the National Museum of Scotland, which were turned into “living labs” to research innovative programmes tailored for visitors over 75 years old. Working with Tourism Management academics from Edinburgh Napier University and a Cognitive Psychologist from Heriot-Watt University, the project was about creating positive and safe experiences for senior visitors across the tourism sector. The findings have now been disseminated far wider to the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions and charities, such as Age Concern, and will have a greater impact as a result.

Collaborations like these can bring about positive solutions leading to positive impacts on the economy, society and environment, especially where they are disseminated as widely as possible for the benefit of all.

Howell Davies, Sector Engagement Manager, Interface