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What skills do you need to fast track innovation across local highways? Live Labs White Paper #6

31 March 2022

A new white paper has been published today, highlighting how a new approach is urgently needed in order to fast track innovation across local highways and contribute to net zero targets.

Skills for Innovation Programmes is the sixth white paper from the ADEPT (Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Places and Transport) SMART Places Live Labs Programme.

It asks the key question: what skills enable innovation at pace in local highways authorities (LHAs) which emphasise traditional approaches?

While it is acknowledged that the highways sector has massive potential to contribute to national net zero targets through adopting new technology and innovation, the skills needed to achieve this aim can be very different to those currently held in the industry.

With the £22.9m Department for Transport funded programme drawing to a close, the white paper examines the key skills that have made the programme such a success. Where LHAs can be slow to change, reliant on long term contracts and traditional materials and methods, what has been needed to change course?

For the Live Labs programme, as much learning has come from the evaluation process, as has been established by the results. Partnerships were established between local authorities, the private sector, academia and SMEs. Each partner brought a different way of thinking and working into the mix. 

The white paper identified six essential elements that underpin the skills needed to drive innovation and creativity in the sector: 

  • Change is constant and systems are interlinked – think in terms of outcomes and benefits
  • Critical thinking and collaboration – gather a range of perspectives to find a solution.
  • Agile approach – be flexible, check and challenge.
  • Evidence gathering – learn along the way, not just about the outcomes, but understand the process.
  • Willingness to ask, learn & share – silos are the enemy of innovation.
  • Think commercially – is there a commercial application, can it be adopted widely, will it become business as usual?

Neil Gibson, Chair of the Live Labs Commissioning Board, said: “Live Labs has proven how traditionally-minded areas of the public sector like LHAs can innovate rapidly, providing they instil a new, innovation approach. Without this new way of disruptive thinking, we are unlikely to meet our net zero targets, drive efficiencies and meet rising user expectations.

“We’ve seen trials such as 3D printed lighting elements gain type approvals and data and sensor outcomes influence UK standards, all within a two-year programme. But what has really changed is the willingness to learn, share and think differently. That’s what creates an innovation culture.”

Giles Perkins, Live Labs Programme Director said: “Innovation is as much about the cultural aspects of change and adaption as it is about the technology. If we’re to embrace the major challenges before us we need to harness the new products, services and business models available and deliver these in new, much more agile ways. This will be a journey we all need to go in.”

ADEPT represents local authority, county, unitary and metropolitan Directors of Place. The Live Labs initiative is part of ADEPT’s SMART Places programme to support the use of digital technology in place-based services. 

The eight Live Labs are being led by Buckinghamshire Council, Central Bedfordshire Council, Cumbria County Council, Reading Borough Council, Suffolk County Council, alongside joint projects by Solihull Council and Birmingham City Council (West Midlands), and Kent and Staffordshire County Councils. The programme is supported by project partners SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business, EY, Kier, O2, Ringway and WSP.

Skills for Innovation Programmes is available here.