Preparing the water industry for technological innovation

Our insights into the dynamics of innovation are set to reshape the business landscape of the UK water industry. Regulatory strategies and legislation based on our research are driving significant reforms and changes to long-term planning.

Research by Dr Duncan Thomas is having a profound effect on long-term planning and strategy for the water industry in UK and Europe.

Dr Thomas’ insights into the drivers of, and barriers to, innovation in UK water companies have been heard at the highest level, including the industry regulator Ofwat, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, Lord Sainsbury, HM Treasury, Defra, the DTI’s Environmental Innovations Advisory Group, the Commission on Environmental Markets and Economic Performance, and the European Innovation Partnership on Water.

The work has influenced key policy consultations, regulatory reforms and legislation:

  • The Cave Review into the water sector based some of its recommendations on the research
  • The All Party Parliamentary Water Group and the Council for Science and Technology – the Prime Minister’s highest independent strategic advisory body on cross-departmental science and technology – both invited Dr Thomas to present his work during their discussions on water policy reforms
  • The 2011 Water White Paper included sections on innovation that reflected Dr Thomas’s research findings; the subsequent 2012 Draft Water Bill mentioned the need for regulatory mechanisms to drive improvement and innovation in the industry
  • Ofwat’s Future Regulation Advisory Panel asked Dr Thomas to advise on initiatives to incentivise innovation and the reform process
  • The creation of the high-level Water Sector Innovation Leadership Group and Water UK Innovation Forum arose from the growing recognition for greater innovation.
  • The Technology Strategy Board’s £3.5 million water innovation platform, launched in 2012, used evidence from the research to gain water industry support for key follow-on projects
  • The European Innovation Partnership on Water consulted Dr Thomas during its research on how to make regulatory impact assessment in the European water sector better incentivise innovation

Our research

Dr Thomas compiled in-depth case studies to compare innovation successes with failures within the UK water industry. He produced a rich dataset of interviews, surveys, opinions and evidence from over 200 stakeholders and 50 organisations.

From this source material he identified:

  • Significant but unsuspected inventiveness in the supply chain
  • Underutilised strategic leadership and partnership roles for water companies in accelerating innovation development and adoption
  • Slow response times to long-term challenges
  • Lost skills when innovation champions retired and were not replaced
  • Lack of sector-wide collaboration

These insights into the dynamics of innovation led to further explorations into how the current situation would affect the UK’s long-term position in a global water market when faced with sustainability issues and the consequences of climate change.