Many municipalities, companies, and organizations have specific drivers for adopting innovation. These stakeholders also typically face barriers when adopting innovative solutions.

A session that took place at the Blue Cities conference on May 7, 2019 explored these topics in the context of projects and initiatives that the speakers in session have been involved in. The speakers that participated in the Paving the Way for Innovation plenary fishbowl session included:

  • Albert Cho, vice president and general manager of advanced infrastructure analytics at Xylem
  • Erin Mahoney, commissioner of environmental services at York Region
  • Sudhir Murthy, chief executive officer of NEWHub
  • Carl Yates, general manager of Halifax Water (moderator)

Since there are many definitions for the word “innovation,” Yates posed the following question to kick off the session: what does innovation look like at your municipality, company, or organization? Erin Mahoney’s response to the question is included below.

“For us in York Region, it starts with some clarity of thought. The word ‘innovation’ itself can be intimidating to our staff, threatening, and almost inaccessible. So we started a few years ago by trying to define what innovation meant to us in our culture at York Region. We started very early with a definition of doing more with less and since that time, we have built upon that definition as we have advanced the culture.”

“The other advantage of being part of the Canadian Water Network (CWN) and broader networks is that we are not in it alone and so while building a process, we had the advantage of looking at the processes that Sudhir developed at DC Water and that San Diego has developed. We have advanced that process, distributed that process to our staff, and developed a portal where there’s a toolkit.”

Blue Cities 2019 - Paving the Way for Innovation Session

“We are looking to demystify what innovation is and make it a process that is very accessible to staff. I think the final part for us is really building acceptance of failure. Not lazy failure, incompetent failure, or could not be bothered failure. But failure where people are really being persistent, resilient, and really trying. I think part of innovation is that it is not going to happen overnight. As utilities, we can really reward those behaviours and not just the outcomes. I think it will encourage more staff to drive forward successes and innovation over the longer term.”

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