STEAMhouse supports local authority in defining innovation challenges

STEAMhouse has collaborated with Birmingham City Council (BCC) to identify citizen-centred challenges and present them to SMEs to respond with ideas for digital solutions.

Posted 09 September 2022

STEAMhouse worked with Birmingham City Council via workshops to help them identify their innovation challenges.

Removing blocks to innovation

STEAMhouse – alongside Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands and innovation space Bruntwood SciTech – partnered with BCC on the Digital Innovation in Public Services (DIPS) project.

The project has seen STEAMhouse representatives work closely with various directorates within BCC to identify the challenges they face from a citizen perspective.

Furthermore, they aimed to define each challenge as a brief that businesses can respond to with new products or services.

“Currently, when local authorities procure new solutions, their tender processes are complex and off-putting to smaller businesses,” explains Patrick Bek, Head of Service Innovation and Experimentation.

“Secondly, authorities tend to go out in tender processes asking for the solution, determining in-house what the solution should be instead of an alternative approach, which would be publish the challenge and invite in ideas.”

Identifying both of these factors as blocks to innovation, DIPS is looking to change the way public sector organisations procure new digital innovations.

Identifying key challenges

STEAMhouse worked across numerous directorates within BCC – including Public Health, Planning and Development, Adult Social Care and Transport for West Midlands – in order to create compelling briefs for business to respond to.

“We conducted a number of collaborative workshops with each directorate,” Patrick explains.

“This helped participants to zoom out of the day-to-day together and critically analyse the challenges, finding commonalities or tensions.

“The process enabled them to focus on the issues that were urgent to solve and would also be compelling for innovative SMEs to respond to.”

Together, a number of challenges were identified in which BCC looked to see how technology could provide the solutions.

These included a challenge around how digital technology might transform mobility hubs into thriving community spaces, where residents can access various modes of transport but also enjoy a vibrant activity-filled facility.

Another challenge asks how digital technologies can help to reduce the distance of food from farm to fork in and around Birmingham, supporting the development of a new food hub planned for the City Centre.

Generating exciting ideas for procurement

Now that STEAMhouse has identified and defined the challenges, Bruntwood SciTech has now launched them to digital SMEs. In the future, interested parties will be given the opportunity to present their ideas, accelerate them and get them ready for market.

“The whole point of the project is about generating exciting ideas to show that there is an alternative way to procure things within a local authority and make innovation happen,” Patrick says.

“We hope that, if successful, we can look to roll this method out nationally to authorities across the country.”

Innovation is something Patrick knows well, having discussed the innovation needs of the region in a recent UKSPA article.

Birmingham City University is also continuing its innovation support and is readying a series of programmes, all accredited by the Institute of Innovation and Knowledge Exchange.