21 December 2015
Case study, Regional, Update
Northumbrian Water and Northumbria University - 'Living the Drain'
Students from Northumbria University in Newcastle have demonstrated their problem-solving skills by developing a range of behavioural change initiatives to help Northumbrian Water tackle blocked sewers and flooding.
One of a series of case studies of successful business-university collaboration
In the words of Northumbrian Water’s Love your drain campaign mascot, Dwaine Pipe, “only toilet paper, pee and poo go down the loo”. Flushing the wrong items down the toilet or using the kitchen sink to dispose of waste such as cooking fat can block drains and lead to flooding, causing misery for those households affected. However, as the problem is largely invisible until disaster strikes, persuading customers to act differently is challenging.
Northumbrian Water tasked students at the university with helping to solve this problem. 65 third year BA (Hons) Design for Industry students were set a very broad challenge to come up with ideas on how Northumbrian Water can address the issues of sewer blockages in and around the sewer network.
The students were given a very wide scope so that they could be as creative as they liked and the solutions that they came up with ranged from an education campaign to processes, products and viral videos.
The Northumbrian Water team were impressed by the students’ enthusiasm to raise customer curiosity and their creativity, (one of the most memorable ideas was the Loo’flet), and selected four of the ‘solutions’ to explore further with a group of Multidisciplinary Innovation Master’s degree students from the University’s INNOVATE hub, an off-campus design-led innovation centre.
Northumbrian Water were so impressed with the students’ work they invited them to present it to a team from the company including Directors and Managers, as well as their tutors, so that they could see first hand the work the students produced and also to get a real feeling of the energy the students brought to the project.
In just three weeks they had developed some really great concepts around apps, games, roadshows, bins and advertising campaigns. An added WOW factor they brought to the project was that they had inter-linked the ideas and all the solutions were heavily researched, fully costed and designed to complement Northumbrian Water’s already successful love your drain campaign.
One of the greatest benefits of the project is the fresh perspective that the company has gained in relation to how it can engage with its customers. Northumbrian Water have also built some great relationships with the University that will help future projects.
The company have already identified some further opportunities to work with the University and their Innovators in Residence. For example, Northumbrian Water engaged with the University to run a workshop with some of the company’s Asset Delivery Managers, Marketing Team and others to begin to develop a tool kit for engaging directly with customers when beginning Flooding Community Action Plans. There will be many more opportunities to work together in the future.
Elaine Erskine, Technical Strategy Manager from Northumbrian Water, said:
“Changing behaviour is critical to prevent sewer flooding so it’s important to talk to customers about the causes. Working with the undergraduate degree and masters students on our love your drain campaign has provided us with fresh perspectives on how to engage with customers and we’ve been hugely impressed with their work. We look forward to continuing work with Northumbria University and their innovative students to bring some of these projects to life.”
Lucy Winskell OBE, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Business Engagement at Northumbria University, said:
“Through our INNOVATE hub we engage with a number of businesses, bringing together world-class academic researchers from all faculty disciplines and energy-charged students to solve problems or help open up new commercial opportunities. It’s all provided under one roof in an incredibly creative environment. The work of the Multi-Disciplinary Innovation team, along with programme leader Dr Nick Spencer and the undergraduate students on this project, is an ideal example of this working in practice and having real positive impact with an important business partner.”