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Carrie W. Capuco
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Water Environment & Reuse Foundation and Water Research Foundation Release Guidance on Fostering Innovation Within Water Utilities
 
Alexandria, VA — The Water Environment & Reuse Foundation (WE&RF) and Water Research Foundation (WRF), in partnership with Birmingham Water Works Board and utilities from North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, have published a guidance manual for innovation based on successful programs in the utility and commercial sectors.

The guidance manual, Fostering Innovation Within Water Utilities (WRF project #4642, WE&RF project LIFT11C15), shows how utilities transform into idea factories, enabled by a sustainable culture of innovation, broad engagement of stakeholders, and effective leveraging of external resources. The manual presents a simple framework geared specifically toward utilities to foster a culture that encourages creativity and facilitates implementation of new ideas.

“Utility structure and processes are built for reliability and repeatability, which can breed a culture averse to trying new and relatively untried ideas,” said Rob Renner, CEO of the Water Research Foundation. “Our hope is that water utilities will use this guidance manual to assess their innovation environment, which can foster new ideas and allow implementation of new approaches that will transform their organizations and enhance their ability to meet future challenges.”

“Consistent with our experiences through the Leaders Innovation Forum for Technology, known as LIFT, this research team found that utilities recognize that to thrive they must provide a culture that supports innovation and manages new ideas as valuable resources,” explained Melissa Meeker, WE&RF CEO. “We are excited to share this guidance manual with the broader water community to foster our emerging culture of innovation.”

The term “innovation” as used in this guidance manual is defined as the application of new ideas resulting in increased value to utility customers and/or increased utility productivity. Using published literature, global surveys, and lessons learned from current programs, the research team facilitated a series of workshops with water utility professionals from around the world to develop the framework. In total, project partners from 50 utilities, professional associations, and the commercial sector worked together to develop a knowledge base from over 30 innovation programs including 14 detailed case studies.

The case studies provide an overview of the selected operations and innovation storyline, and detail how the organizations engage each of the eight innovation disciplines. Eleven case studies representing informal, formal, large, and medium innovation programs for water utilities were developed. In addition, three case studies of innovation in private sector companies were developed based on publicly available information and interviews with staff.

A webcast was held on May 2 previewing the results of the project. The archived version of the Webcast is available for viewing.

The Principal Investigator for the project was Jason Carter, Delivery and Innovation Lead, North America, ARCADIS.

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The Water Environment & Reuse Foundation (WE&RF) is a nonprofit (501c3) organization officially formed in July 2016 as the result of the merger of  the Water Environment Research Foundation and the WateReuse Research Foundation. The merged research foundation, with a combined research portfolio representing over $200 million, conducts research to treat and recover beneficial materials from wastewater, stormwater, and seawater including water, nutrients, energy, and biosolids.

The Water Research Foundation (WRF) is a leading not-for-profit research cooperative that advances the science of water to protect public health and the environment. Governed by utilities, WRF plans, manages, and delivers scientifically sound research solutions on the most critical challenges facing the water community in the areas of drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, and reuse. Over the last 50 years, WRF has sponsored nearly 1,500 research projects valued at $500 million, and serves more than 1,000 subscribing organizations. For more information, go to www.WaterRF.org.