The dust has settled on Technoport 2014 and we’ve had plenty of time to contemplate on the outcomes and learning opportunities of the conference. During my time at Technoport, I served as the project manager of the Share the Problem sessions, a series of inter-disciplinary workshops where we attempted to find solutions to innovation challenges by sourcing expertise from different fields.
Working on the Share the Problem project allowed me the opportunity to develop, witness and participate in an exciting series of workshops with a huge number of talented people. The beauty Share the Problem’s crowdsourcing philosophy is that it can be effectively applied to any innovation challenge in any industry – it is difficult to paint a scenario in which some crowdsourcing isn’t beneficial.
This was reflected in the diverse challenges we faced at Technoport 2014, where our problem owners and their respective problems each varied widely from each other. Ericsson wanted to discuss how future telecommunication networks would effect society. A-Aqua wanted to harness the expertise of students and researchers to help improve their emergency sanitation system. Trasnova wanted participants to design the electronic transport system of the future, and OMC wanted ideas for apps which could help rural communities in rural India.
The session outcomes were as mixed as the challenges.
Ericsson’s abstract problem of mapping out a future society was always going to be speculative, based more on what could potentially happen than what would definitely happen. OMC intended to discuss potential avenues for app developers, enabling them to perform further research into feasible ways of enhancing the social benefit of their energy networks. The workshops that I was more heavily involved with, A-Aqua and Transnova, were more practically defined with specific obstacles for participants to overcome.
My personal highlight was the practical creativity during Monday’s Transnova workshop. Armed with a seemingly endless supply of cardboard, markers, tape, scissors and ideas, participants (including psychology professors, industrial designers and NTNU students) created a prototype of the electronic vehicle and transportation system of the future. Ideas varied from a revolutionary transition of the national transportation system away from individual transportation and towards a rail/car hybrid system, to simple but practical solutions to overcome challenges associated with vehicle battery life. Transnova’s representatives were particularly impressed with one participant’s suggestion that car batteries could be attached to mobile chargers that could replenish the battery whilst on the move.
This idea was an example of a pattern which was consistent throughout the sessions: solutions that are relatively simple can be overlooked because they do not fit in with the field of expertise of a company or the trajectory of development of a technological product. This is not the fault of the company or organisation facing the problem – it is a more deeply engrained challenge of modern society which can be overcome by improved multi-disciplinary communication.
This was best demonstrated in a solution proposed by an NTNU student to one of A-Aqua’s challenges – to find a way of communicating how their emergency sanitation system can be maintained by end-users in the field. This is particularly difficult as these users may have little familiarity with the system, no access to lab equipment and may be from a variety of cultural/language backgrounds. An NTNU industrial design student suggested the straight-forward solution of using principles of graphic design to represent instructions for system maintenance on the system itself. Just one of several excellent ideas in the room (including a group of industrial ecologists’ suggestion that insects could be used to digest waste), A-Aqua left the workshop knowing that they had secured a viable solution to one of their problems.
Share the Problem was a celebration of collective knowledge in a world in which ideas are often isolated. Sometimes this led to exciting new ideas, and sometimes it meant asking new questions from a different perspective. It was a microcosm of everything we wished to practise at Technoport 2014 – innovation, idea exchange, overcoming boundaries, hoping to succeed and daring to fail.
Technoport shared the problem, Trondheim rose to the challenge.
Until next time.