The Data Lab’s Innovation Week tasks 150 students with reimagining Glasgow as world-leading ‘circular city’

12 June 2020


12 June 2020

The Data Lab, Scotland’s innovation centre for data and AI, transferred its flagship MSc ‘Innovation Week’ event entirely online for the very first time in its four-year history, tasking over 150 data science students from across Europe with the challenge of imagining how Glasgow businesses might create a world-leading ‘circular city’.

The MSc students from 12 universities across Scotland formed virtual teams for one last project before graduating, applying the data science and AI skills they developed during their studies to solve a real-life problem being faced by businesses today, whilst exploring design thinking.

Students came up with a variety of innovative ideas with propositions tackling a range of relevant topics including reuse of household waste (food, furniture), B2B waste swapping and reuse, battery reusage, educating and incentivising both individuals and businesses to recycle, reuse in schools and the fashion industry as well as working with businesses to help and support communities through recycling initiatives.

Clockwork Orange, a team of six students from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, were crowned winners with their initiative ‘Share My Resources’, an innovative solution for a circular web-based community which promotes education as well as the sharing and re-use of resources/waste.

The week-long virtual event – curated by Design Thinkers Academy London with Glasgow Chamber of Commerce initiative Circular Glasgow providing the challenges, and real-world open data sets made available for analysis – saw students present their solutions to a judging panel of esteemed industry experts which included, Gillian Docherty, CEO, The Data Lab; Michael Groves, Founder, Topolytics; Richard van der Laken, Founder & Creative Director, What Design Can Do; Cheryl McCulloch, Senior Project Manager, Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and Cheryl Robb, Project Manager, Zero Waste Scotland.

Gillian Docherty, CEO, The Data Lab, said: “This year, as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we were left with just a matter of weeks to adopt an online format for Innovation Week to ensure our MSc students didn’t miss out on this milestone which signifies the end of their studies.

“This is the first time we’ve arranged and hosted an event of this scale entirely online. We were delighted to see so many dedicated students continue to invest in their education throughout this pandemic – it was really encouraging to see how engaged everyone was, they really made it extremely tough to select a winning team, with a variety of outstanding solutions presented to the panel. However, Clockwork Orange’s initiative just had that stand out edge.

“Innovation Week is vital to allow master’s students to begin building their data network, who they will collaborate with for years to come. In previous years, we’ve even seen participants who met during Innovation Week go on to work together in the same company – or even set up their own business.”

This year’s challenge, unique to previous years, brought together students from their homes in Scotland and further afield, including Iceland, Finland, France and Greece for the competition.

Using a combination of Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Mural, teams worked through a blend of design thinking workshops, webinars and coaching sessions, to creatively develop their ideas and solutions, before presenting them to their fellow students and the judging panel.

Design Thinking coaches from across Europe took time out of their schedules to support the event, providing their expert knowledge and guidance to students on a daily basis.  This was an added benefit to delivering the event online, providing the opportunity to access these international experts from Belgium, Portugal and The Netherlands as well as from across the UK.

The students were tasked with presenting innovative and fresh solutions, with the judging panel scoring them based on the outlined criteria:

  • Desirability – Based on real user needs
  • Environmental Impact – Delivers impact at scale to the challenge brief
  • Feasible – Technically doable today
  • Viable – Has a commercial basis

The Glasgow Caledonians, four students from Glasgow Caledonian University, who presented the ‘Clothes for Causes’ solution and Team 12, a group of four students from the University of Strathclyde, who presented the ‘Green Circles’ solution were announced Innovation Week 2020 runners up at the closing awards ceremony.

Alison McRae, Senior Director, Glasgow Chamber of Commerce said, “Well done to all of the teams that took part and congratulations to the winning team.  As we look past the pandemic and start to rebuild our city’s economy, it is vital that the circular economy is part of these plans. Collaboration will be key to achieving tangible solutions and the Clockwork Orange ‘Share My Resources’ community reflected the importance of working in partnership, while adopting commercially viable business strategies.”

David Kester, Co-founder of Design Thinkers Academy London, said: “They say necessity is the mother of invention.  COVID-19 could have put the stop to Innovation Week for all 150 data science postgrads at a critical time in their careers.  Instead, in just six weeks, 20 designers joined up with the data science community and broke new ground.  Together we delivered an intensive Design Sprint, hacking data solutions on the circular economy.  It has been an extreme and rewarding learning journey for us all.”