Daniel Smith - Innovation Manager, Industry & Buildings

My role is to support teams in the UK to develop innovations using a Design Thinking or Service Design approach. We’re bridging the gap between theory and development of tangible projects.

During April I travelled around the UK meeting teams within the Industry & Buildings (I&B) business line to understand their work, clients, markets, ambitions and aspirations. My aim was to identify emergent themes: I found clear areas people want to explore and some strong ideas to take forward.

The next stage will have two parallel streams: supporting people to build on their ideas and learn by doing; and exploring emergent themes drawing on the experience of our Smart Solutions team.

Changing how we work

The challenge is educating people on the value of Design Thinking so they want to prioritise it alongside project work. There’s a huge appetite for innovation within the company and it’s well supported at management level.

I&B is very successful because the people in it are passionate about what they do and good at driving results. They’re busy and understandably cautious about allocating time to something if it doesn’t appear to have a clear purpose.

Design Thinking is not rocket science but it is slightly different to how we work. As a people business our real value is in the relationships and trust we build. Design Thinking is all about focusing on people, so it's not a huge step to take.

We need to draw people into innovation projects and communicate what we’re learning. If people experience the process in a way that focuses on the areas they’re passionate about, they will understand how to create their own innovations.

A rewarding role

I feel really fortunate to have the opportunity to sit down with experts that have lots of experience in areas that I’m not familiar with.

Recently I sat with an EIA manager who works on enormous offshore wind farm projects. We went through every stage of development to operation. Another colleague took me on a whistle stop tour of responding to an oil spill. A Birmingham team took me through RIBA Development Stages for building a factory. It’s all fascinating!

Motivation from innovation

The thing that gets me really excited is when people are applying systems thinking to achieve results. Good examples are Circular Economics, Building with Nature, and Doughnut Economics. In all cases we’re looking at linear systems (e.g. take, make, waste) and questioning whether we can make them more regenerative and more sustainable. You need to ask questions like, “Is this waste, or can it be used for something else? What value do people gain from this infrastructure? Is this solution working with or against natural processes?”

A good example is the Sand Engine. The traditional way to respond to coastal erosion is to build solid defences, reduce the energy of waves or impede the movement of sediment.

The developers of the Sand Engine turned this on its head by purposefully placing sand where it would be eroded to continuously nourish the coastline. This creates natural habitats and leads to other economic benefits. It required a lot of work with stakeholders, data analysis and engineering - all of which is facilitated by digital tooling.

An employer with energy

When I came here for an interview I found that the people were passionate about working to improve the environment. Not only were they entrepreneurial but they had a genuine connection to enjoying what we have in the UK.

My goal is to create solutions that help people. At Royal HaskoningDHV it’s not just talk, we really do walk the walk. We’re involved with 70% of the UK’s offshore renewable energy projects, we’re developing revolutionary coastal management solutions like the Sand Engine, we’ve developed Circular Economy businesses like EcoProFabrics and we are investing in developing more innovations all the time.