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Innovation Week 2019 – the flagship event of our MSc programme

Blog by Marian Dunbar, Skills Co-ordinator, The Data Lab

At the beginning of June, the whole The Data Lab MSc 2018/19 cohort gathered together for one of the most important events of The Data Lab MSc programme – Innovation Week.  This is our flagship event where students get to apply the data science and AI skills they have developed during their studies to real world problems and data sets, whilst exploring design thinking.

 Watch this short film on the event:

This was our largest event yet – it brought together 155 students from 11 universities across Scotland studying more than 20 different data science and AI MSc courses.

The event took place 3-5 June at the Glasgow Marriot Hotel in Glasgow and for the 2nd year running was facilitated by Snook, a design agency based in Glasgow, who did an amazing job of leading us through the process in three action packed and full days.  We had the fantastic support of our five challenge owners, RBS, Wood Mackenzie, Sustrans, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, SEPA/Scottish Water/Scottish Satellites all of whom gave a huge amount of time and resource before and during the three days.   We are especially grateful to our main sponsors RBS who supported a fabulous networking dinner and to Wood Mackenzie for their contribution to our final day celebration.

 Our aims of the event were:

  • Help SOLVE real-world challenges of Scottish-based organisations using data
  • Help students LEARN about how to define ‘real’ problems using the design process
  • Help students ARTICULATE and COMMUNICATE conclusions to a variety of audiences
  • Create a COMMUNITY of students, meeting their peers across all of the Scottish universities.


What did the students do? 

They were led through the design thinking process, practicing the approach by flexing their data science creativity and muscles on six amazing challenges and datasets. The students worked in teams to explore the challenges; understand the business and user needs; generate and test ideas; build and test solutions and at the grand finale to share their conclusions with their peers, the challenge owners and a judging panel comprised of Snook and The Data Lab panelists.

Did we meet our aims?

Some novel solutions were proposed (see below) and the degree of creativity and out of the box thinking demonstrated is remarkable.  It was amazing to see how well the students embraced Design Thinking and put it into practice in addressing the complexity of the problems proposed.  During the event, students were encouraged to communicate their thinking to each other, Snook, The Challenge Owners and the judging panel.  Our networking dinner was a highlight; students heard from Barry Shields, RBS (Head of Customer Data Science) about his career journey, and one lucky team left the evening with a The Data Lab goody bag (including of course a stash of The Data Lab socks) having won The Data Lab quiz.

It was amazing to see the students transform from a room of individuals into teams and communities, and we know that this networking continues with city hub What’s app groups.

The Innovation Week is delivered, as with The Data Lab MSc programme, through partnerships including with our funders SFC/ESF (Developing Scotland’s Workforce), Snook, MBN, Scottish organisations across all sectors of the Scottish economy and the 11 universities we work with as well as our incredible body of students.  It is these partnerships that enable us to deliver The Data Lab MSc programme, ultimately building the skills of our new MSc talent to strengthen Scotland’s thriving data science community.   Innovation Week was such a brilliant experience and so I would like to say a huge thank you to all involved.

Looking forward to next year already!

The challenges and some of the solutions proposed


Challenge: How might we encourage students to take part in active travel?
– Welcome pack for students with active travel guidance including cycling advice
– Active travel life-cycle app

SEPA/Scottish Water/Scottish Satellites

Challenge: How might we reduce the stress on our water systems?
– Low cost ramps for drives in urban areas instead of mono-bloc

Diabetes Challenge

Challenge: How might we help people manage their diabetes more effectively?
– Diabetes mood tracker app and a personalised data tracker for diabetics

Royal Bank of Scotland

Challenge: How might we reduce risk when making mortgage valuations?
– An on-line property valuation process with slider

Wood Mackenzie

Challenge: How might we accelerate the energy transition in Europe’s power market?
– An app to show the consumer the source of their energy
– Create efficiencies in energy production by working with multiple agencies (RSPB, Wind farm operators) to develop an alert system to deter flocks of birds flying into wind generators

Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park

Challenge: How might we address litter prevention in a popular tourist destination?
– Collect data from the agencies (rangers, business, councils) to populate a desk top map and app to identify when litter peaks will occur
– Solar powered compression of litter in bins to avoid overflow


“Being a Data Lab Innovation Week challenge owner was a great experience for us. We got as much from the actual process of being involved as we did from the potential solutions the students came up with over those intensive three days.

“We had the chance to discuss a long-seated problem (litter in the countryside) from a fresh perspective, which gave us real food for thought on how to approach it operationally.

“We’re delighted to say we have been able to support the placement of one of  The Data Lab students, Ryan, in-house. He’s providing us with invaluable  expertise to crunch some complex data sets, adding an important new skillset to the National Park Authority. We would wholeheartedly recommend others to get involved with the Data Lab MSc Innovation Week – be prepared to have your eyes opened to a new way of  thinking and if you’re lucky some innovative solutions”
Nik Turner, Litter Prevention Manager and Anna MacLean
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park


“We thoroughly enjoyed being involved in the Innovation Week challenge as challenge owners. It was a great opportunity for us to demonstrate the data culture in the bank and give the participants a view of how the bank uses data to solve real customer problems. Inclusion of design thinking aspects in the workshop ensured that  participants came up with customer centric solutions.

The enthusiasm of the participants was amazing and it was a pleasant surprise to see participants think about the bigger picture and how their solutions might affect the end customer. Great event and highly recommended for anyone transitioning from academics to data science in the real world.”
Vinit Jadhav, Data Analytics, RBS


“Taking part in the Data Lab Innovation Week as a Challenge owner was good fun and an interesting experience. The students worked really hard to come up with innovative solutions to a problem that has been challenging us as an organisation for a while. All the groups went out onto the streets of Glasgow to do user research and put a lot of energy into their final prototypes and presentations. It was good to get their ideas and see them bring the problem to life with so much imagination.”
Dr Cecilia Oram, Delivery Coordinator, Education | Behaviour Change | Sustrans Scotland


“I came across the Data Lab event quite by accident, in an entirely separate discussion forum, but it sparked a thought in me. That thought was that we might not be asking the right question to the right people. Traditionally, when we talk about flooding, the people involved are always the same. The Data Lab event gave me the opportunity to have people of a different mindset and training have a look at the issues of the day.

“The event itself was as much an education to me as I hope it was for the students. Challenge 2 ended up with about 24 students wanting to work alongside SEPA and Scottish Water, which was encouraging. The ideas they came up with quite often took the traditional view, but then headed in new directions, which is what I was hoping for.
Since the event, I’ve been contacted by a couple of the students in the SEPA-Scottish Water Challenge via LinkedIn. Hopefully they’ve seen how their training can be applied in the ‘real world’ and it’s given them something to target going forward.

“Thank you for including SEPA and Scottish Water in the Data Lab event, I hope these opportunities come by more often to explore the talented people we have in Scottish higher education.”
Dr. Rick Haynes, Senior Specialist Scientist (Hydrology) SEPA

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