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How stakeholder engagement can help unlock transport innovation

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UK roads, railways and airspace are some of the most congested infrastructure in the world. As demand increases, more people are searching for innovative, emerging technologies that could help transport systems become more efficient and effective.

In recent years, innovation has become something of a buzzword, so what do we mean by it and how does it link to transport?

Innovation and infrastructure go hand in hand

The infrastructure industry has always embraced the latest technologies, putting it right at the heart of delivering bigger and better projects. With rising populations and environmental challenges, transport constantly looks to develop and adapt with new technologies such as drones, electric and hydrogen vehicles, and even jet packs and space travel.

Although some of these technologies may seem more at home in a James Bond film, there are a number of exciting companies in the UK and across the world, who are taking innovative technologies to the next level. Innovation in all forms face huge challenges to become commonplace, but in infrastructure and transport, we may see it even more than most industries.

Generally, there is no shortage of ideas and concepts of the next best thing that’ll take us from A to B the quickest, however it’s less usual for them to turn in to reality – often what seems to be the best ideas can dwindle away. You could identify a number of reasons for this, but perhaps unsurprisingly, money plays the biggest role.

There’s huge competition for space in the market too. All new technologies are competing with each other. Innovations in aviation and advances in cycling, are still jostling for position. The reason being, they’re all in the early stages and are battling it out for funding. As government or a private sector company, why should they invest in a new transport method over another?

Building trust and establishing awareness, from the inventor to the consumer

The purpose for an innovative, new transport system or product may seem obvious to the inventors, but when many companies are offering the same result with another method, it’s hard to be a scene stealer and stand out in the crowd. Ultimately, if you aren’t seen as the leader of your own field, it’s harder to secure funding and take your product to the next stage in development.

So what can be done to attract investment in the most exciting and emerging technologies? Just like more conventional businesses, innovators should take a strategic approach when building advocacy and awareness amongst key stakeholders and those likely to invest.

Innovators also need to become industry change makers, meaning they have to be the voice people listen to in the industry and set the narrative to match their own agenda.

By working closely with key stakeholders, innovators can establish awareness and trust with them, and in due course, build a portfolio of potential business and funding opportunities.

Translating innovative ideas into reality

Aside from providing funding, these key stakeholders could have an influence in shaping the future infrastructure innovative technology will need. This is incredibly important when a concept requires external support in making a vision a reality, such as charging points for electric cars, landing pads for electric urban aircraft and new energy sources for hydrogen trains.

Just as contactless payments only became a reality once shops had the infrastructure to accept payments, key stakeholders need to be onboard and actively working on behalf of the technology companies, whether the companies are looking for funding or not.

One of the biggest issues when delivering transport innovation is an assumption that there is a market available. Many novel projects will gain large press coverage and social media following, leading to a conclusion that there’s a welcoming audience to deliver to.

Make-or-break: understanding the regulatory environment

Although press coverage can play a positive role in raising awareness, it should not distract from the logistics and legalities of making new technologies a reality. With any new product or technology, rules can be imposed on it before it even reaches the market, by people who either see it as a risk or simply don’t understand it.

Regulations can make a service or product harder to sell to customers and potential investors. Without considering the regulatory environment at the early stages of conception, projects may find their operations constrained, leaving them in an unprofitable situation and unable to progress.

There is no clear relationship between the amount of popular interest a technology generates and its potential to create value or change. Decision-makers need to have the knowledge to assess technology advancements and the potential impact, to ensure it has the best outcomes for society. That way, companies can actually create policies in their favour rather than seeing it enforced on them.

A more strategic approach from innovators in transport will mean they can build advocacy on a deeper level than just public support, and become industry change makers. By developing policies that fit their business needs and securing funding, they’ll be able to deliver their vision and transform the way we go about our daily lives.

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