Last month we hosted our all-digital iKEN live event: ‘Innovating in a Crisis: How our response to COVID-19 will shape our future’.

Chaired by the leader of Glasgow City Council Cllr Susan Aitken, the event brought together experts from two of Europe’s most forward-thinking and innovative nations – Bologna and Aarhus – to discuss the power of innovation as a tool to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and forge a positive path to recovery.

First, Stefania Paolazzi, Project and Community manager at the Fondazione Innovazione Urbana in Bologna, provided insight into a new initiative developed within the city in order to effectively respond to the virus. ‘Re-inventing the city – Coronavirus emergency observatory’ aims to combine analysis, experimentation and community engagement to imagine new policies and practices for the future of Bologna.

Stefania outlined the challenges inherent with the project, primarily the differing levels of technology adoption amongst different demographics, whilst the unexpected nature of the pandemic and the speed at which the news cycle progressed proved difficult to manage at first. However, the project ultimately allowed them to more effectively provide community-based services by developing a real-time understanding of the needs of people within the municipality.

Next, we had Anne Vest Hansen, Head of Department ITK lab and Centre for Innovation in Aarhus (CFIA). Anne discussed how the crisis has rapidly accelerated digital adoption amongst workplaces and businesses – noting the rise of digital education courses and virtual meetings. Anne explained that “the Coronavirus created a reality that forced us to create and innovate”. She then outlined the viability of this technology as an ongoing means of working when we eventually move into the ‘new normal’. Interestingly, Anne singled out an increase in feelings of well-being amongst both children and vulnerable citizens as a reult of new virtual learning environments.

Following Anne’s talk, a number of intriguing questions were posed by our audience to our panel such as ‘How can we extrapolate virtual learning to other sectors?’, and ‘How difficult is it to obtain political approval for the implementation of new innovations?’. Firstly, Stefania considers the possibility that the advances made in virtual learning could be help provide more effective education to children from disadvantaged backgrounds, whilst Anne suggests that the virus has created a culture where political approval for innovation is easier to obtain, but challenges still remain.

Finally, Cllr Aitken summed up the key points from the discussion, noting that “Innovation plays a key role in helping us to transform in all areas of life” whilst, of late, COVID-19 has given us a real clarity on the power and purpose of innovation

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Our next event will take place in mid-August (date TBC), where we will discuss the impact the virus has had on individual cities reaching their low carbon goals.

To view the first iKEN Live Event, click here