By Jon Sirney

At the second Inclusion, Innovation and Technology Summit in May 2017, the I2T Committee debuted an interactive component of the event: The Innovation Challenge.

The idea was an interesting one: Participants would be presented with real-life issues that WAPA was facing, and then they would break into teams and work together to develop actual, workable solutions to those problems. The entire process would take place over the course of the next few hours, after which each team would present its solution to the rest of the attendees and a panel of judges.

The first Innovation Challenge was a success, but there was also one notable drawback: Participation in the Innovation Challenge was limited to those who were on site at the event. This meant that even though the entire I2T Summit was streamed to employ¬ees throughout WAPA, only those at the Sierra Nevada regional office in Folsom, California, where the event was held that year, were able to work on and share solutions.

Because the first I in I2T stands for Inclusion, we knew it would be wise to handle future events a bit differently. 

Starting in 2018, we opened the Innovation Challenge to all WAPA employees, allowing them to work on solutions to the issues being discussed on their own, wherever they were located, and then present them to the rest of the attendees and judges via video-teleconference. This was one way we innovated through technology to drive inclusion, so we managed to hit all three points at once!

Now, as we are finding all of our routines redefined by the COVID-19 pandemic, the time has come to redefine the Innovation Challenge once again.

As you read last month, the I2T Summit is going 100% virtual for 2020. We saw this as an oppor¬tunity to respond constructively to feedback from the previous years’ events and challenge the scope of our supposed limitations. 

The major change we’re making is to the activity’s structure. 

In prior years, participants would have a very limited time in which to learn about the problem, consider it, brainstorm ideas, settle on one idea, develop that idea and present it. One piece of feedback we received is that it might be helpful to know the problems in advance, so that folks could take time to understand them before diving into solutions.

This year, we will allow exactly that. The I2T Summit will be held Nov. 18-19. On Nov. 16, Innovation Challenge participants will receive a breakdown of the problems to be solved. This will give everybody a chance to get their thoughts straight ahead of time.

Additionally, with the event taking place over the course of two days, the Innovation Challenge will be broken into two parts. On the first day, participants will break into teams to discuss and develop their solutions in virtual VTC conference rooms. On the second day of the Summit, they will present their solutions to the judges. Giving the teams more time to work on the ideas and information in advance will allow them to explore their ideas more thoroughly and also have time to add finishing touches to their presentations for the following morning.

Throughout the event, support will be available to the participants. In previous years we imple¬mented a well-received hotline, which allowed team members to ask questions and request technical help as needed. We will do the same thing this year, ensuring that nobody feels stranded, even if nobody is actually “on site.”

All of this means participants should end up seeing this year’s Innovation Challenge as both familiar and improved. 

Of course, there is one last thing we need for a successful Innovation Challenge: real-world issues facing WAPA for you to solve.

It’s fair to say that this year has not gone according to anybody’s expectations. COVID-19 has upended our plans many times over. WAPA has overall adjusted to this new normal quite well but that does not mean there isn’t room for improvement.

What issues are you facing in your daily work? What processes can be improved? What problems do you feel remain to be adequately addressed?

We won’t be able to develop solutions to every problem at the Innovation Challenge this year, but we will review every submission before choosing which ones to focus on.

Please, submit your suggestions. Your colleagues across WAPA just may come together to help develop a solution for it at this year’s I2T Summit in November.

Note: Sirney is a Power System Dispatcher Trainer and the coordinator of the Innovation Challenge.

Last modified on September 12th, 2023