Using real-world testing to empower places, people, and businesses

Society has no shortage of innovative ideas or technologies to solve problems. The challenge is knowing whether these solutions can unlock the best outcomes for people and places.

Many new businesses fail to find a suitable market fit due to the lack of evidence showing that their solution meets the needs of the people or organisations it is intended for. This lack of validation can be costly for many early-stage companies when developing an idea. Moreover, end-users (the people who will eventually use and benefit from the solution) are rarely involved in the development and validation of products or services. As a result, their needs and aspirations are only partially understood and addressed, and they may encounter significant barriers in adopting or adjusting to solutions. Organisations or institutions interested in procuring the products or services offered by these companies are also unlikely to take a risk if they are not confident that the solution can be integrated into their own contexts, or that it responds to their business or community needs. Without appropriate testing, there may be a mismatch between the demand for new innovations and the supply of suitable solutions, meaning the challenges faced by people and places can go unaddressed.

So how can we test the potential of innovative solutions to address complex local challenges and unlock economic, social, and environmental benefits for people and places? 

At Connected Places Catapult, we recognise the lack of opportunities to test the impact of new solutions and technologies with real users in real-world situations. In an increasingly technological world where digital innovation is central to how people live and work in cities and places, it is important to create safe, low-risk environments for innovators – including Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs) – to trial ideas and products before scaling them in new and existing markets. To address this, we developed a framework for real-world testing.  

Our real-world testing framework helps establish relevant physical environments and the right testing conditions (i.e., testbeds) for businesses to develop, trial and showcase new or existing products and services that tackle place-based challenges.  

Real-world testing is not a new concept, but how Connected Places Catapult looks to apply this approach is. As a starting point, our approach helps organisations and institutions build the right foundations for innovation, by helping them refine their understanding of their place-based challenges and decide which innovation approach is best to implement. Having overcome the challenges of problem definition, our framework helps organisations explore potential solutions in targeted ways, ranging from co-creating an idea to selecting a solution that already exists in the market. We do this because we understand that not every challenge requires a technological solution, and that not every problem has a solution that currently exists in the market.  Finally, our real-world testing framework guides organisations to test, evaluate and develop solutions – in collaboration with innovators – with potential end-users in real-world contexts. Putting a solution in the hands of end-users and trialling them in a variety of real-world situations is often the best way to learn how it performs and how it can be enhanced. This approach also enables businesses to progress their solution’s readiness level and improve its chances of being scaled.   

Through the real-world testing framework, we encourage our partners to adopt a collaborative, user-centred, and challenge-led approach to local issues, which allows them to better understand and evaluate a potential solution’s suitability and market-readiness. There are several benefits this unlocks for places, people, and businesses: 

  • Local organisations and institutions can approach problem-solving in a co-creative way, with the opportunity to explore ideas and solutions they may have had in mind, but perhaps lacked the capacity or resources to trial in real-world contexts. Additionally, as testbeds are low-risk environments, organisations can trial new solutions and determine if the products or services can operate in the environments they are intended for before making decisions to invest or procure.  
  • For people, real-world testing is a unique opportunity to involve individuals and communities in the process of testing and developing solutions for the challenges they are living through. This has the potential to empower people by allowing them to make their voices heard to the organisations and businesses who could potentially impact or improve their lives. 
  • For businesses, real-world testing allows them to gain access to valuable insights and feedback from potential end-users their products and services are designed for. These insights can be used to iterate and further develop their solutions, to ensure they meet the diverse needs and aspirations of end-users. 

Real-world testing in action: healthy ageing innovations 

Our real-world testing framework has been developed and refined based on learnings from our experience delivering innovation through testing with end-users and customers across the UK and internationally. This ensures it has wide applicability across sectors and scales to address a range of place-based challenges. The framework has been central to our Homes for Healthy Ageing Programme which is helping to ensure the UK’s homes and neighbourhoods can enable people to live and age more healthily. In the first phase of the programme, we worked with partners in Sunderland and Northern Ireland to test solutions to overcome issues with cold and damp homes, and social isolation and loneliness respectively. A number of testbeds were delivered in these locations, with 17 SMEs funded to test and evaluate the appropriateness and capability of their solutions with a total of over 60 local participants. Now in the second phase of the programme, we’re collaborating with Brighton & Hove, Essex, Leeds to deliver local testbeds focused on supporting unpaid carers, improving the efficiency of professional care provision, and improving older adults’ health and well-being through social connectedness (respectively) and supporting a total of 11 SMEs refine their solutions. We will continue to build on insights gained from this programme and other projects to apply our real-world testing framework in new contexts, address new challenges, and inspire the UK healthy ageing ecosystem to bring meaningful innovations into places. 

If you would like to learn more about how Real-World Testing can be applied to the challenges you face, please reach out to either Clémence Martin-Beaumont or Geoffrey Stevens at Connected Places Catapult.