In-Conversation with Colin Wood

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In-Conversation with Colin Wood

We are thrilled to introduce our second “In-Conversation With” interview in the series! The initiative aims to celebrate transformational leaders across UK local authorities by sharing their expertise, success stories, and advice on implementing innovative procurement practices.

This week, we had the privilege of interviewing Colin Wood, Innovation Lead at Dorset Council, delving into topics on innovation, procurement, and how these strategies are applied in Dorset.

What is your role at Dorset Council, and what does a typical day look like for you?

I’m currently Innovation Lead. I work with others to position Dorset Council as an open, confident, forward-looking place where innovation can flourish. It’s all about maximising government and industry investment for the benefit of our people and communities.

What are the strategic goals of Dorset Council in the area of innovation?

We believe digital innovation presents opportunities to transform local public services plus become a real driver of our economy.

Rural Dorset is incredibly beautiful which makes it a popular holiday destination. But a tourism-based economy with seasonal, low skilled and often part time jobs is always going to be fragile.

The council’s economic strategies focus on fostering innovative sectors such as marine, agritech, defence and security that typically offer year round, higher value, skilled employment and clean growth. Interesting jobs like these provide our young people with opportunities if they want to stay local and brings in talent from elsewhere.

Building a place with an ecosystem renowned for providing innovative solutions to many of the nation’s grand challenges helps attract inward investment from government and industry. The council’s role is to provide places and spaces such as the Defence BattleLab where collaboration, co-creation and innovation can thrive.

Building an area with a reputation as a forward-looking centre of innovation can help us tell a different story about rural Dorset – a place where you can enjoy brilliant quality of life and a job that makes a real difference for the UK.

The wider social benefits of this new economy include increased social mobility, money recirculating through local supply chains, upskilling of workforces and reductions in carbon emissions.

There are also opportunities for innovation partners to support the council in meeting future challenges, whether that’s different ways to deliver social care or meeting its net zero targets.

Could you tell us about the 5G RuralDorset project, focusing on the value it unlocks for residents and businesses?

5G RuralDorset is where our digital innovation journey started. We set out to understand how next generation connectivity including 5G could help people lead safer and more prosperous lives in rural communities, even in environments as sensitive as our UNESCO-designated world heritage coastline.

The £9 million research and development project focused on themes such as public safety, economic growth, food production and solving environmental challenges. Highlights included the largest ever 5G agri and aquaculture trials, plus the world’s first standalone 700MHz 5G network along Dorset’s Jurassic Coast. This frequency range can cover longer distances over water than higher frequencies, avoiding the need for masts at sensitive locations.

We understand you’ve developed a remarkable tool called the Digital Innovation Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS), aimed at fulfilling Dorset Council’s strategic objectives. Could you provide further details about this tool and the accomplishments it has achieved so far?

Through projects like 5G RuralDorset we have developed relationships with local, national and international partners across public sector, academia, research and industry. The new Digital Innovation Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) is one tool designed to help the council scale and diversify this ecosystem to achieve its strategic aims.

On a day-to-day level the DPS helps us identify organisations looking to work or partner with the council on digital innovation initiatives. We then publish opportunities to work with/supply to the council and its digital innovation partners.

Companies can apply to join the DPS at any time, and we have set the bar deliberately low to help early phase start-ups which can’t afford the time and expense of accessing traditional procurement frameworks.

We had 80 companies apply in the first 30 days and we have just published our first requirement. I hope the DPS can be an agile, open and transparent way to help achieve our innovation objectives.

Could you elaborate on your collaboration with JET? Additionally, why do you place such importance on innovation from start-ups?

JET Connectivity came to us as a single person start up with a fantastic idea to bring wireless connectivity to maritime environments.

Using government funding the council and its partners supported JET to launch the world’s first 5G buoy at sea in Lulworth Cove. Sensors on the buoy relayed real time sea state information to digital safety signs at popular coastal locations.

JET now employs 30 people and is a great example of the innovation we are trying to foster using our assets in Dorset. We see a very bright future for companies like JET in our region as the UK transitions to a cleaner, greener future.

What’s on the horizon in terms of innovation within Dorset Council?

We’re already involved in a couple of very interesting research projects with government and industry.

Our £7m Dorset Open Networks Ecosystem project is carrying out advanced research and development into how cutting-edge technology can transform the roll-out of mobile networks in rural areas. It’s looking at how alternative equipment can provide enhanced performance and power savings while working with a wider range of suppliers could also make the UK’s telecoms networks more secure, competitive and resilient.

And as part of a project called the Rural Connectivity Accelerator we worked with a coalition led by the Satellite Applications Catapult to identify potential pilots to help overcome barriers to mobile connectivity in rural and agricultural areas. We are waiting to see if any of the ideas will be funded and are keeping our fingers crossed for Dorset!

If you could go back in time, and give yourself one piece of advice when you first joined Dorset Council, what would it be?

This is my 24th year with councils in Dorset. Following a career in journalism I took a communications role with a Dorset council back in 2000. One of my first projects was to build the council’s first intranet and public website. People said it would never catch on!

That communications background has helped me over the years. I guess I would tell myself: “Be kind, take people with you and tell everyone what you have done. That story telling is as important as what you actually do.”

If you are interested in showcasing your journeys to innovation through procurement in our in-conversation interviews, please reach out via

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Colin Wood
Innovation Lead

Dorset Council


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