Innovation Studio


The W Booth School is a graduate program that teaches students how to make meaningful, creative contributions to their communities as practicing professionals working on complex, multi-stakeholders problems involving elements of technology, business, and public policy.

Innovation Studio builds on McMaster University's longstanding commitment to relevance through community engagement. In the Faculty of Engineering, we encourage our students to see not just the technical side of the global problems of energy independence, food security and clean water but as an opportunity to co-create change with our global and local communities for the good of all human beings, society, and nature.

Our graduates come with expertise primarily in engineering as well as those with a strong foundation in science and technology. Driven by a desire to work on important societal problems, W Booth students develop a passion for helping people, along with a practical ability to create innovative change.

Innovation Challenges

To educate our students in leadership and innovation, they work on problems and issues that are important and meaningful to a local or global community. These can be as broad as perioperative child anxiety, truck driver fatigue, and sustainable development of the local harbourfront. We call these Innovation Challenges. They are an opportunity to work with community to investigate innovation: new ways for communities work, live, and play.

Students immerse themselves in the communities in which challenges have been identified. Innovation Studio is the place and time where students bring those experiences back to the School, share their learnings and explore new ideas in a safe and familiar environment. W Booth students develop a deeper understanding of the need for empathy as they move toward a new direction or idea. Working within the context of problem identification, the teams learn how to define a project and plan an approach to produce meaningful work, prototypes, policy analysis and new enterprises.

The Student Experience

The Innovation Studio experience is unique in the field of engineering education. At the heart of the Innovation Studio concept, our students experience an in-depth creative process, which is designed to enrich their understanding and problem solving capabilities. Our students are given responsibility to choose their teams and an Innovation Challenge. The role of the faculty is to guide and coach the students towards making an innovative contribution and delivering on an outcome. Over the course of 12 months, students move from selecting teams and an Innovation Challenge into three phases of studio work: discovery, definition, and delivery.

In discovery students develop an understanding of the needs, values, and beliefs of the stakeholders, study existing ways of doing things, and look for levers with which to advocate and create change. From the analysis of this research, a project direction is established by the students. In the following phase, with continued interaction with the stakeholders, each team explores multiple alternatives from which a project is defined. In the last phase, the team delivers on the project, whether policy alternative, new enterprise, product, process, or other implementation. The ultimate deliverable must meet the needs of stakeholders, propose a real world implementation plan and consider organizational, business, regulatory, and policy constraints. Innovation Studio meets on a regular basis and involves a mixture of time to explore ideas, analyze new knowledge, network, and interact with experts and community members.

Innovation Challenge Partners

Our students engage many people in the community in the pursuit of innovation: patients, customers, users, leaders, innovators, influencers, analysts, experts, etc. Although students may work on an Innovation Challenge of their own choosing, many desire to learn and work with a community partner who has brought forward an Innovation Challenge. Students who choose to work with a partner are expected to work through the process with the partner to deliver research, ideas, and an outcome. Partners' roles are to provide students with the access to their network of stakeholders and meet with the students on a regular basis.

As a demonstration of our commitment to community engagement and accountability, our students showcase and celebrate their contributions in an annual showcase.

Case Study: Damage Prevention

W Booth students recently worked with the natural gas industry to investigate new approaches to addressing a complex industry-wide problem: damage prevention. The natural gas industry's infrastructure mostly resides underground, near the surface, where residents digging in their gardens and operators excavating for construction can easily hit the pipes carrying natural gas. Although extensive efforts have been made in recent years to reduce the incidence of damage to pipes, the rate of damage is still too high. Hitting a pipe results in damage to infrastructure, service interruptions, fines, legal bills, business losses, environmental damage and occasional loss of life. Students immersed themselves in the industry. They worked with customers, professionals and leaders inside the industry to learn about the stakeholders, their interests, behaviours at dig sites, the technologies, and policies to develop a broad and comprehensive understanding of the issues, levers for change, needs, and opportunities.

Working continually with stakeholders, students proposed a wide range of solutions included changes to policy, training, onsite data collection, residential education, etc. Consulting with the industry, the student team selected one possible solution for further work. This led to a detailed plan for implementation and included plans for piloting the change, technology development, business implications, and policy considerations. The students experienced working on a complex problem with multiple stakeholders at level they could not normally expect until well in to their career. Industry stakeholders received the benefit of the students' research, new ideas, and detailed analysis on a solution alternative.

Case Study: W Booth students dive into water challenges

Graduate students under the supervision of Dr. Dustin Garrick are contributing to the development of a multi-sector strategy to better manage runoff flowing into our region's extensive watershed. It's part of ongoing efforts to remediate Hamilton Harbour and its surroundings.

In June 2015, the student team - Fizza Anwar, Pooja Chadee and Catherine Burrows (pictured left to right) - participated in a meeting of the Urban Runoff Task Group chaired by Scott Peck, director, Watershed Planning and Engineering, Hamilton Conservation Authority. The team presented highlights of its work to-date on a project to explore alternative approaches to storm water management in connection with a mixed use development coming to Piers 7 and 8 located in Hamilton's West Harbour precinct.

This learning project emerged through the W Booth Innovation Studio and is being implemented in cooperation with the City of Hamilton and other partners. "These students are making the most of an exceptional career development opportunity," said Dr. Garrick. "They're working on a site-specific project while contributing to a highly complex regional initiative. It's a perfect example of engineering leadership in practice."

Gavin Norman, manager, Waterfront Development for the City of Hamilton, is equally positive on the benefits of community-campus collaboration.

"Our team sees this as an excellent opportunity to share knowledge, leverage available resources and see first-hand how the W Booth School can assist the City in implementing our ideas for the waterfront," he said.