Boosting Workplace Innovation in the railway sector with the support of the H2020 RailActivation Project

Why do we need Workplace innovation in the Railway sector?

Railway transport already plays a vital role in supporting Europe’s society, developing its economy, and protecting its environment. It has the potential to contribute much more, being the major driver in developing the strategic objective of smart green and sustainable growth.

At the same time the digital revolution is happening, thus transforming the way we move and produce. The railway manufacturers work now with “Industry 4.0” concept, which has drastically influenced the way of doing business. Mobile applications, e-ticketing, digital train control, signalling and traffic management, digital platforms for predictive maintenance are the key areas of digitalisation in the rail sector.

Railway sector requires permanent development of innovations to improve its competitiveness, and specifically the SMEs.

“The key to success in the railway sector is the full involvement of its employees through the implementation of the all-encompassing workplace innovation”.

Innovation does not fail because of a technological failure or because the idea is bad. It fails because people make it difficult or avoid it, since they feel threatened by it or do not have an innovative mindset.

The idea may be good and perfect, but if the Innovation Process does not work, it will die. However, the idea could not be very good, but if it is implemented and marketed with the utmost commitment and passion, it can become a great innovation.

The lack of a corporate and innovation strategy as a basis for decision making is one of the most important barriers in Workplace Innovation. This is usually accompanied by the fact that the information is insufficient or insufficient as the basis for the decision. Another barrier for Workplace Innovation is that the Innovation Tasks does not always appear in job descriptions, therefore, they are perceived as additional work for some employees. Unrealized commitment and lack of support for innovation are undoubtedly one of the main reasons for the failure of innovations

At the same time an inadequate investment in people could be the biggest risk in workplace innovation. When employers perceive that the company is not giving them the compensation, career development, and other benefit, they are less committed to the innovation culture.

The fullest possible extent, simultaneously enhancing business performance, engagement and well-being companies is possible only with the implementation of the evidence-based organisational practices which allow employees at every level to use and develop their skills, knowledge, experience and creativity. These organisational practices form the core of workplace innovation.


H2020 RailActivation aims to solve some common problems of all railway companies

Of course, smooth transitioning from the traditional way of work to the new model and implementation of all the best practices is not an easy task, especially for SMEs. Toward this end idea of RailActivation was born, and after being supported by EU Horizon2020, in the second half of the 2019 it begun embark upon business and organizational scheme for the adoption of innovation strategies in the workplace of SMEs, using the Open Innovation approach.

The main objective of RailActivation project is to create and piloting a business and organisational scheme for the uptake of Workplace Innovation by SMEs from the railway sector using open innovation approaches. To this end, the RailActivation project is working on the development of new mechanisms and tools based on proven principles for open innovation process that will support the transformation for the railway industry from the inside out by actively reimagining the entire business around the customer, enabling employees to be the catalyst for change.

Who works on RailActivation?

From the very beginning it was clear that RailActivation project is aimed at a comprehensive solution to a number of existing problems in the European railway sector, and with this end it is imperative to cooperate with companies that can provide a high level of expertise and a vision of the work features in different countries.

Therefore, project consortium consists of the highly skilled specialists from 5 companies which represent 3 countries:

  • TECNALIA- Foundation Tecnalia Research & Innovation (Spain);
  • BTS Rail Saxony – The Rail Industry Cluster (Germany);
  • DITECFER – District for Rail Technologies, High Speed, Safety & Security (Italy);
  • QUINN – University Consortium in Engineering for Quality and Innovation (Italy).

The whole group is led by MAFEX – Spanish Railway Association.

“Solutions of a complex problems requires multifaceted cooperation within a strong team.”.

What the project consists of?

This project consists of a series of actions, each of which is an integral part aimed at providing a synergistic effect. Besides work packages focused on the innovative actions, there is a huge work of administration and dissemination of project’s results.

Before anything else, the consortium began looking at existing tools, and defining the best practices suitable for European railway SMEs. This information will be the basis for the development of a targeted Workplace Innovation Pilot Scheme for rail sector and the definition of RailActivation mechanisms and tools which aim to help companies to anticipate and adapt faster and better to changing economic environment, strengthening the pillars  of responsibility in a digital age.

RailActivation systematic approach will be developed fostering innovation capacities and allowing business to remain innovative and adapt to changes more quickly and smoothly. This type of flexibility is even more important in the context of a new industrial revolution and quickly changing technologies and business model.

At the same time it  has been performed a benchmark at European level analysing the SMEs behaviour, their culture of innovation, the level of employee engagement and the

organisational and individual resilience among entities from Germany, Spain and Italy. This in-depth qualitative investigation into the SMEs identifies pathways towards for uptake Workplace Innovation.

The RailActivation will therefore aimed at helping SMEs reorganize around human condition. RailActivation project holistic approach starts with system theory, build upon with applied data, wrapped in behavioural psychology, brought to life with design thinking principles. The involvement of the clusters from European Rail Cluster Initiative—ERCI as external actor from the consortium is essential to ensure the alignment of Rail Activation project with SMEs needs.

One should be aware that transformative changes in performance and working life can be achieved when boards, senior teams, line managers and employee representatives share a common understanding of Workplace Innovation and a commitment to making it happen.

RailActivation will work to build the internal capabilities and process required to deliver exceptional experiences for years to come. To drive change across SMEs. Thus, the support the development of open, collaborative and multidisciplinary interregional networks around the open design and manufacturing model, as means to boost knowledge co-creation and skills development in this emerging field.

The RailActivation project will organise interregional Communities of Practice (ICoP) to co-create 20 pilot actions and develop guidelines of best practices and policy recommendations based on the experience from these pilots. In general, the pilot scheme in 3 different scenarios will be tested.

The piloting use cases conclusions will become recommendations from different perspectives to guide future researches, policymakers and organisations interested in Workplace Innovation.

With this end an Interregional network for the railway sector will be created and awareness will be raising.

Form a methodological point of view a combination of surveys and robust case studies will be taken as based in order to understand the barriers organisations face when considering Workplace Innovation and whether there are effective combinations of interventions.

Besides that, RalActivation provides an EU policy framework for boosting innovation uptake, industrial modernisation, scaling-up of SMEs and economic growth in the EU through the lessons drawn and new approached tested at interregional level.

How can your SME implement it?

Here we have even more good news. In terms of RailActivation an Open Call (total financial support of €225.000) for European railway SMEs will be announced soon. The only conditions to participate in it is to be SME and to work in the railway sector. 20 selected SMEs will participate in 4 practical and independent workshops, suitable for Railway SMEs, and will achieve coaching and mentoring support regarding both technical and commercial aspects which involved in generating new value for the company and for the market.

“All EU railway SME can apply for RailActivation Open Call!”

How to follow RailActivation progress?

RailActivation wants to keep in touch with you! With this end the most relevant information about the project can be found on its web-site:

The recent news is available on its Linkedin page (RailActivation) or on its Twitter @ActivationRail.

“RailActivation will boost development of European Railway SMEs by implementation of workplace innovation concept, and taking into account particularities of the railway sector”.