Placed-based innovation at RGU Orkney

Elsa Cox

“Orkney is a unique archipelago of islands, regularly ranked as one of the best places to live in the UK. But its appeal is much greater than this. Orkney has an entrepreneurial and innovative culture which lends itself to testing new and varied ideas.

As an island group, it offers variety through its mix of towns, rural mainland areas and outer islands, each with differing demographics, service requirements and landscape. Orkney is large enough for projects to lend scale to research proposals yet small enough for those projects to be truly transformational.

Robert Gordon University (RGU) plays a significant role in the historic connections between Aberdeen, Orkney, and the far North. The University has a long-standing relationship with Orcadian students who choose to enrol at RGU, contributing to the development of extensive alumni and research networks in the islands.

RGU Orkney is an innovative satellite initiative based at the Orkney Research and Innovation Campus to enhance RGU’s reach and reputation and ultimately create transformational projects. Within this island landscape, community engagement has been at the heart of RGU’s approach, embedding the University’s activities and ethos within local networks.


A five-year plan

In April, RGU Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Steve Olivier and the University Executive Team visited Orkney to launch RGU Orkney 2023-2028, a new five-year plan. The plan focuses on three main objectives:

  1. Conducting research and knowledge exchange that utilises RGU expertise to tackle local challenges.
  2. Supporting the development of skills, education, and entrepreneurship opportunities in Orkney.
  3. Creating an evidence base to influence policy and practice in other remote rural regions through innovative research and teaching programmes.

The plan aims to help the local community in Orkney while also contributing to the development of remote rural regions.

Research projects in the community

As part of RGU’s strategic priority to grow the quality and impact of its research, the University is committed to engaging in research and knowledge exchange that supports Orkney’s social, economic and environmental ambitions. It will be relevant to remote, rural and island regions like the Highlands and Islands. With this commitment in mind, RGU Orkney has been leading the way on projects that make connections with the community.

For instance, the UKRI funded Augmented Fashion project aims to change the way people view traditional fashion and textiles. It brings together research teams, Scottish academics, and industry partners in Shanghai to educate consumers about the value of these products.

The project uses immersive interactions to emphasise the sustainability, craftsmanship, heritage, and intrinsic value of artisanal fashion and textiles. By focusing on culture, provenance, heritage, and sustainable clothing consumption, the initiative strives to reshape the fashion landscape.

Fashion, as we know it, has embraced the digital realm, with online sales surging and fashion films becoming powerful marketing tools for creative designs. Immersive technology presents a unique opportunity to create a sustainable future for traditional textile design, production, and consumption.

As well as this, RGU Orkney led on an effort to revolutionise digital innovation in Northern Scotland. The University partnered with institutions in Northern Ireland, Ireland, and Iceland to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and organisations to adapt and excel in the digital landscape.

The ‘Capitalising on Digital Innovations for Heritage and Capacity’ (CADI SHAC) initiative was funded by the Interreg Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme. It aimed to improve SMEs’ online presence and uniqueness, and to help develop the skills they need to take advantage of digital marketing and data analytics. The project showcased the potential of immersive technologies such as augmented and virtual reality to engage audiences.

Arctic network

RGU also joined the University of the Arctic in 2021, a network of more than 200 higher education and research institutions across northern regions that address global challenges of Arctic people and societies by providing unique educational, research and innovation opportunities. Since then, we have built on historic links with Orkney and the Arctic by joining the UArctic network. In doing so, RGU has strengthened its historical ties, and cooperation with Orkney and the Arctic.

The Arctic region faces a range of global challenges, including climate change, which has far-reaching implications for the region’s ecology, economy, and people’s lives. RGU’s research and innovation initiatives will aim to address these challenges and make a significant contribution to the wellbeing of the Arctic communities.

The University is preparing to attend the Arctic Science Summit Week in Edinburgh in March 2024. Additionally, plans are underway to host the Scottish Model Arctic Council (SCOTMAC) in Orkney in 2024.

As RGU ventures deeper into the Arctic, the University’s dedication to collaboration, research, and addressing shared challenges solidifies its place as a pivotal player in exploring and engaging with the Arctic.”

Further reading