Friday, 28 January 2011

Integrated working

As a response to the Government's Low Carbon Construction report by the Innovation & Growth Team, Constructing Excellence asked its members to answer a few questions. I found the questions thought-provoking, and provided these answers:

Integrated Working survey

1.Why do you think integrated working is not more widely adopted?

Generally, the typical solutions to integrated working in construction seem to address problems connected with trust between the parties, the lack of money in the process, and the structural relationships between the fragmented parts. There are cases where attempts at integrated working have had successes, but the challenges set out so clearly in the full report of the IGT show that we are still not yet addressing the key issues. Perhaps the next thing to look at is not just the relationships between businesses, but how the businesses are structured themselves in relation to investment capital vs cash flow. My feeling is that we need to start looking at trading in a very different way, and challenging the existing business models of major construction businesses in order to take maximum advantage of the opportunities offered by the collaborative working initiative, and the demands of the low carbon agenda. We have a lot to learn from other industry sectors and from construction firms in other countries. There is evidence that some major construction companies are becoming more focused on being an investment-based business, rather than cash-farmers, and this is interesting and useful. How can we cascade this through the different types of construction work? New business models will challenge every aspect of how construction companies get work, how they get paid, and what they guarantee.

2. Why would you recommend or not recommend integrated working?

Integrated working is required for two reasons: to drive out waste and to innovate.

3. Have you worked in an integrated way, if so what did you see as the advantages?

In my research, I have seen examples of integration in different countries and in different industries.

4. What measured results did you obtain from integrated working?

It is hard to measure construction achievements, because construction is an end to so many different means. Worse, it is very difficult to measure anything other than what people actually did. Almost impossible to compare it to what they did not do.

It seems to me, on balance, that one thing that successive government reports have consistently failed to tackle is the actual business of construction. They have pointed the finger at everything else, institutions, low pricing, trust, procurement and so one, but never really focussed on the way that construction companies are financially structured and the deal that they offer. This, surely, must be the next big research agenda?

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Academics vs practitioners?

In discussing the opportunities for involving practitioners as authors in Construction Management and Economic a friend of mine challenged me because he got the impression that I was wanting to work in isolation from industry in case "they contaminated our minds and data"! I felt that he was misunderstanding my motives. Of course it would be disastrous if academics worked in isolation, I agree 100%. Our research is rightly grounded in the construction sector. It certainly is not the case that I think that practitioners contaminate our minds and data. I agreed 100%. "They" ARE our data! They are the source of the problems that we study, they may sometimes be the source of solutions that we seek to understand and, frequently, they are the very people that we study. No, there is no sense of isolation there.

My point was that our data subjects are not authors. It was to do with ensuring that our message is tailored to suit our audience. If the findings of our research are meaningful for industry, then we must, of course, present them to industry. But in the journal, we are academics talking to academics, in a fairly structured way guided by conventions that may not be appropriate for a wider audience. In the journal, we are focusing on theory-testing and/or theory-building, but not on the dissemination of our results to a wider audience. That is the crucial characteristic of an archival research journal like ours - to record advances in research. Other media already exist for recording and disseminating advances in practice. I think that is right, and it is helpful for everyone to have this distinction.

So, yes, it is precisely because practitioners define our field by their practices that I am interested in their contributions. But not because of their ability to carry out research projects with us. Of course, there are people who have a foot in both camps and I do come across practitioners who have done "proper" research that is reportable in our pages. But then they are generally writing as researchers, not as practitioners. So the boundary is blurred. The acid test for a research paper is simply this question: does it test or develop theory? If the answer is "yes", then we are interested. If it is "no", then we are not.

And, I also acknowledge that although this is the editorial policy now, it may not be the editorial policy forever, and it was not the policy many years ago. Everything is open to challenge and change!

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