SCRI's research work focuses on the creation of value at all phases of the construction process.
Innovation is widely acknowledged as being essential for ensuring the UK?s future economic competitiveness and social well-being. However, as SCRI?s construction case study for the NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and Arts) report ?Hidden Innovation? showed, the ways in which it occurs in non-science based sectors such as construction are often poorly understood so that much of the innovation that takes place goes unmeasured. This is one of the reasons that the construction sector is often characterised as being conservative with a lack of dynamism and innovation.
Is this reputation fair? If we take a broader built environment view of the sector that includes architectural and technical consultancy as well as building service and management we can begin to understand the scale of the sector, contributing 20% of GDP, and the diverse ways in which innovation can occur. SCRI?s research work goes some way towards explaining this negative perception, and the gap between improved performance and conventional measures of innovation such as R&D and patents.
Sector-level innovation is very visible and often produces radical or step change. It takes two principal forms. First, regulations and standards which prescribe new sector-wide product or material attributes (for example, structural integrity) or new behaviours (for example, health and safety regulation) forces ?compliance? innovation. A current example of this is the new Code for Sustainable Homes which is a phased regulatory framework to ?force? the industry to build ?zero carbon? homes by 2016.
In Business-level innovation the focus is on general resource and capability development, rather than being project specific. There are two key types of businesslevel innovation. First, explicit research and development activity which concentrates, for example, on producing either radically new or incrementally improved materials, products or subsystems. Second is the general organisational development activity which generates, for instance, radically new or incrementally improved supply chain arrangements, human resource management strategies, business processes or practices.
Project-level innovation activity is the most hidden, but arguably has the greatest impact on sector performance, and is generally incremental in nature. The co-production of novel design solutions between different parts of the design team (architectural, structural engineer, mechanical engineer, and so on) builds upon their respective knowledge and experience. Similarly, the day-to-day problem solving on site during the production phase is very much grounded in participants? tacit knowledge and ?learning by doing?. The cumulated impact of incremental innovation overtime is significant, both at firm and aggregated sector level.
The above provides a brief snapshot that illustrates the complexity and variety of innovation in the construction sector. The sector?s annual Key Performance Indicators, which include social and environmental as well as economic performance, indicate not only the breadth of the challenge that the industry faces but the ongoing performance improvement that is its response. Much of this is hidden from standard metrics. This can cause many to be downbeat about the industry and its performance. Instead of taking this view we should look beneath the surface to reveal the hidden innovation that we take for granted, celebrate this, and develop policies and strategies that promote the actual ways in which innovation occurs in the sector.
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Added the 30 August 2009 in category Innovation UK Vol5-1