Founder of SpecifiedBy
The construction industry is hardly renowned for its openness or sharing culture, but it is precisely those two ingredients that have the power to transform the industry for the better.
With BIM enforcement just around the corner, we are all well aware of a need to improve collaboration and the exchange and transfer of data and information. But these are fundamentally processes. Processes can be learnt, and taught, and optimised.
Collaboration between various teams isn’t difficult to set in motion because everyone can see it as a way forward and it has a strong element of compliance. It may not always be easy or straightforward to execute, but there really is no question of getting there, it’s just a matter of time.
Openly sharing knowledge and expertise is not the same as collaborating or transferring information. This requires much more than process. It requires a shift in mentality and culture.
Culture defines how we work, what is accepted as good practice and how we are perceived by others.
And it is a more transparent culture of openly sharing knowledge and expertise that we should be aiming for.
Taking the time to write about how you overcame a particularly challenging problem in your last project, or sharing data that you have worked really hard to obtain, for anyone in the industry to benefit from, takes a lot more than compliance or process.
This takes people or organisations to consciously put the good of the industry, or wider society, ahead of their own short-term goals. It requires a mind-set of, ‘How can we help the industry to progress?’
We would do well to look at the ‘open source' approach within the web development community that means an answer to even the most complicated of problems is usually no more than a Google search away. They ask each other for help and for answers. And they usually get them.
Often, someone else has already had the same, or a very similar problem, and have documented it and shared it online.
To build a similar culture of sharing, learning and improving within construction, I believe we need two key components to come together:
A shift in culture and attitude can only happen if there are people who are willing to take the lead to share a vision and a roadmap that will inspire others to follow along the way.
And by leaders, I don’t mean heads of organisations, working groups, large companies or other “powerful” people. Being in a position of authority where people have to do as you tell them does not make you a leader. That makes you a manager. People follow real leaders because they want to, because they believe in the vision, in this case, a better industry.
The construction industry needs people who will question current processes, suggest new, better ways of working and challenge the authorities that benefit from the status quo.
As an industry, we need to be better at providing people with the tools to share their expertise and learn from each other. There are a few beginning to appear, all of which need to be strongly supported by industry. The better these early innovators do, the more new ideas will be encouraged to follow suit.
Some platforms leading the way include:
CarbonBuzz is an online platform that aims to centralise the sharing of real-life energy consumption data from building projects in order to establish benchmarks and identify gaps in performance.
Users can upload anonymous project data which is used to create a real picture of energy consumption within the industry or just use the existing data to compare against their own projects.
“CarbonBuzz is an RIBA CIBSE platform for benchmarking and tracking energy use in projects from design to operation. It is intended to encourage users to go beyond compliance of mandatory Building Regulations calculations and refine estimates to account for additional energy loads in-use. The platform allows users to compare design energy use with actual energy use side by side to help users close the design and operational energy performance gap in buildings.”
The CarbonBuzz platform is potentially a great tool to improve transparency of energy consumption data, by comparing real-life performance against designed performance.
Designing Buildings Wiki
The Designing Building Wiki aims to “put all construction industry knowledge in one place and make it available to everyone for free.”
Anyone can contribute an article on a particular topic and make it available to everyone within the industry. They say…
“Construction in the UK employs 3 million people in 280,000 organisations, each holding a vast amount of expert knowledge. Everything from how to create a brief for a new project, right through to getting tax breaks for water efficient taps. But much of that knowledge is inaccessible, fragmented and dispersed. If we put it all in one place, where everyone can find it, Construction UK will be more efficient, more collaborative, more innovative and better able to compete in the global market place.”
This is a great example of sharing knowledge and expertise, and provides a great resource for getting answers to tough questions, or at the very least, identifying a good person to speak to about it.
At SpecifiedBy, we are trying to do our small bit as well, with better access to technical information and by encouraging specifiers share their knowledge and expertise of working with particular building products and materials on specific projects, so those looking for similar solutions can more informed decisions.
This will also bring an element of transparency to the performance of building products and the companies responsible for them.
Providing these platforms through which leaders can establish a voice and build a following will be key to introducing a shift in culture.
“No one knows everything. But together, we know a whole lot.”
Collaboration and the exchange of information are necessary and positive for the industry, but to make a real change, we need to accept the much more challenging prospect of changing mind-sets and culture.
Some have already started, and I believe we are on our way to a more open and transparent culture where we share knowledge and expertise for the good of the industry.
Contributor: Darren Lester has a background in Architectural Technology and is the founder of SpecifiedBy, a platform that aims to empower building projects with better information.