Analysis

A new movement for innovation

21 January 2020

The Transforming Construction Network Plus is finding new ways of thinking, researching and collaborating, writes Jacqui Glass.

Just over a year ago, on a chilly wet night in November, 150 industry and academic leaders from all over the UK packed into a lecture theatre to hear about a new programme, the Transforming Construction Network Plus (N+).

Funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Industrial Challenge Fund, as part of the Transforming Construction Challenge, the N+ has just 24 months to bring together academic researchers with industry and policy representatives and kick off new ways of thinking, researching and collaborating.

There’s clear opportunity for construction to innovate and prosper, but unless we see real effort towards transformative change, we face a bleak future.– Jacqui Glass

Yes, it’s a tough ask, but well worth the effort. There’s clear opportunity for construction to innovate and prosper, but unless we see real effort towards transformative change, we face a bleak future of skills shortages, material failures and poor exploitation of new technologies. And no one wants to see that happen.

The good news is that the N+ has already made strong progress on the ground. More than 1,850 people have engaged directly with us, which is critical, because we can re-orient their energies towards a more collaborative, cross-disciplinary and engaged style of invention and exploration.

But we need to provoke significant change, and we all know that’s no easy task. That’s why the N+ is hosting ‘Discovery Days’ – multidisciplinary skills-building events to encourage ‘discipline-hopping’, a proven mechanism to provoke innovation – bringing expertise and insights from across the world via international free-to-view webinars on business models and industrial transform-ation, and convening major conferences to showcase new thinking and practices.

Right now, we are focused on allocating the final phase of our £1m investment in new research projects which cover issues identified by the Transforming Construction Challenge. The first phase supported projects on interoperability, user experience, space tech for hospitals and performance improvement, and included six UK industry partners.

Changing business models

Reflecting on how far we have come, one of the most pleasing moments occurred very recently. Once underway, it became obvious that, while everyone knows that construction needs a new ‘business model’, no one could agree on what that term means. The N+ team decided to create an easy-to-read digest, for businesses, to understand the subject, and provide a structure for exploring how business models can be changed for the better.

The digest, which can be downloaded from the N+ page on The Bartlett’s website, launched in October 2019, receiving immediate plaudits from senior industry figures. We’re planning more during 2020, so watch this space.

Jacqui Glass is professor in construction management, The Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management; vice dean research, UCL Faculty of the Built Environment; principal investigator, Transforming Construction Network Plus.