Why We Need Active Research in Construction 1

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015
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In an increasingly globalised construction industry, creating stronger connections and sharing knowledge between industry and researchers nationally and internationally is critical if we are to improve economic, social and environmental outcomes.

Government can play a critical role in the success of research by boasting an active research leadership agenda. Our industry vitally requires the active involvement of public sector infrastructure and building agencies across all three levels of government through the provision of direct funding, case studies, training opportunities and a supportive policy environment to encourage private sector participation and co-investment.

However, as well as needing the support of government, we need to place a greater emphasis on collaboration between government, industry and academia across organisational, state and national boundaries to develop strong and enduring networks. We also need to ensure there is a level of research to research collaboration to “drive the dollar further” and avoid duplication of effort.

Our industry has worked hard over the last 20 years to create a strong network, thanks largely due to its willingness to collaborate as has been necessary. Consequently, in recent years the built environment network has told industry leaders that ongoing research in the areas of the triple bottom line (economic, social and environment) sustainability is essential if we are to secure the required productivity and industry development required in our industry over the next decade.

As an industry, we continue to develop a strategy for targeted research across these areas. Key to this is better matching funding strategies to industry needs. This will allow us to maximise the benefits of research and development (R&D) to Australia’s infrastructure and building industry, and provide benefit to public and private organisations by increasing uptake of R&D outcomes for business impact.

Decisions on research investment are critical, and can be based on three key factors:

  1. Benefit to industry of the investment
  2. Uniqueness of the research and scientific rigour
  3. Potential for positive impact on practice

Industry development workshops around Australia have helped identify new research themes and potential projects. By working closely with research end users (industry and government), future research activities can be better aligned to real industry needs through applied research.

As an example of working with research end users, the Sustainable Built Environment National Research Centre (SBEnrc) has convened industry development workshops and one-on-one meetings through February and March 2015 in Brisbane, Townsville, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, highlighting new initiatives in three broad themes of priority to industry:

  1. Greening the built environment
  2. People, processes and procurement
  3. Productivity through innovation

Once specific projects have been finalised and allocated funding, they will be led by industry at the Governing Board and Project Steering Group level. University-based researchers will provide the scientific foundations and supply chain collaboration to deliver key research and skill development to benefit the industry and more broadly, the nation.

Leaders in Australia’s construction industry should be proud of the research they are part of, particularly their achievements that are helping create a more competitive Australia through practical research outputs and a strong and enduring innovation network.

I am looking forward to contributing to this industry news resource on a regular basis to share information on initiatives that are moving research into practice.

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  1. David Chandler

    Keith, the Australian construction industry needs national leadership and not have this left to the fragmented states and territories to constrain the productivity and innovation that you talk of. We need a national conversation about what construction will look like in 10 years from now, what construction work and jobs will look like and where we may create some sustainable value for our domestic economy. We need to make sure that today's students are being inspired and prepared for what lays ahead. More of the same will not work. Most importantly we need some nationally adopted productivity benchmarks to help direct innovation priorities. We need independently verified measurement of industry performance not untested self acclimation. Most importantly we need to be prepared to call the laggards and defenders of an unsustainable status quo for what they are.That will take a bit of fortitude when some of those who now subscribe to the pittance of research funding that trickles into the industry are happy with business as usual. No more group hugs please as we risk becoming the high cost construction consumers of the Asia Pacific Rim.