#24 Changing Culture to Transform Construction

A Professional Doctorate is specifically structured to support a change within professional practice and/or within an organisation.  My doctoral research project is focused mainly on proposing a change to practice – to enable the design and delivery of Active Building projects across the UK, supporting the Transforming Construction mission to halve the energy consumption and carbon emissions of all new buildings by 2030.

The first module I completed (February 2018) was entitled “Proposing Change: Context and Change” and included the exploration of different change models.  While the focus for my project has evolved as I have progressed my research (resulting in several title changes) the scene that was set in the first module is still relevant.  In this module, I looked at different models for change – Kotter’s 8-Step model; Bridges transition model; Lewin’s Force Field Analysis; and Rogers Stages of Change Theory and Innovation Adoption Curve.  I used Kotter’s 8-step model to consider how to make the changes I was proposing to the way buildings are designed, delivered and operated, as illustrated in the following table:

The first 6 Steps are already being addressed, with data collection from the demonstrators being used to produce case studies (Step 7). The challenging part is Step 8 – making it stick. This is where my Active Building Protocol comes in. As eluded to in the table, there is a need for Knowledge, Engagement, Training and Compliance in order to make a change stick – the four strands of my protocol.

Two years on from this initial research (February 2020), I have discovered another model which, despite being developed for changing the culture of an organisation, I feel can be applied to the construction industry and the change in culture needed to enable the industry to transform – to change the focus of the industry to the climate emergency, which really should be top of the agenda for all designers and constructors.   In a recent presentation I attended, someone referred to a quote by Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, suggesting that a strong and inspiring culture is a surer route to organisational success than simply putting forward a strategy – we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of culture (and how hard it can be to change) in any organisation or industry.  This thought process was referenced by two UK academics, Johnson and Scholes, when developing their “cultural web” model.  This model identifies several linked elements that make up culture and was developed to help companies change their current approach for company improvements.  I think this model can be applied to the construction industry which, as suggested by Johnson and Scholes, we need to fully understand before we can try to make any effective changes. So, here’s my attempt at mapping out the current state of the construction industry, based on the cultural web model:

If we are going to Transform Construction to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions of buildings, to respond to the climate emergency, then we need to change the culture of the construction industry, which is currently focused on driving down cost, often leading to poor quality and contributing to the poor image of the industry. 

Here’s how the future could look:

The Active Building Protocol I am developing, which includes design guidance and training material, aims to address some of the challenges we need to overcome in order to reach this future scenario. From recent experience, designers, developers and estate managers are all looking for new methods to enable them to meet the net zero targets they are committed to and the Active Building approach offers one solution. 

If you are interested in attending one of my “Active Buildings in Practice” workshops, please get in touch: joanna.r.clarke@swansea.ac.uk.

Published by jorclarke

I am an Architect, currently working at SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre, Swansea University, and studying for a Doctorate in Sustainable Built Environment (D.SBE), which is focused on developing an Active Building Design Guide.

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