Is there a gap in research and information available to help construction practitioners get on with their jobs?
A recent study of the behaviour of the 3.5 million people who create, access and share construction knowledge on Designing Buildings Wiki suggests there is a widening knowledge gap, implying that practitioners are not being given the support they need to do their jobs properly.
Six million pieces of data were analysed, giving an insight into how construction knowledge is created and used across the industry. The resulting report, ‘Fit for purpose? Big data reveals the construction knowledge gap’ includes a series of maps of construction knowledge which expose a serious mismatch between the support practitioners need and what the industry provides.
The relationships between 5,500 articles accessed by people from across the industry were analysed, revealing a strong bias towards creating knowledge about traditional ‘academic’ subjects, such as theory, research and innovation, case studies, and so on. However, the data shows practitioners are actually more interested in reading about practical ‘project’ subjects such as construction management, appointments, procurement, contracts and payment, that the industry does not write as much about.
The study exposes an outdated focus on research that makes the top 1% of the industry a little bit better, but leaves the other 99% without the practical support they need. Practitioners have an unsatisfied demand for straight-forward guidance about how to do everyday activities, and if the industry could mobilise to supply this information, there would be direct, and immediate improvements in practice.
The data also suggests people are only prepared to spend about 3 minutes trying to find the knowledge they need. After that, they give up, click back and look somewhere else. So knowledge buried at the end of long research papers is unlikely to be found.
Increasingly, the “iGeneration” access knowledge on mobile phones, not on computers, and they expect to find the things they need quickly. If the construction industry continues to publish critical knowledge in the form of long PDFs that can only be read on big screens then they will look somewhere else, and may end up with the wrong answer.
The report suggests the industry is lacking the strategic leadership necessary to tackle this problem. There is little industry-wide collaboration or coordination, and as a result there is duplication of effort in some areas and worrying gaps in others.
A series of recommendations suggest how the industry could refocus its efforts:
- More practical guidance is needed to help professionals understand how to perform everyday project activities
- Practitioners should be encouraged, supported and rewarded for creating and sharing knowledge
- Research needs to draw out useful findings and explain how they can be applied
- Strategic leadership is needed to ensure construction knowledge is targeted, comprehensive, accessible and easy to use