In the built environment, uptake of offsite solutions has been intermittent. This is despite over 1,300 academic papers citing the benefits of modern methods of construction (MMC) and five central government departments now adopting a presumption in favour of offsite manufacture (OSM)
Here, Jamie Hillier preconstruction director at Kier, examines why and discusses the second part of Kier’s new publication; The Choice Factory.
The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), amongst many peers and a breadth of academic research, has identified the effectiveness of OSM in terms of function, quality, time, cost, safety and productive use of labour and other resources. Despite these clear benefits, adoption of offsite has been varied at best. Barriers that have been widely reviewed include a lack of industry self-awareness, skills and knowledge gaps.
It is our view, however, and the view of many others in the industry, that habit and embedded behaviours present the greatest opportunity for change. Last year, Kier and other industry leaders fed into a House of Lords Select Committee inquiry into OSM. Within our evidence submitted to the enquiry, we advocated a review of psychological, behavioural and cultural factors to achieve sustainable change in the adoption and delivery of offsite.
Within her evidence submitted to the enquiry, Dr Sarah Williamson, technical director at Laing O’Rourke, stated: “The barriers are more about perception… People have in their minds the prefabrication of the 1960s and 1970s post the Second World War, which is not at all like the componentised offering of off-site construction that we see today.”
Behavioural change within the construction industry
Behavioural change programmes have been successfully applied by organisations within the construction industry for over a decade to achieve improvements in health and safety. However, the industry’s focus around the adoption of OSM has been dedicated, almost exclusively, towards the challenges of technology and economics.
Business strategies are typically designed around the presumption that people act logically. Conversely, behavioural science demonstrates that people are in fact predictably irrational, with their actions influenced by what is convenient or socially acceptable rather than a logical assessment of the technical attributes or benefits of a particular approach. Volume 2 of our new publication The Choice Factory, explores these predispositions further and suggests how the industry can implement a series of small practical steps in order to create a big impact.
So how do we address the irrationality of human behaviour?
The Choice Factory promotes adopting offsite manufacture both within an organisation and across the wider industry. Reinforced by a reward structure, The Choice Factory has refined its approach to six key levers that can be pulled to instigate change:
- Make it easy
- Make selecting offsite manufacture an easier choice for our customers and ourselves
- Make it understood
- Use the same, simple language
- Establish recognised standards, that enable consistency and assurance
- Make it social
- Raise the status of offsite manufacturing across the industry, showing people that OSM is the norm
- Engage and inspire the design teams; they are critical to vision and delivery.
- Make it desirable
- Make it rewarding
- Reward individuals’ effort, engagement and impact
- Make it a habit
- Pro-actively support and enable education and awareness of our people, our consultants, the supply chain and our clients
By providing easy access to offsite materials and resourcing, we’re making it easier for our project teams to choose OSM, with the aim of embedding the choice as a sustainable behaviour. Through purposeful interactions with clients, partners, industry bodies, supply chain and even competitors, we have been able to both educate and learn from others; re-framing offsite and promoting its value.
A whole life value mindset
The industry is primarily driven by benefits in the immediate, and long-term thinking is often ignored in favour of short-term, more measurable gains. By turning positive behaviours into habits, and reinforcing these habits through education, we believe we can offset the current culture of temporal discounting, in preference of longer-term benefits that offsite solutions can bring.
The benefits of offsite extend far beyond the direct and immediate performance metrics of time, cost, quality and safety, to embrace much more holistic principles of sustainability, wellbeing, integration, collaboration and value.
For example, offsite manufactured products often lend themselves to altering floor plates and room layouts, just one benefit that it says could be more widely appreciated. Through raising awareness of its flexibility in terms of future adaptability and architectural possibility, we can replace old assumptions, making it easier for people to recall positive outcomes. This will both accelerate uptake within the industry and enable us to construct buildings that are fit for the future.
Through our publication The Choice Factory, we hope to show that through the application of behavioural science, we can turn the spotlight away from issues of fragmentation, low margins, imbalances in risk apportionment and low R&D investment, towards the successful implementation of offsite solutions, in order to shift perceptions and create a positive social norm for offsite.