Since we started aecHive, we have been talking a lot about the importance of “innovation” for the AEC sector. While we all agree that the AEC sector is an incredibly important, literally “shaping” our built-environment and supporting almost everything we do as a society (live, work, learn, play etc). But we also agree that things don’t work as well as they should. Building is slow, expensive, dangerous, and is having a huge impact on the environment. The sector is one of the least “digitised”, the working environment is “unattractive” to many people, particularly younger high-skilled people, and the sector struggles to retain talent.
So we know we need “innovation” in many areas, to improve the way things work. Innovation in the social dynamic of how people work and interact in this sector. Innovation in the processes and ways in which things work. Innovation in technologies, materials, and construction methods.
But even though we know these things, the investment into formal “innovation”, research and development in the AEC sector remains relatively low. Of course, we should not discount the incredible innovations that often occur in relation to certain projects, however, that is often short-lived, as project teams often get dismantled at the end of the project, and the “innovation” is seldom carried forward to the broader industry.
Why are people not investing more time and money into “innovation” in such an important sector? It seems more money and effort will go into a new computer game, or social media platform, than it would into AEC and the built environment. There are some obvious reasons, like the fragmented nature of the sector, the temporary nature of how people interact and engage, the short timespans of projects, the low profit margins, etc.
This makes me think that we should have more discussions about the “value” of innovation. What is the “return on investment” of making a significant improvement in some area? It has to “stack up” or make commercial or financial sense, for businesses to actively and deliberately engage in systematic “innovation” or R&D (research and development) projects.
To get this discussion going and focus on “Value Creation", I’d like to put forward this interesting Ted Talk by economist Mariana Mazzucato, author of "The Value of Everything", advisor to EU Horizon "Missions", professor at University College London (UCL) in Economics of Innovation and Public Value and founder/director of the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose.