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Engineering trends: The social activity driving tomorrow’s innovation

Engineering trends: The social activity driving tomorrow’s innovation - Local Government Perspectives 2017

Craig Davidson, MD, AECOM New Zealand

Infrastructure is one of the most complex challenges of this century. Good solutions positively impact communities, connect people and fundamentally impact lives. But today more than ever, outcomes need more than just technical expertise.

As an industry, it is our ability to bring together connected expertise in a way that truly sparks innovation that will see us overcome the urban development challenges facing our cities.

What we’ve called collaboration in the past, is by and large simply lip service to the idea of needing to work together for an outcome. Rather than collaborating, contractors, consultants, councils and community have a history of cooperating.

The words collaboration and cooperation have been used interchangeably when in fact they have a vastly different motivation, represent fundamentally different ways of engaging with the team and shape different outcomes. Cooperating is the result of a scarcity of resources with teams that while working together maintain their own individual goals.

While we’re comfortable in efficient project management and the technical space, true collaboration may challenge us. At its essence, collaboration is a social activity based on notions of abundance and choice. When collaborating, groups of people work alongside each other for a common purpose and shared outcome. It is through diversity and collision of ideas we create the best outcomes.

Evidence of the wider recognition of the importance of collaboration is the recent migration of BS 11000, which has been operating for six years, to an international standard.

The ISO 11000 Collaborative business relationship management – Framework, provides a common platform and approach on which organisations (pan industry) develop more robust business relationships, improve the performance of their joint activities and upskill their team in collaborative working.

The framework is a formalised process where organisations can seek accreditation to demonstrate they are genuinely collaborative. It is based on the BS 11000 experience that has demonstrated effectively-managed collaborative working and business partnerships bring unlimited benefits for all involved.

The New Zealand Transport Agency recognises the importance of collaboration and is working with the project team on one of its flagship projects to prioritise and focus on collaboration. The agency, a law firm and two engineering firms are working within a prescribed framework for the investigation phase of the SH1 Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing. It’s a trend we’re seeing with clients offshore; challenging problems are demanding that those who haven’t worked in this manner before change their approach.

Complex supply chains require interactions with multiple stakeholders, each with their own unique way of tackling and communicating around a problem. The process drive, transaction-based approach is a method of the past. Instead, the focus needs to be around defining outcomes and ensuring common understanding of what success looks like for stakeholders.

To fuel our future, we need to consider the individuals who comprise the teams. While we’ve measured our people on technical competence in the past, today we need those who can manage relationships and conflict and who have a wider perspective on projects and their implications.

Changing the mindset and the skill base requires us to reconsider learning and development right from the start of a graduate’s career. There’s also an opportunity to harness the more innate collaborative networking skills of the millennials. They can be change agents, supporting the transition for our technical wizards who harbour more traditional thinking.

While the shift might be uncomfortable, we don’t have a choice. The organisations of our past do not have the capability to solve the complex infrastructure problems of our future. We need to be clear about the outcome we’re seeking, be self-reflective of our own behaviours, and focus on the long-term outcomes.

Collaboration is a driving force for the efficiency and innovation that enable us to overcome what can seem like insurmountable challenges.

This article was first published in Local Government Perspectives 2017.

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