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Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 22

Memorandum submitted by the Construction Research and Innovation Strategy Panel (CRISP)

INTRODUCTION

  1.  The Construction Research and Innovation Strategy Panel (CRISP) is an industry/government Panel which exists to promote the exploitation and application of innovation and research in construction and associated industries. It brings together users, funders and providers of research from across the industry and its clients. It aims to identify, prioritise and facilitate research to support innovative thinking and to encourage its application to promote cultural change and delivery of client value. CRISP is funded by the Construction Sponsorship Directorate of DETR and also enjoys active participation by the Highways Agency and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, who seek the benefits of a co-ordinated research strategy for construction. This response is submitted on behalf of the industry members of the Panel. Its mission statement is at Annex A[16] and a background note and constitution at Annex B & C16.

SUMMARY

  2.  CRISP believes that the achievement of significant improvement in the productivity, cost effectiveness, quality and environmental impact of construction in the UK requires major change in the processes by which construction businesses operate. Improved productivity, efficiency and competitiveness require the appropriate application of research to support innovation, which requires the maintenance of a strong science base in the universities and research organisations. CRISP believes that there is a significant need for more effort to be focused on transferring research outputs into practical applications and tools for practitioners, through schemes such as the Construction Best Practice Programme and collaborative industry led research programmes.

SUBMISSION

  3.  CRISP was established in response to a review of government sponsorship of the construction industry, which, amongst other things, recommended that:

    "...the dissemination of research results to the industry needs to be improved".

  4.  CRISP was given responsibility for advising the then DOE on Industry priorities for research and innovation. Since its formation as an industry/government Panel in 1995. CRISP has contributed significantly to:

    —  the introduction by the DETR of Business Plans which set out the rationale for its Construction Research Programme and set out the basis for adjusting the current balance of research funding.

    —  the EPSRC restructuring of its Engineering Programmes and the formulation of the EPSRC Business Plan for 1998-99.

  5.  CRISP welcomes these moves to clarify the strategy, role and purpose of these funding programmes. The Panel recommend that these new arrangements are now allowed to develop for a reasonable period before further significant changes in the funding arrangements and the balance of funding for research and innovation are proposed. The Panel notes that in some sectors funding decisions are made on a longer term basis than in the construction related sectors.

Industrial Application of Research & Role of EPSRC

  6.  The Panel recommend that there is significant scope for improved application of research and dissemination of research outputs, particularly from the university sector. It is aware of the efforts which EPSRC and DETR are making to address this issue. There is also a need for the industry to learn more from other industry sectors. This can in part be addressed through existing programmes, such as the Technology Transfer Secondment Scheme or the proposed PRAISE (Placing Research Assistants in Industrial Secondments) scheme. It will also be addressed by placing even greater emphasis on the application and implementation of outputs.

  7.  In the construction sector this will also be addressed by the Construction Best Practice Programme, a new initiative funded by the DETR and run jointly with the Construction Industry Board, which has arisen from the work of CRISP. The Best Practice Programme seeks to foster improved use of existing research and innovation in the construction sector, including the provision of exemplars and case study demonstrations. EPSRC are also placing greater emphasis on the application of research, and the Panel welcome this.

  8.  The Panel recognise that as well as providing knowledge to help the industry to innovate there is also a need for a cultural change within the industry to increase its desire to innovate. This issue does not appear to be addressed in the committee terms of reference, but the Panel believe that this is a fundamental issue to greater application of research in the construction industry.

Independent Research Organisations

  9.  Industry owned research organisations are also a focus for collaborative research and the dissemination of technical process and market information. They often play a key role in their members' development of new products and services, particularly in the case of SMEs. They do this by:

    —  undertaking research and dissemination programmes to motivate innovation and the application of knowledge;

    —  helping their industry to keep abreast of technical and market trends thereby assisting them to justify the development of a new product or service;

    —  providing immediate access to technical information or an expert to assist in the development process;

    —  provide independent product testing to stimulate market confidence and demand; and

    —  disseminating knowledge of the product or service through their information services.

  10.  There are now no government laboratories operating in the construction sector.

Collaborative Programmes

  11.  Industry members of CRISP support the DETR programme of funding for collaborative research involving industry and research organisations, Partners in Technology, the EPSRC Innovative Manufacturing Initiative and the jointly funded LINK programme. These contribute to improved application of Government-funded research in the construction sector and promote industry led collaboration in research. CRISP believes the LINK programme would benefit from clarification of the rules governing the availability of funding to research organisations.

  12.  Industry is, however, concerned at the increasing complexity of the process for obtaining government support and at the length of time to obtain funding for work when product development cycles are becoming increasingly short, particularly where IT systems are involved.

  13.  Company strategy, which is driven by market factors, is the key to encouraging greater innovation. Innovation will be supported when it contributes to the achievement of the overall strategy. This will often require short term research work. Government funded research programmes, whilst they do not directly support individual company plans, create a supportive climate for research and innovation, promote an innovative culture and provide a reservoir of completed research and a skilled research base on which industry can draw, sometimes at very short notice. This is essential to the ongoing competitiveness of the industry. In particular, the industry research organisations are a key resource for the industry and provide a wide array of triggers to further innovation.

  14.  Construction is a sector which is heavily regulated. Regulations address planning, construction, including both design and site activity, health and safety in use and fire regulation. The 1981 White Paper on "The Future of Building Control in England and Wales" noted that the form of the Building Regulations then in force "is inflexible for many purposes, inhibits innovation and imposes unnecessary costs." This observation may be more widely applicable—excessively prescriptive regulation can fossilise technology and practice by forcing everyone to do something in a particular way. On the other hand, a regulation that sets a performance standard beyond current practice ought to have the effect of accelerating the introduction of new methods. In response to the ideas set out in the White Paper, the Building Regulations were extensively recast in the 1985 revision, moving away from prescription towards performance specification where possible. CRISP endorses the view that regulation should be performance-based rather than prescriptive and that consideration should be given to possible impacts on innovation when regulations are made or revised.

  15.  Within construction, much activity is governed by codes, standards and regulations. These have fundamental influence on the manufacture and use of construction materials. Changes in practice brought about through changes in regulations or standards often benefit a very wide constituency and assist government in achieving policy objectives. It is important that the research needed to underpin the development of codes and standards continues to receive government support, and that the independent industry research organisations continue to be funded to play an independent role in the development of standards, codes and regulations.

Financial Support for Application of Research

  16.  The primary providers of information and the application of research in the sector are the industry research organisations. These depend on government programmes for support for their work, as detailed above. These programmes provide a wide range of research of a non-proprietary nature, such as that currently funded by the DETR and EPSRC programmes. Much of this research is of benefit to the public or supports government policy objectives and statutory duties and is most unlikely to be funded by industry. Continued support that is clearly focused on improved application of research and technology transfer is important for the industry.

Foresight and Networks

  17.  The Panel co-operates closely with the Foresight Construction Panel and is contributing to the development of its plans for the next Foresight exercise. The Panel itself provides a network which supports research and innovation activity within the industry, and there are a number of other networks which operate in various segments of the construction industry. These provide important informal opportunities for transfer of knowledge in a format and context which is compatible with, for example, Continuous Professional Development arrangements.

11 March 1998


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