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ARCOM Seminar: The industrial strategy and construction management research

Guided and overseen by the Chief Construction adviser to the Government, Peter Hansford, the recently published industrial strategy for construction is underscored by familiar rhetoric similar to the Latham and Egan reports, but has an undeniable ‘futures’ orientation as it attempts to paint reform against a canvas for ‘Construction 2025’. The document is also not written as a review of construction but, rather as a strategy for reforming construction.

It differs from the Government’s Construction Strategy and previous reform discourses, as it is a joint strategy which sets out how industry and Government will work together. To what extent it reflects and resonates with conceptualisations of industrial policy or evidence based policy is not clear but, tacit connections to other multiple Government public and social policies are clear. What is perhaps less clear though is where the strategy fits within the policy landscape and what it means specifically for the research landscape and industry practice.

The seminar therefore aimed to encourage broad and critical scrutiny of the industrial strategy in an attempt to better understand interpretations of it as policy and how it connects with construction management research. In doing so, the seminar brought together 15 academics with an interest in policy and industry reform from within the UK and beyond to primarily address the following questions:

  1. What is Construction policy?
  2. What is the Industrial Strategy for Construction?
  3. Does policy matter and if so why and, to whom?
  4. What role is there for the research community regarding policy?
  5. What research is required?

An exhausting but very informative debate ensued that provided significant insights into the construction management community’s collective understanding of policy and the Industrial strategy for construction. Whilst I cannot report that the seminar concluded with widespread agreement and consensus, I can, from my own perspective, present a number of highly selective conclusions.

Firstly, there is significant mileage in developing a deeper grasp and understanding of policy and the policy landscape.

Secondly, what constitutes construction policy and how disparate public, social and industrial polices relevant to construction connect is necessary to help academic researchers both understand opportunities for analysing policy as well as informing policy with analysis.

Thirdly, our taken-for-granted assumptions about what boundaries constitute the construction industry need to be challenged as they are fundamental in both framing policy research and responding to disparate public, social and industrial policy.

Lastly, whilst there was agreement that policy matters, the importance and relevance of the industrial strategy was less clear cut. The role and type of research to unpick and address the strategy and its was debated and relies heavily upon the first three conclusions. Indeed, construction management research would be all the stronger if it could be positioned and located within policy if, for no other reason than to widen its case for impact.

A concluding thought: if the construction management community similarly responds to the industrial strategy as with previous reform agendas can we too, like the policy makers, simply be accused of ‘at it again’?.

Dr Scott Fernie Loughborough University