The Future Studies work supports the view that the sector potentially faces a number of significant challenges and identifies key issues, drivers and trends for the sector over the coming 20 years. This dimension of the project reveals complex interconnectivities and competing agendas.
The Futures Research
The Loughborough research team was tasked to explore issues that will impact the construction industry in the next 20 years. Further the team sought to enhance understanding of these important issues by investigating their interconnectivities as perceived by key industry stakeholders and decision makers in order to provide a useful research output which is relevant to the needs of the industry, both now and in the future.
A sample futures workshop
Twenty-two delegates attended the particular workshop described below, representing clients, contractors, consultants, manufacturers, insurers and several lobby groups.
What was done
Simon Austin introduced the project and the objectives of the workshop. The delegates were then asked to choose two priority themes, which they felt most comfortable to discuss and interested in, out of 23 pre-prepared themes. Those who choose the same theme were asked to form a group. Seven groups were formed to suit the research methodology. The seven themes selected were:
The delegates were guided through the steps of constructing a causal map:
During the session, group members were encouraged to discuss debate and challenge as well as reconcile ideas and issues. In the middle of the session, the research team introduced list of issues relevant to the themes derived from an extensive database derived from a review of the futures reports in construction (15 reports in the last 8 years). The objective was to 'jog' delegates' ideas of related events for a particular theme, although they were free to ignore them e.g. because their discussion focused on different orientation. The facilitators helped to clarify the steps and answer questions but did not get involve in the debate. The final part of the workshop was a plenary session where one member of each group presented their causal map and one scenario contained within the map for about 5 minutes. The plenary was tape recorded for the purpose of content analysis. Comments and questions were invited from others. The research team also took feedback on the workshop experience and ideas for improving the process. The workshop took two and a half hours.
Translating Post-It Note to Causal Maps
After the workshop, the research team analysed the Post-It note maps to create digital causal maps. A causal map depicts the cause and effect relationships between events within a particular theme. The causal maps were constructed using Decision ExplorerTM, a software tool for the analysis of qualitative cognitive data. The software allowed further analysis of the causal maps (use this link to find a detailed explanation of this analysis), in terms of identifying the most influential issues, clustering and tracing pathways.
Due to the limited time available during the workshop and qualitative nature of the data, the researchers had to translate and interpret the Post-It note causal maps. The recorded plenary was very useful during this process.