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Colleges as agents for construction innovation

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to highlight the low level of adoption of innovative products in the UK. The paper presents a case study conducted for investigating the potential for UK further education colleges (FECs), in order to extend their existing activity and develop a role as independent centres for specialist knowledge of innovative products. Design/methodology/approach ‐ To test assumptions which had been previously published by government departments (Departments of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and Trade and Industry), two surveys were conducted, focusing on the level of knowledge and experience of construction small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) regarding innovative products and processes. In total, six colleges collaborated and successfully bid for funding to test their ability to deliver a wider role in the construction community. Each appointed a fully funded full-time adviser to research, collect, and diffuse information about a specific specialist area. Findings ‐ The results indicate that there is evidence of the need for independent sources of information about innovative products. The colleges have shown their ability to build knowledge and capacity to offer independent advice. The outcome however indicates that the sustainability of the role is unlikely without an effective business case and the commitment of senior college management teams. Research limitations/implications ‐ A unique agreement to collaborate was an important factor throughout this project and would be a pre-requisite to any generalisation of the model. Practical implications ‐ The provision of independent advice of this nature is not otherwise readily available in the UK for key SME suppliers (including designers, specifiers, clients, and builders). In the absence of such facilities, the barriers to innovation identified are less likely to be reduced. Originality/value ‐ The originality of the research lies in determining a new role for locally accessible FECs and a new resource for SMEs engaged in designing and delivering construction projects.
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Keywords: College collaboration; Construction industry; Construction innovation; Independent information; Small to medium-sized enterprises; United Kingdom

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 11 October 2011

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