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Capturing Knowledge and Project-Based Learning: Managing Culture and Change in the Construction Firm

A host of new initiatives have emerged in recent years, in response to increasing client demands for the more effective construction and delivery of new buildings.  These initiatives, which include partnering, supply chain management, benchmarking and value management, are very diverse.  However, they share in common the idea that construction companies need to examine and if necessary adapt their ways of working - their business processes and cultures - if they are to respond effectively to competitive pressures.  Despite the extent of change, however, there remain significant gaps in our understanding of the issues involved in implementing new practices and in effecting cultural change.  This is partly due to the inherent complexity of culture, but also due to the problems of sustaining change by capturing and diffusing knowledge and learning in a project-based environment.  Importantly too, the human resource management implications of change and the effects of change management processes themselves tend to get overlooked.  There is therefore a pressing need for research that systematically examines the factors affecting the adoption and implementation of new ways of working and the improvement of associated knowledge management and organisational learning capabilities.

This research project will examine project and organisational influences upon knowledge management and organisational learning processes in a number of case study construction firms, chosen to reflect variation across the industry in terms of size of contractor and sector of activity (e.g. building, engineering).  The main objectives of the research are:

To identify and examine the factors encouraging and inhibiting knowledge management and culture change strategies needed to implement new initiatives within construction firms

To identify the human resource management and change management practices supporting such initiatives and to assess their impact upon the diffusion of knowledge and learning throughout the organisation

To generate analytical tools and practical recommendations that firms can use to improve their ability to implement and manage new initiatives

The work is supported by the EPSRC under the Innovative Manufacturing Initiative and involves collaboration with AMEC Construction, Birse Construction, Colledge Trundle & Hall, Costain Oil Gas & Process, Interserve Industrial Services, Simon Carves, Waterloo Air Management and WS Atkins Consultants. Work began on the project in September 2001 and is due to complete in late 2003.

Publications

Published Conference Papers

Bresnen, M., Swan, J. and Hall, M. (2002). 'Implementing change: new management initiatives and their impact on internal company practices', in B. O. Uwakweh and I. A. Minkarah (eds), Construction Innovation and Global Competitiveness, Counseil International du Batiment (CIB) 10th International Symposium, University of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, 9-13 September 2002, pp. 99-110.

Bresnen, M. and Swan, J. (2002). 'Understanding the implementation of new management initiatives in the construction firm', in D. Greenwood (ed.), Proceedings, Association of Researchers in Construction Management (ARCOM) 18th Annual Conference, Northumbria University, 2-4 September 2002, Volume 2, pp. 657-66.

Project Team:

Mike Bresnen
Anna Goussevskaia