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Purpose: Through the study of visualizations, virtual worlds, and information exchange, this research reveals the complex connections between technology and the work of design and construction. The authors apply the socio-technical view of technology and the ramifications this view has on successful use of technology in design and construction.
Approach: This is a discussion paper reviewing over a decade of research that connects three streams of research on architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) teams as these teams grappled with adapting work practices to new technologies and the opportunities these technologies promised.
Findings: From studies of design and construction practices with Building Information Modeling and energy modeling, the authors show that given the constructed nature of models and the loose-coupling of project teams, these team organizational practices need to mirror the modeling requirements. Second, looking at distributed teams, whose interaction is mediated by technology, the authors argue that virtual world visualizations
enhance discovery, while distributed AEC teams also need more traditional forms of 2D abstraction, sketching, and gestures to support integrated design dialogue. Finally, in information exchange research the authors found that models and data have their own logic and structure and as such require creativity and ingenuity to exchange data across systems. Taken together, these streams of research suggest that process innovation is brought about by people developing new practices.
Originality: In this paper the authors argue that technology alone does not change practice. People who modify practices with and through technology create process innovation.
- Dossick, Carrie, Laura Osburn & Gina Neff. “Innovation Through Practice: The Messy Work of Making Technology Useful for Architecture, Engineering and Construction Teams.” Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, doi: 10.1108/ECAM-12-2017-0272.
Messy talk and clean technology: communication, problem-solving and collaboration using Building Information Modelling
We studied the organizational practices around Building Information Modeling, or BIM, in inter-organizational collaborations among architects, engineers and construction professionals in order to theorize how communication supports technology adoption. Using ethnographic observation and one-on-one interviews with project participants, we observed five teams on three different commercial and institutional building projects that each collaborated over periods of 8–10 months. In this paper, we argue that the dynamic complexity of design and construction processes requires what we call ‘messy talk’—conversations neither about topics on meeting agendas, nor on specified problems or specific queries for expertise. In messy talk interactions, AEC professionals contributed to innovation and project cohesion by raising and addressing issues not known by others. The communicative ‘affordances and constraints’ of BIM structured meeting conversations away from less structured, open-ending problem-solving and towards agenda-driven problem-solving around already identified problems. In other words, using BIM to make information exchange more efficient and effective worked only for certain tasks. We found BIM supports the exchange of explicit knowledge, but not necessarily informal, active and flexible conversations and exchange of tacit knowledge through messy talk. Although messy talk is perceived as more inefficient, it ultimately makes inter-organizational teams more effective.