Observations on partnerships in the building sector

News - 22 September 2021 - Communication BK

Buildings in the EU are responsible for about 40% of the total energy consumption. Increasing the energy efficiency of housing is important for achieving the EU's energy efficiency goals and reducing CO2 emissions. Housing corporations and the construction industry need to work together better to achieve this goal. Jelle Koolwijk of MBE recently won the Research, Innovation, Sustainability and Enterprise (RISE) AWARD for his research into successful partnerships.

Searching for close and long-term collaboration

In the Netherlands, 350 social housing corporations own approximately 2.4 million social rental homes, many of which must be made sustainable to meet European targets. In order to achieve these goals, housing corporations find that they must work more closely with suppliers in the construction sector. They are looking for forms of collaboration with contractors and specialised subcontractors to make their properties more sustainable in a smarter and more efficient way. They want to make use of the knowledge that is present in the supplying parties and also offer them the possibility to produce more efficiently and therefore cheaper. Therefore, they are looking for long-term partnerships in which parties can contribute their knowledge to the design process and streamline the total production process across multiple projects. In the past 10 years, many housing corporations have tried to enter into strategic alliances. Some of these partnerships still exist, while others have been disbanded relatively quickly. Jelle Koolwijk's research "Interplay between rules, trust and power in strategic partnerships in the construction industry" attempts to understand why this happens.

Observing and understanding

The purpose of strategic partnerships is to integrate activities between firms and initiate knowledge sharing between people. Despite the fact that the partnerships were set up in the same way, the way people interacted with each other in the partnerships appeared to be different. As a consultant in strategic partnering, Koolwijk observed different behavior within design teams. In a number of teams, people tended to share ideas faster and ask a question if they did not understand something. In other teams, it seemed as if team members were less likely to show their backs. Furthermore, Koolwijk observed that rules that were supposed to lead to integration between companies were applied differently. For instance, in one case open book accounting was used as a tool to share cost information openly and to identify cost reductions in future projects. In another case, however, open book accounting was used as a tool to control the other partners. Koolwijk sought to understand these differences and the effects these have on the long-term relationship.

Headerphoto: A succesful renovation project in which Jelle Koolwijk was involved: de Bosleeuw in Amsterdam (photo by Jelle Koolwijk)

More information

The findings of his last research were published open-access in the journal of  Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management.
The award was presented by the Leeds Sustainability Institute, Technological University Dublin, Suffolk Sustainability Institute, and the University of the West of England.