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Innovation needs information

Disseminating information to clients and the industry is key to the future of European construction research and innovation. Dr Scott Steedman explains why.

The European Council for Civil Engineers needs to take note of the advances that have been made over recent years in the co-ordination of research and technological development at a European level.

The challenge is being led by the European Council for Construction Research Development & Innovation (ECCREDI).

Just five years after being set up, it has already established a reputation, speaking for the construction sector in Europe on issues relating to research, development and innovation.

ECCREDI's research network TRA-EFCT, the Targeted Research Actions - Environmentally Friendly Construction Technologies, hosted a meeting with European Commission officials in Prague last week. There, the construction sector demonstrated how far it has progressed co-ordinating research, development and innovation projects across Europe.

The two day workshop brought the Commission, material producers, designers and contractors together to meet with some of the leading research institutions and practitioners in Europe.

A constant theme of the meeting was how to improve customer focus both internally, within the industry, and particularly externally - with clients, governments and ultimately the public. A focus on projects to increase efficiency, to 'green' our products and processes and to disseminate the knowledge base that already exists within the sector are all considered to be critical to improving the return on existing small levels of research investment across Europe.

Above all, access to information is essential if true innovation - defined as the effective implementation of research - is to take place.

Research is no longer considered to be the prerogative of institutions and academia.

Driven by environmental pressures, social pressures and competition from outside Europe, the Commission is now pushing the construction sector to improve its performance. The traditional response - that the construction sector is fragmented and dominated by small firms with little or no interest in innovation - is no longer acceptable.

The Commission awards considerable sums of money for research projects to be carried out at a European level by multinational consortia on a wide range of topics. BRE and Taylor Woodrow are among the more successful UK participants in the program.

The current programme is known as the Fifth Framework.

It seeks projects that are less focussed on 'technology push' which is now acknowledged to be relatively ineffective at achieving value for the European tax payer. Instead it is more focussed on problem solving, particularly those projects offering a clear benefit to society.

ECCREDI has just submitted a proposal to the Commission for a further strategic network to gather information on national research programmes and to create an electronic knowledge network for research and innovation across Europe. This would also help to address the more complex issues of socioenvironmental impact and benefits of the construction sector.

Known as the 'E-CORE' - European Construction Research - network, it is intended to blend seamlessly into the concept now emerging from Brussels of a common European research area.

Dr Scott Steedman is a director of Whitby Bird and Partners and president of the European Council for Construction Research Development & Innovation.

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