skip to primary navigationskip to content

Introduction to the Research Framework

Defining the capabilities required for digital built Britain, the research agenda to deliver those capabilities and today’s research landscape – an introduction to the Research Landscape Framework

Defining the capabilities required for digital built Britain, the research agenda to deliver those capabilities and today’s research landscape – an introduction to the Research Landscape Framework 

The digital built Britain of the decades to come will underpin social and economic life and prosperity in the UK, either directly or through the services which will be delivered by, or embedded in the built environment and infrastructure. 

To enable the people of Britain to enjoy and exploit the benefits, many organisations, institutions and people will need to develop new capabilities and skills.  The Research Programme aims to map out those new capabilities and hence the required research agenda.  Simultaneously, we aim to define today’s landscape of research activities able to support that development and dissemination of capabilities. 

Identifying the scope and characteristics of these new capabilities is challenging because, as well as the sheer breadth of capability needed across the country, the supply chains and the users, there are massive interactions across time, place, organisations and institutions.  In this note we describe the framework we will use to capture the envisaged areas of capability and exemplify instances and impact, noting particularly the interplay between social, political and technological systems. 

To make the task of describing the space feasible we have divided it into domains, explicitly recognising that 

  1. This is only one of many ways the picture can be sub-divided – and there is no ‘right answer’ 

  1. Most elements, be they disciplines, processes, organisations, interests and influences, span more than one domain 

  1. There is considerable interaction between domains 

  1. Domain boundaries are fuzzy, negotiable, permeable and, in essence, imaginary  

That being said, each of these domains encompasses capabilities that will be vital to the UK’s ability to enjoy and exploit the new world.  In the following sections we describe each of these domains in turn, with an illustrative diagram of the whole set at the end of the document. 

Defining and negotiating purposes, directions and priorities 

All the way from setting massive infrastructure budgets denominated in billions of pounds to requesting a disabled parking permit, stakeholders and decision-makers engage with the built environment and its services to articulate their needs and wants, prioritising between them and specifying the outcomes they want.  How well is this done, and how could it be done better in a more digital world?  How should we identify stakeholders (including the dispossessed and under-represented), how do they get a voice and how do the different factions negotiate to agree and specify desired purpose and outcomes?  How should the qualitative be best represented in debate?  What fora, processes and tools are needed to identify the full range of stakeholders, needs and wants, and to support negotiation and refinement? And how should this be done throughout the life of services and assets as part of continuing management?  CDBB is interested in the new capabilities needed as digitalisation and integration increases in coming decades. 

Governance, social constructs and frameworks 

Each individual instance of stakeholders planning and setting priorities and then monitoring the outcomes takes place within myriad frameworks of rules and social constructs.  Working within these is part of the portfolio of psychological and real contracts between actors in the political economy.  But will these frameworks be fit for purpose in a data-rich world of tighter integration among systems and between service providers and users?  Policy, law, regulation, standards, and contractual structures are all examples of the constructs and frameworks within which governance is practiced.  This political and technical economy has a profound effect on the efficiency of those within the system and we need to ensure that UK develops capabilities to build and develop these frameworks with an agility and robustness that caters for new technologies and for new socio-technical dynamics. 

Context, external influences, drivers and disruptors 

Even with the best of intention and of governance, digital built Britain will be subject to forces from evolving demographics, political events, economic cycles, climate change and technology change.  How can the UK discern these external forces and predict their likely impact on the built environment, infrastructure and services in ways that are better served by digitalisation?  How will tighter integration of services and assets change the nature of the impact of such forces?  This is not about finding new tools and approaches to understand the forces themselves – an undertaking beyond CDBB’s resources to support.  Instead, this is about building the capabilities to use and exploit digitalisation and new tools in prediction and decision-making. 

Complex integrated systems 

Continuing integration is inevitable, between infrastructure systems, between services and assets and between the organisations responsible for managing assets, infrastructure and services.  Ever-more integrated and pervasive data and computing will characterise future development. What new or enhanced tools will the UK need to understand these complex socio-technical systems to predict and manage their behaviour, not only for optimisation but also under failure conditions?   

Making the digitally enabled service and supply chain work 

In an ideal digital built Britain, stakeholders will be able to negotiate and define well-specified outcomes, individuals and organisations will work within agile and robust governance systems, and the behaviour of the resulting complex integrated systems will be well understood, even in the face of external trends and drivers.  What capabilities will the people and organisations need to manage delivery of outcomes on a day-to-day basis in myriad different circumstances?  What sorts of contracts will relate the outcomes of services to the creation and management of built assets?  How will supply networks operate as service organisations integrate their operations with those managing the assets?  What capabilities will employees and their employers need in an increasingly digital world?  And, crucially, what of the user – how will they build the skills to engage with and gain value from digital built Britain?  

Data and information 

At the core of digital built Britain will be the new capabilities, tools, resources and infrastructure needed for a world of pervasive data collection, curation and exchange.  Information derived from complex models will be used alongside information gathered from public and private spaces.  Decisions will be made at all levels all the time.  These will need not just technological capabilities, but also crucial social, community and political insights and capabilities.  In particular, the UK will need to understand the values and the biases embedded in data and its use in order to manage the socio-technical system equitably for all.  

The creation and through-life management of built assets and infrastructure 

Digitalisation, tighter integration between models and sensors and ever-increasing capabilities in designing, constructing and managing built assets will underpin the provision of services by and through digital built Britain.  Introducing philosophies and practices from manufactured products could open up new opportunities in designing, building and managing assets through-life through digitalisation and integration.  Legacy assets will remain the most numerous and owners, specifiers, builders and users will need new capabilities to integrate the old and the new.  Scale will matter, considering the differences needed in managing within a building or perhaps across the county. 

Integration and optimisation of services embedded in the built environment 

What capabilities should the UK acquire to better specify, procure, design, deliver and manage integrated services based on and embedded within built assets and infrastructure?  Increasing digitalisation could open up new opportunities, but could also preclude some from participation, so the social, the economic and the technological will need to go hand in hand as users interact with services that entail increasing collaboration among a greater variety of organisations.  Only with the appropriate capabilities can service providers optimise effectiveness, efficiency and productivity for their stakeholders, both users and others, making best use of data and information through-life and across assets and infrastructure. 

Managing learning, adaptation and change 

Much will change along the way to digital built Britain and all involved will need to build capabilities in learning to use and manage the new and to manage and be managed through the change processes.  What new capabilities will this require and what will be special about digitalisation and integration that differentiates this learning and change from other kinds of change?  Everybody will be affected, so the capabilities needed must be identified, developed and acquired across the whole spectrum of people involved. 

Through-life, scale and longevity 

There are three further aspects of capability to consider.  Firstly, assets and services are subject to a cycle, from the point where the need is discerned, through specification, development, delivery and management, to assessment, refinement and redevelopment.  There should be a feedback loop of lessons learned. How best to do this? We need to think about capabilities throughout this cycle.  Secondly there is a matter of scale.  Some capabilities will be appropriate for services, assets, information and integration within a single building or of a single service.  At the other end of the spectrum will be country-wide and national scales of operation.  How must capabilities scale?  Thirdly, much of the built environment, and certainly its potential impact on the natural and social environment are measured in decades or even centuries.  Discerning and building capabilities needs to reflect this longevity of operation and impact. 

There is massive interaction between these component topic areas.  Any perspective or use case spans many of the topic areas.  Matters, for example, of education or health can be seen to pick up questions of stakeholder involvement, of governance, of driving forces such as demographics, and of the impact of new data tools.  The services, the assets and the management of the value networks that finally deliver benefits for users are tightly coupled and interact.  The social, political and technological interactions pervade the whole scene.  And all is subject to constant change, requiring all involved to learn, adapt and change.  So this is a complex picture, in which any classification of its parts must inevitably flex and in which any boundary must be permeable. 

Below is a diagrammatic and dramatically simplified representation of the components identified above, reflecting just some of the elements in the complex landscape of capabilities needed to deliver digital built Britain.  This framework is the tool we shall use to discern capabilities needed, to define the requisite research and demonstrators, and to describe today’s research landscape.

Research Framework Image

Research Network Graphic1

Filed under:

Welcome to the Centre for Digital Built Britain.  

The Centre for Digital Built Britain is a partnership between the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the University of Cambridge to deliver a smart digital economy for infrastructure and construction for the future and transform the UK construction industry’s approach to the way we plan, build, maintain and use our social and economic infrastructure.