Through collaboration, our industry can work more innovatively and effectively and so rise to some of society’s greatest challenges, says ISG’s Craig Battye.

Construction is a team game, right? Those exemplar projects we rightly celebrate speak loudly to how far our industry can push the boundaries … but they also undoubtedly start and end with a dedicated and committed team of highly motivated professionals, all driving in the same direction with a singular purpose.

This is what I love about construction – sharing, learning and innovating as a collective. Drawing on experience and data, embracing new ideas and change in the pursuit of delivering outstanding results for clients, but always with the goal of doing it even better next time.

One of the perennial challenges we face as an industry, however, is consistently replicating these successes, when a largely competitive procurement landscape often diminishes the opportunity for true collaborative behaviours.

Taking risks is a risky business – nobody ever got fired for buying IBM, as the old adage goes. But it is right that we recognise the risk that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) took when it announced the use of an innovative alliancing framework for the delivery of its £1bn new prisons programme.

After an initial competitive appointment stage, the MoJ brought four contractors (ISG, Kier, Laing O’Rourke and Wates) to the table, with other professional partners, and asked them to share everything, to collaborate, innovate and learn from each other in order to deliver the most efficient, sustainable and values-driven new prison estate.

Underpinned by Construction Playbook principles, alliancing at a stroke opened the door for genuine collaboration between four of the UK’s biggest construction brands. It actively brought together MoJ delivery veterans with individuals entirely new to the justice sector – but with extensive knowledge of what works in comparable arenas.

Repaying the MoJ’s faith in radical change, the instant effect was a pooling of resources, talent and knowledge, bringing the best attributes and characteristics of each organisation and blending them together for the purpose of creating a world-class model and methodology for delivering prison infrastructure.

The experience has been revelatory to everyone I speak with – and importantly that pool of talent has expanded dramatically with a gravitational effect that pulls an even more diverse range of skills, experience, knowledge and innovation into one place for a common goal.

Trust and confidence levels are off the scale, and one simple way of characterising the mindset change is the number of alliance colleagues that now work from their former rivals’ offices to streamline efficiencies and enhance collaboration.

So what is the headline reference to the number 126 you might ask? Well, after just a couple of months of collaboration, our working group presented 126 big ideas to improve the design and functional performance of a typical house block. These improvements looked at every aspect of the design, delivery, longevity and future maintenance, usability and environmental performance of the accommodation, incorporating pre-fabrication, circular economy and embodied carbon principles, as well as social value enhancements.

Consider that the existing house block design was version five of a traditionally iterative development from the 1960s – in the space of just two months, a group of collaborators from four Tier 1 contractors had discovered 126 individual design elements that we all agreed could be improved.

Colleagues from across the alliance are running this same exercise across every aspect of the design, delivery and performance of the new estate and the impact is nothing short of transformational.

The combined impact of this knowledge and expertise, channelled towards a common objective, is producing a raft of optioneering solutions for the MoJ that is unprecedented in scale and scope, and would have taken decades to develop through a traditional, iterative design and development approach.

New ideas and solutions have been sense-checked through the critical lens of four leading construction organisations, and partners have been unafraid to reject anything that does not reach our shared stringent performance value targets. Remembering that any upgrades must show additional gain across a host of value measures.

The strong link between the built environment and many of society’s greatest challenges provides an opportunity for new approaches and calculated risks. We need to leap, not shuffle, forward and true collaboration is an exciting and dynamic way that our industry can seize the initiative for profound change.

The public sector is once again at the vanguard of this movement and we must not lose the impetus and momentum to explore different ways our industry can work together more effectively for a common purpose. There are at least 126 reasons why we should all subscribe to this view.