Co-creation in contracting bridges:
That doesn’t happen often.
The municipality of Almere and the province of Flevoland did it. They launched an open innovative challenge for the Floriade Expo 2022 on 2 April 2019. Three mixed teams of contractors and experts worked separately on the designs for two innovative, circular bridges for the Floriade 2022 park.
A challenging, innovative process that aims to obtain more innovative designs that approach bridge construction in a different way, as well as aspects like management and the relationship between bridge and environment. How does this process work? What works well and what less well? We share our experiences through a series of posts. This time it concerns: the other approach.
Under the guidance of the agencies Noorderwind and Seaworthy Service Design the teams will come together in four sessions to arrive at design proposals for the two bridges through a series of co-creation sprints.
These design proposals are presented and assessed by a jury. The two bridges chosen by the jury will be worked out – again in a series of sprints – into the final design. But let’s start at the beginning: what’s so different about this process and why do we think it’s an improvement?
To understand what we are doing differently, it is good first to understand how it works now. In the world of bridge contracting, there are two main forms of contracting that cover both designing and building: the ‘Design & Construct’ and the ‘Construction team’ formulas. A description of the differences is given below.
Design & construct
In a design & construct formula, specifications are provided by the client with information and boundary conditions: budget, technical requirements, information about the environment, etc. Contractors prepare an analysis of the commission based on those specifications that examines the client’s request, the type of project, the environment and the contract, and a planning is made for the tender, as far as possible. On the basis of this analysis, a strategy is determined and a design prepared with the associated budget for implementation.
In such a process it is important to have all the information on time, to be able to prepare a good implementation plan, a sound estimate of the costs and residual risks, and properly elaborate visualisations and texts. With this type of contracting, a good analysis of the client’s request and thorough planning and calculation are important. The calculations in particular have an effect: ultimately, it is often the cost that the client finds decisive, which can stand in the way of innovation.
In the variant with the Construction team, there is also a detailed set of specifications with information, but the contractor works together with the client on the design and together they formulate an implementation commission. The contract can be prepared on the basis of a selection commission: the contractor is asked, for example, to prepare a rough design of an artwork (read: bridge) or develop a plan of approach to the main themes of the project. A pitfall in this process is that the awarding is not based on the entire picture – an elaborated and budgeted definitive design – but on a draft design.
Much still has to be defined after the awarding therefore, but how do you know if that great concept, once it’s elaborated, is nicer/better/more functional than that less well elaborated concept? In these two types of contracting processes, contractors put their own team together and they have control over their planning – aside from the deadline. There is also a clearly specified description of the intended end product. This check is a clear advantage, but the fact that the decision is usually driven by cost considerations restricts the innovative and sometimes also the aesthetic nature of the object.
How do we do it?
This open innovation process can be described as a mix of design & construct and a construction team: the contractors work together; not with the client but with external experts placed on their team. The client evaluates the rough designs that the contractors’ teams have developed in four co-creation sprints, but the designs are not yet fully elaborated and budgeted. That only happens after the two bridges that are to be built have been chosen. There is a detailed document with boundary conditions, but the contractors are especially encouraged in the sprints to push all these boundaries.
By talking, already in the contracting phase, with those who prepared the criteria and the competent authorities, it is expected that the contractors will find the room and be able to adjust their designs to align. With this approach the client hopes to stimulate innovation. As a consequence, the contractors have less control over the process and the team composition. And in this case as well, the awarding is based on a draft design, to stimulate the most innovative content.
Because it is a new approach, both the client and the contractor must learn how such a new process works. We expect that involving external experts will boost innovation. In the co-creation sessions we are striving for a broad search for inspiration and conceptual designs.
By stimulating the discussion early on with the people setting the criteria and the competent authorities about the functionality underlying the requirements, we hope to arrive at innovative solutions for these circular bridges. But in practice things can go differently, not everything is according to plan, certainly not with a new process.
Both client and contractors have therefore resolved to think ‘innovatively’ in the process: finding room and being flexible if matters turn out differently than expected so together they can arrive at a good result. The lessons that we learn in this process are recorded so future innovative projects can learn from them and can continue building on these insights.
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