Choosing the draft design
Co-creation in contracting for bridges: that does not 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 Floriade2022 terrain.
Under the guidance of the Noorderwind and Zeewaardig Service Design bureaus, the teams gathered on May 9 for the second sprint of this open innovation procedure. It was an intensive day of sharing and discussing ideas and innovations, with some being elaborated and then discarded again until a few draft designs remained.
Room in view
To give the innovative teams as much creative freedom as possible, the client strove to impose the fewest conditions and frameworks. To ensure that the bridge does fit with the environment and the themes of the Floriade, rather specific criteria were set in a so-called bridges passport. The teams had questions about the functionality underlying this requirement to retain enough room for innovation.
Therefore, prior to the meeting, a question-and-answer session was inserted. This resulted in the contractors feeling better informed and seeing more room. They nevertheless still felt the restrictions imposed by the bridges passport, or as one participant put it, “The room and innovations are found in the small elements.”
The teams sought more flexibility in time as well as room within the requirements. Because an innovative process only works if the parties are open to learning and flexible, solutions were also sought here. This resulted in longer intervals between the sessions and an extra session on contract drafting. Interestingly, not all of the contractors considered the additional time a benefit: different companies work in different ways, and one contractor felt that keeping the project shorter would be a more efficient use of time. In that case, the majority vote was decisive.
With teams consisting of participants from different organisations, the exchange of information and having access to the latest information are important. The client therefore made a Common Data Environment (CDE) available to the teams. In a brief presentation, the supplier of the CDE explained how the participants could share and update information within a secure part of the platform. This enabled them to work together on the designs between the meetings.
Dream and reality
During the session, the members of the three teams first gave a short presentation about the homework: inspiring existing innovations that could be applied to the circular bridges. What was striking during the presentations is that, in general, the experts introduced more extreme innovations than the contractors: they were more practical, more feasibility-oriented.
One of the experts, who described himself as scientific, understood the benefit of the more extreme examples, even given his natural tendency to consider them impractical. “It forces you to find the limits of what is possible, instead of deciding ahead of time for the eminently feasible option. This allows the creation of more innovative solutions.” And that is precisely the objective of this exercise. Nevertheless, a number of participants had difficulty with the fact that hardly anything concrete had been produced and that it all still felt noncommittal. Even after completing the draft designs, there was still enough for the teams to investigate. But people were in general pleased that the ideas and directions were more concrete at the end of this second sprint.
It was an intensive day that demanded a lot of the participants. The teams are in a phase in which it seems on the one hand that you are drowning in options while on the other, the deadline, investment risks and the wish to have ready something good increased the pressure. With the additional programme points the time pressure was even more evident.
One lesson to be learned from this is that additional programme points for an intensive co-creation session, like the information session and the explanation of the data environment, must be considered well in advance so the programme can be adjusted or the parts organised separately.
Due to the expansion of the schedule, the teams now have more time to investigate their draft versions for feasibility and to choose a concrete direction. For the next session, they will present two or more concrete concepts to a panel of experts, for example in the fields of planning, design and permits. How will the participants evaluate the co-creation process after the next session? How innovative will the solutions seem? Will it be possible to meet all the criteria? Keep following us to see what happens next!