Construction client collaboration for inter-organizational innovation : do too many cooks really spoil the broth?

Abstract: Our built environment has the power to influence where we live and work, how we transport ourselves, how and what we consume and many other behaviors in our everyday lives, in other words, it has a significant impact on our global environment and economy. Given the notable need for more sustainable development of both the global environment and economy, sustainability has become a critical factor also in the area of urban development. With this as a backdrop, the construction industry and its many actors, such as clients, contractors and suppliers, that collectively drive urban development, play a significant role in creating sustainable development.Innovation is a cornerstone to achieve development, so also in the construction industry. However, with its many interrelated organizations, projects and actors, innovation inevitably becomes inter-organizational. From an urban development perspective, inter-organizational innovation will happen in a multi-project context where several construction projects, led and executed by different actors from different organizations, become interdependent and are therefore required to collaborate. In any construction project, the client holds a key position and has been identified as a critical supporter for successful innovation and collaboration. On the back of these dynamics, the purpose of this licentiate thesis is to explore clients’ role in a multi-project context where inter-organizational innovation is initiated to drive sustainable urban development.From a contingency perspective, the purpose of this study has been explored through a multiple-case study where coordinated construction logistics, during the study, has been identified as inter-organizational innovation. The study has shown that coordinated construction logistics, developed for a multi-project context, must be developed and implemented differently than in a single project or organization. In other words, coordinated construction logistics can take the form of different types of construction innovation. The construction clients, in this thesis the building developers, are identified as being important to support innovation and collaboration within and between parallel and sequential projects. The study has also shown that different clients behave differently when inter-organizational innovation is present; whilst some are proactive to achieve development, others are hesitant and less supportive for change. The findings suggest that long-term committed clients take a more proactive stand for innovation, for example, by including innovation in their procurement strategies and reflecting on how to best implement it in their projects. Additionally, in a multi-project context, the collaboration between clients is found to be important in order to successfully implement innovation, for example to align procurement strategies with the next-door neighbors and to create opportunities to communicate with each other.A theoretical contribution from this thesis is that coordinated construction logistics, which is often seen from a supply-chain management perspective, could be considered as inter-organizational innovation. This conclusion expands the understanding of the empirical phenomenon and its context. Furthermore, adding to the on-going discussion on clients as innovation supporters, their role as a potential innovation supporter is established in a multi-project perspective, but where differences between different types of clients must be taken into account. The multi-project context also implies an increased need for client collaboration, which is often informal, why the clients themselves need to handle all the aspects of collaboration. Tentative findings indicate that in this context time, spatiality, innovation and requirements will affect this collaboration. From a practical side, the findings show that initiating and implementing inter-organizational innovation requires understanding of the context, such as project objectives and the system. For clients and governments active in urban development, the thesis can guide the understanding of the importance of collaboration and choosing procurement strategy for inter-organizational innovation.

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