An Exploratory Study of Collaboration In Built Environment Design Teams: A Social Psychology Perspective

Barrett, Jennifer Eve orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-6795-1615 (2018) An Exploratory Study of Collaboration In Built Environment Design Teams: A Social Psychology Perspective. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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In recent years, existing research and industry studies have noted that, whilst there has been significant progress in the performance of built environment teams, scant attention has been paid to the behavioural aspects of collaborative design. These recent performance improvements also tend to respond to a techno-operational and positivist dominance within the architecture, engineering, construction (AEC) domain. This has resulted in tools, technologies, and guidance which fail to address the socio-behavioural context of collaborative design in AEC. Alternatively, generic socio-behavioural management theories are applied with the aim of improving collaborative practices, despite operation in an industry that has critical differences to mainstream business.
This thesis aims to counterbalance that positivist and techno-operational dominance, by conducting an exploratory study which expands and deepens knowledge relating to the social aspects of design collaboration in the built environment. To this end, the study begins with a systematic review of literature from the field of social psychology. This field maintains a long history of experimental and field study in relation to group interaction. The social psychology literature is examined to identify areas of knowledge and key themes which are likely to hold relevance for built environment design teams and may be supplanted within the AEC sector-specific research frame.
Themes emerging from this review are: (1) motivation and reward, (2) risk attitudes, and (3) social climate. These themes, and the social phenomena described within them, are subsequently investigated in a series of studies. First, an exploratory survey of industry perceptions has been conducted. Findings from this survey direct and inform two further, complementary studies, which include focus group interviews and observations of a live design team in a case-study project. Resulting data sets are qualitatively analysed using a thematic analysis complemented by quantitative social network analysis. The proposed framework synthesises the findings from these studies. The framework comprises thematic content which is specific to collaborative practice in the built environment, rooted within a social psychology perspective. Findings detail a multiplicity in the role agency of project team members as actors in industry, discipline, company, and individual contexts. Normative and adaptive responses within the team interaction space, thus, transforms agency and thought to collective systems of meaning, within which creative thinking can flourish, and from which innovation can thrive.
The framework enables the built environment sector to make progress in detailing its own critical success factors for effective collaboration. The framework can now be applied in research and practice, to establish clear directions for new research; development of interdisciplinary industry and practice guidance; and, industry-specific curricula content for professional practice training, teaching, and learning for cognisant disciplines. Thus, the current practice of applying generic theory to AEC collaborative practice can now be repealed in favour of a directed and industry appropriate approach.

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