The final report of the CONSTRINNONET Project presents the results of 3 years work concerned with SMEs, innovation and the construction sector. As an Innovation Project supported under the Innovation and SMEs Programme of the European Commission's 5th Framework Programme for Research, it was focused on non-technical issues related to SMEs and innovation.
The CONSTRINNONET Project ("Promoting Innovation in Construction Industry SMEs"), under contract IPS-2000-00002, comprised of a consortium of partners from 7 states in Europe and included research institutes, universities and private companies with experience in the construction sector and SME issues. The Project completed its work on 31st May 2004.
The purpose of the Project was to identify the most appropriate ways to support innovation in SMEs of the construction sector - a sector, which although highly significant for Europe's economy and growth, has been little regarded and whose innovation performance is questioned. As an RTD project, CONSTRINNONET tried to understand the mechanism behind successful innovation and to examine ways to improve supporting measures for SMEs of the sector across Europe. As such, the Project was more strategic in nature and less concerned with solutions of limited application.
The activities of the Project included firstly, a study of the SME context, their needs and existing service provision. The innovation system, policy framework and services of countries were catalogued, and semi-structured, qualitative interviews conducted with SMEs, industry bodies and service providers. Reports were compiled, concerning the supply and demand for relevant services to SMEs of the sector, pointing out the significance for the economy as a whole.
Secondly, the Project examined, through a number of pilot actions, new approaches to improve the opportunity for SMEs from the construction sector to engage in innovative activity. These took account of the needs of SMEs for relevant information, collaboration platforms and their operation within a regional context. In addition, the Project carried out actions, in parallel with the above activities, for trans-national exchange of information and experience, with partners and stakeholders both within and outside the sector.
The results of the Project consist of documented studies, pilot brokerage and entry point approaches, and templates for networked regional actions. Improved innovation performance and competitiveness of construction sector SMEs is expected as Partners develop new service ideas, exploit strategic networks and apply new knowledge that they have identified during the Project. In addition, there now exists valuable learning and co-operation between the 7 partner organisations and other bodies, with a view to extending this in Europe.
The Project's study and actions were constantly sensitive to information, events and policy developments in "real time". The findings are thus relevant to stakeholders concerned with improving today's and tomorrow's agenda. The conclusions and recommendations of the Project include the following:
§ No simple solution exists to address the problem of innovation in construction.
§ Business support is identified as the most relevant mechanism through which to promote innovation in SMEs of the construction sector.
§ European governments and their agents have generally failed to engage with the vast majority of construction SMEs in crucial areas such as RTD and business development.
§ At the regional level, where most construction SMEs operate, there is a marked absence of focus on construction in either innovation support initiatives or business development services.
§ Data on the construction industry at national and regional levels across Europe is not available in sufficient quality or detail for strategic decisions concerning this economically significant sector.
§ New measures to improve business support for construction SMEs include: extending SMEs' resource base through sector-specific regional networking initiatives; raising SMEs' awareness of RTD support through brokerage activities; and providing improved SME access to information on national and European measures of support through dedicated entry-points.
Policy-Making and Implementation at EU-Level:
Ø Initiate specific innovation efforts for construction in the EU.
Ø Develop statistics about construction across the EU.
Policy-Making and Implementation at National/Regional Level:
Ø National, regional and EU-funded development programmes (e.g. support for innovation and technology strategy) should take up sector-specific support for construction.
Ø Innovation in business support should be promoted at strategic level (new initiatives), and at agency-level (new services, new methods of supply).
Ø Quantitative and qualitative information about the industry at regional and sub-regional levels should be produced, in co-operation with other Member States.
Ø Pathways or channels of communication from national to regional to sub-regional levels should be more transparent in terms of disseminating information or support and development initiatives.
Ø Member States and Regions should consider the possibility that regional initiatives for improving SME performance and competitiveness would take place without EU intervention in future.
Ø Avoid one-size-fits-all solutions to the problem of innovation in construction.
Ø Promote innovation in business support in the form of new services and new methods of production and delivery, which address the varied and changing needs of SMEs in the construction industry.
Ø Focus on business opportunities when interacting with companies, promoting many different aspects of the innovation process in construction, not just R&D.
Ø Identify regional resources, capabilities and strengths and take them into account when establishing any relationship frames or projects for innovation at EU level.
SMEs (and big companies):
Ø Given the quality of research and development by publicly funded research institutes and universities, and the exploitation of new materials and processes by a relatively few major building and civil engineering companies in the EU, more could be done by the industry itself to bridge the gap.
Ø The construction sector should share some common objectives and strategies, but each SME needs to identify a clear and concise benefit it can get from involvement in common activities.