Recently, I’ve discussed with several people the challenges of AEC research. AEC companies are traditionally very practical and task oriented. They find it quite hard to grasp the idea of research that is not directly related to their everyday business. On the other hand, researchers seem to have a hard time communicating their worth.
There is, of course, a considerable amount of very practical research, such as on building materials. But as you move further away from physical substances or phenomena, clients become bewildered. Process and information management research, or economic and business model studies are much harder to grasp. Social and behavioral sciences seem to be even more unconnected to the business of AEC firms.
When companies are not minded to collaborate with research institutions, researchers have to find alternate sources of finance or clients from other industries. This may steer them in a direction away from the kind of research that would benefit the industry.
Why should AEC companies be interested in research? That is a question that researchers should be able to answer. I think that their inability to communicate with potential clients is one of the main reasons for the lack of interest.
A friend of mine was writing a piece on an AEC research project. He interviewed the representatives of the research institute and asked what would be different in the industry once their work was complete. They could not provide an explanation, at least not right away.
I know that the more basic the research, the more difficult it is to explain the potential business benefits from it. They may never materialize, or they can be something quite unexpected. However, if you are doing applied research – such as many institutions do for the industry – you should be able to communicate clearly, in the client’s language, why your work is valuable and worth the investment. Maybe this is not part of the curriculum for a researcher, but it should be.