Innovation processes in sustainable construction: Introducing the murmuration perspective

Nina Koch-Ørvad

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesis

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The construction industry is responsible for significant environmental impacts in terms of energy and resource consumption, waste production, and CO2 emissions, and is therefore currently facing the challenge of a sustainable transition; that is, a radical shift from the existing socio-technical system to a new, more sustainable one. What is needed in order to support a sustainable transition of the construction industry is not incremental improvements and technological fixes, but rather an organizational and procedural change that address the strong path dependency and conservatism found in the construction industry. This thesis therefore studies innovation processes within sustainable construction with an aim of generating a more profound understanding of the configuration of such processes in order to better support them. Based on the main research question – how are innovation processes in sustainable construction taking place? – the thesis investigates the contextual factors that influence sustainable innovation processes, how the factors shape or are shaped by the innovations, and how these influential mechanisms can be managed.
The literature on transitions, particularly the multi-level perspective (MLP), and the literature on innovation in construction has formed the theoretical foundation of the research. The empirical material includes expert interviews, workshops, and a number of case studies. The findings from these studies showed that innovation processes in sustainable construction are characterized by several contextual factors, and that the mechanisms of these factors, i.e. how the factors influence and are influenced by the innovations, can be both plannable or happen by chance. Such coincidental mechanisms call for a management approach that support exploration and experimentation in order to transform the innovation’s existing ecosystem and enable implementation.
The findings are summarized in the murmuration perspective. A murmuration is the biological term for the collective movement of starlings, who flock to perform impressive aerial manoeuvres in order to find food and avoid predators. Applying this metaphor to innovation processes in sustainable construction generates a novel, cohesive understanding of how such processes take place in practice. Like a bird needs the flock to survive, the innovation needs its ecosystem to progress. The bird is found to interact with a specific number of neighbours, and an innovation is found to engage with selected actors often well established in the industry to ensure implementation. Any bird can become the leader of the murmuration, and any innovation can lead the industry in a new and more sustainable direction, given that the innovation process is managed in a way that generates a transformation of the existing ecosystem. A model of lineage ecosystem management is proposed as an approach to managing the innovation process. Here, a series of projects with both exploratory and exploitative dimensions contributes to identifying and transforming the ecosystem of the innovation, thus enabling implementation and progression.
The proposed murmuration perspective contributes to the literature on transitions by generating novel insights on the processes by which niches and regimes interact and are interdependent, and to the literature on innovation in construction by offering a holistic understanding of how sustainable innovations take place and how these processes can be studied. Finally, the research contributes to practice with a language for discussing how innovation processes in sustainable construction can be supported and thereby potentially accelerate the much-needed sustainable transition of the construction industry.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherDTU Management
Number of pages185
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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