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Social networks and knowledge creation in the built environment: a case study

Mahtab Akhavan Farshchi (Department of Property, Surveying and Construction, London South Bank University, London, UK)
Mark Brown (Halcrow Group Ltd, Hammersmith, London, UK)

Structural Survey

ISSN: 0263-080X

Article publication date: 12 July 2011

Abstract

Purpose

The production of the built environment, as any other industrial production, is a knowledge‐intensive process. Knowledge resides in many teams/parties who are involved in the creation or production process. This paper seeks to discuss the feasibility of social network analysis as a tool for understanding the process of knowledge creation through communication among team members in the construction industry.

Design/methodology/approach

Following a literature review of the characteristics of innovation, knowledge and social networks in a built environment context, a case study is presented. The case study investigates the networks in one project team in a planning and engineering consultancy, employing 5,500 people worldwide.

Findings

The network analysis revealed a problem with the project caused not by a widespread failure in social networks, but the isolated failure of one or two sub‐networks; however, these had a major impact on the performance of the project as a whole. The cause of this failure, while not clear, can be postulated as being in some part due to the lack of a collaborative culture across disciplines. Multi‐disciplinary projects are vulnerable because, while most (disciplinary) teams may function well, failure of just one will jeopardise the project as a whole – a chain is only as strong as the weakest link. Mechanisms do not exist for addressing failure, mid‐project, in social networks. The project‐centric nature of the sector is also an issue, in that project teams are in a constant state of flux with relationships being established, then staff moving on and a new set of relationships being developed. This does not support long‐term stable and trusting relationships.

Originality/value

The paper concludes that the use of SNA techniques has practical benefits for inter‐ and intra‐transfer of knowledge and information among team members.

Keywords

Citation

Akhavan Farshchi, M. and Brown, M. (2011), "Social networks and knowledge creation in the built environment: a case study", Structural Survey, Vol. 29 No. 3, pp. 221-243. https://doi.org/10.1108/02630801111148202

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited