Telling our story, the benefits of a strategic research framework

Telling our story, the benefits of a strategic research framework

As the offsite manufacturing (OSM) industry increasingly gains the attention of policymakers and government clients, so does the need for strategic research into our industry to accurately tell our story. A question was asked at the recent PrefabNZ AGM regarding the organisation’s research intentions, and it was a point well-raised. In response, this article discusses the opportunities provided by taking a strategic approach to industry research through the development of a comprehensive research framework. Such an approach could benefit our sector by targeting research to fill current gaps in knowledge, quantifying the benefits of OSM, and providing sufficient insight into industry characteristics to inform ongoing system improvement (such as reform of the Building Act).

PrefabNZ provides links to relevant industry research via the resources page of its website. A quick review of such research tells us that the majority comes from overseas or from the good work completed at our universities and institutes of technology across Aotearoa. In addition, BRANZ has undertaken a handful of projects related to OSM; however, this was completed some time ago (2013-2014).

It would be fair to say that existing OSM research in Aotearoa has been completed on an ad-hoc basis, based on the needs or interest areas of clients and/or researchers. This is entirely understandable as the industry grows; however, opportunities exist to take a more targeted approach in the future. In recognition of this, PrefabNZ’s vision includes a strategic action to build research leadership and capability across the sector – including its own internal capability.

To kickstart such capability, last year PrefabNZ obtained funding from the Ministry for Social Development to undertake an industry-related research programme. This programme will provide insight into the capability and capacity of the OSM industry in Aotearoa, explore opportunities and barriers to OSM, and understand the employment landscape within the sector. The Auckland University of Technology (AUT) is currently undertaking the first part of this programme on behalf of PrefabNZ, and we eagerly await the outcomes due later this year.

What would also be useful is an overarching strategic research framework to identify specific OSM research needs. Such a framework could be developed in conjunction with key stakeholders, with the purpose of:

  1. Identifying research topics that would be most useful to industry and policymakers (for example, regarding climate change, industry attitudes to proposed legislative amendment, or OSM employer needs).
  2. Inform ongoing government engagement regarding the benefits, and needs, of the OSM industry.
  3. Providing an ‘umbrella’ for OSM-related research to be communicated and developed with stakeholders.
  4. Adding credibility to OSM research funding applications, by establishing research need.
We would be interested to hear from industry stakeholders, particularly researchers, regarding the value of such an approach. A broader understanding of OSM characteristics and impact can only benefit industry as we continue to grow our sector across Aotearoa.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at with any comments.

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