In 2009, Building the Future was published as a result of BRANZ engagement with the building and construction sector with the aim of understanding, preparing for and perhaps even helping the industry to shape the developments that will influence New Zealand's built environment up to 2025.
This produced some contrasting views of the built environment and the drivers of change up to 2025. These views (stories or scenarios) were based on scientific interpretation of the drivers of change in the built environment, coupled with key stakeholder views of the future. In short, the scenarios that emerged were not predictions of the future but entirely plausible depictions of what may happen should certain combinations of circumstance eventuate.
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The main purpose of the project was to impart structure and resilience to BRANZ's medium- to long-term research agenda and then inform an industry-wide vision building process should agreement be reached that it is the logical next step for the industry.
In other words, BRANZ is aiming to develop a research agenda that serves the industry as effectively as possible. To achieve these objectives, we need to understand the nature and the implications of the key drivers and trends in the New Zealand built environment - making this a research project.
The research questions were:
In order to develop a set of useful and plausible scenarios, it was first necessary to identify the drivers of change. These provide the essential feedstock for all subsequent foresight activities.
STEEP (Social, Technical, Environmental, Economic and Political) analysis is the primary futures tool for identifying and monitoring the emergence, growth and coalescence of change. This type of horizon scanning goes by a variety of aliases: STEER, STEEP, DESTEP, STEP, PESTE, PESTEL, PESTLE, PEST, STEEPLE or STEEPLED. The categories for analysis are the subject of much debate among foresight practitioners and academics. However, they all describe a framework of macro-environmental factors used in the environmental scanning component of strategic management, and STEEP appears to be the least controversial and most commonly used. The Legal, Demographic and Ethics components are almost invariably covered (often more than once) within the other STEEP categories and were therefore not considered separately in this project.
The elements of the STEEP analysis can be broadly summarised as follows:
Reports were commissioned from five authors covering the STEEP range identified above and assembled into a single STEEP report.
Concurrently with the STEEP analyses, another important part of the process involved speaking to knowledgeable, respected industry players drawn from a variety of backgrounds. This is important because, by their deliberate actions, these people have the ability to directly alter the built environment in response to what they see coming, and their input brought a human dimension (of deliberate choice) to the range of potential futures.
The STEEP and interview stages of the project involved identifying the drivers of change. Once the main driving forces had been identified, it became apparent that some of them were predetermined, that is, highly likely to occur and completely outside our control. Others were less certain. The critical uncertainties are central to the focal issue - the New Zealand built environment in 2025 - and are impossible to predict accurately.
Seven clusters of uncertainty emerged from a process of research and debate. It is usual to build each scenario around one critical uncertainty. However, our seven clusters led to four scenarios. After further reflection, it became apparent that some of these clusters could be woven into more than one storyline.
Previous experience has taught us that the more direct involvement people have with a scenario development process, the more they learn and the more they tend to discuss the issues raised with others. Accordingly, we endeavoured to include as large a cross-section of the industry as possible at every stage of our deliberations.
Download the Building The Future summary report (2.3MB), including the scenarios and the seven critical uncertainties.
Download the Building the Future full report (3MB), including the scenarios, critical uncertainties, general uncertainties, predetermined elements and the complete methodology and bibliography.
At BRANZ, the need for an umbrella industry vision leading into a series of broad industry strategies to achieve the vision is well understood. One of these strategies is expected to be an industry research strategy, below which would sit a series of specific research agendas. It is a reasonable expectation that there may also need to be a productivity strategy, an education strategy and potentially even a sustainability strategy in some form. BRANZ has been proactive in supporting the development of such a vision and has augmented the process by engaging with the industry to create some plausible, defendable (research-based) scenarios to support the level of insight and innovation required to work with a 15-year planning horizon. These scenarios and their supporting report are the primary tangible output of the current BRANZ project and will be available to the industry to inform debate around a wider vision and strategy-setting discussion.
It is up to us, as an industry, to assess the implications of the scenarios and decide how to respond. The scenarios will provide us with a common language and concepts for thinking and talking about current events and a shared basis for exploring future uncertainties and making more successful decisions.