UKCRIC is building a uniquely strong capability in infrastructure and cities research, project delivery, and quality assurance. Learning how to do this is as much a part of UKCRIC as are the engineering and social challenges it seeks to address.
PLEXUS (Priming Laboratory EXperiments on infrastructure and Urban Systems) is a UKCRIC project that is using engineering challenges to understand how UKCRIC’s labs are contributing to UKCRIC’s vision. By using the labs to conduct research on three high added-value infrastructure problems, PLEXUS is capturing learnings that advance UKCRIC’s vision, strategic research agenda and implementation action plan.
PLEXUS is enabling academics and industrialists to co-produce and test the collaborative frameworks for transforming thinking and practice in infrastructure and cities provision.
To achieve this, two key questions are being addressed: (1) How can UKCRIC’s experimental facilities work collaboratively in a national and cohesive network to address the UK’s infrastructure needs? and (2) How can multi-institutional, transdisciplinary working help achieve the UKCRIC vision?
Civil engineers adhere to the principles of certainty, accuracy, precision and prediction. Until recently, engineers have largely taken isolated, narrow, technical approaches to problem solving (e.g., structural, geotechnical, water, chemical, materials). Yet, infrastructures and cities are characterised by complexity and emergence, which means that engineers need to work across domains.
There are two primary strands to PLEXUS’s approach. The first focuses upon UKCRIC’s laboratory capabilities. Through interviews with each UKCRIC lab, current and potential capabilities, capacities and aspirations are being mapped against UKCRIC’s vision. Each laboratory’s operational plans are being synthesised to inform a strategic research agenda for UKCRIC and an implementation action plan and to reveal areas for further development and the potential for new collaborations.
The second strand of research focuses upon how different domains can collaborate successfully on cities and infrastructure research. In particular, it is looking at how transdisciplinarity and learning journey approaches can add value to how civil engineers approach the study of infrastructure and cities. A framework and associated classification has been developed and tested.
Of particular interest are the opportunities afforded from academia and industry working together on live sites and what needs to be in place to ensure success. The outcomes will inform UKCRIC’s strategic research agenda and implementation action plan.
Emerging results are providing a sound understanding of the research capabilities of the UKCRIC facilities and their future plans, their working practices, challenges and current collaborations. The picture is a complicated one, with no one approach dominating. The implications for the development of cross-facility collaborative working frameworks aren’t fully clear, but what is clear is that collaboration is unlikely to emerge naturally and that the need for multi-institutional, transdisciplinary working protocols will be necessary for UKCRIC to achieve its vision.
PLEXUS is working closely with UKCRIC’s Coordination Node to ensure transdisciplinary, collaborative ways of working and learning are central to UKCRIC’s future activities.
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