Misalignment of design cultures handicaps infrastructure in the developing world.
Many developing countries lack a clear engineering and construction culture. These countries receive loans and grants from donor countries and multi-lateral development banks. Yet, the consistent pipeline of funds is not enough to nurture need for a local engineering and construction (E&C) culture. Such a culture would guide elements such as the level of design expected by construction contractors and the inclusion of regional/local characteristics and constraints.
As a result, owners receive insufficient feasibility and design work. Public utilities especially expect design professionals to produced documents appropriate for the market. However, the design staff is rarely local. Most work in developed countries and have never been to site or worked in the developing context. They do not understand the local or regional market and sometimes such a market doesn’t exist. They defer to processes, habits and characteristics of the developed environments they know best. This leads to specifications not suited for the location, drawings that assume too much from the contractors and Invitations for Bids that the market cannot respond to substantively.
The ultimate outcome is a mismatch of E&C philosophies between the contracted parties. This often requires more design, delayed works, delayed site access, confusion and additional cost and time to the owner and/or lender.
Given the many challenges faced by the developing world to successfully accomplish infrastructure projects, it would benefit owners and designers to address fundamental questions early in scoping and feasibility. These most basic questions (e.g. defining the amount of design sufficient for the market) are not asked but assumed. A manual can guide designers to better understand their clients’ most elementary conditions. Such an application can ensure not only a more effective construction phase (match the right contractors to the right work) but also consider characteristics to operations, maintenance and ultimately decommissioning.
A concise manual of questions to address common misunderstandings
The approach to address the challenge is a concise process manual. The document’s purpose is to guide the owner to understand their requirements when seeking design services and guide a scoping and/or feasibility phase meeting with the designer. It will help participants uncover ambiguity in bias and better define information required to bring a project through the phases of design, construction, operations and maintenance.
A model to this manual already exists in the United Kingdom’s Green Book. The Green Book, focused on Public-Private Partnerships, asks a series of investigative questions into order to assess the validity and readiness of a PPP arrangement. It highlights areas for improvement before investment action is committed.
Like the Green Book, the manual’s components will be investigative criteria as well as definitions on common ambiguity. For example, the term “bid ready design” has different meanings across the world. In North America that means a level of design not requiring further design by the Contractor. In the European tradition this can mean significant design by the contractor for a traditional construction project. In the South African tradition the bid level requires significant just in time designs from the designer during construction. Now imagine an international development project with professionals from all these traditions. It is an ample environment for confusion, chaos and blame. The benefit of the manual will be to focus attention on these differences early so that professionals can act with clear understanding and intention of one another.
If successful, there can be significantly less confusion, delay and additional cost during the construction period.
Normally, contractors price in risk to their bid; however, in the technically acceptable lowest bid often used in the developing world, it is less advantageous to the bidder if they want to win. It is common for works to grind to a halt while contractors wait for additional design, access to site and/or resettlement of project affected people. This new design and idle time provides opportunity for claims and compensation. As a result the projects lose focus and relationships between parties become adversarial.
This manual will direct the owner and design professionals to address the common pitfalls of work in the development context. The project team will better know the type and level of design required for the market actors available. They will be able to choose an appropriate project delivery approach for the asset and engage earlier in a discussion with the market during scoping and feasibility.
The barriers to innovation – and the solutions
This will not be a new process, but elaboration of an existing process.
Three barriers must be overcome for implementation; that is perceptions of project validity, additional time and additional bureaucracy. First is the perception that this issue is not real or easily overcome in project elaboration. However, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the World Bank and many owners and developers have experienced delays and costs increases as a result of poor alignment with the market. A logical argument using expert and implementation experiences can successfully lay out the call for action.
The second barrier and third barriers are closely related. That is additional evaluation is more work and delays implementation. Everyone has experienced more bureaucracy as a result of errors made. This approach leads to onerous and ad-hoc actions to mitigate a reoccurrence and often not effectively. This effort instead comprehensively addresses many integrated challenges while not adding another process. This is better definition to the existing processes of scoping and feasibility. The time and budget spent in front end planning will return greater savings in implementation.
The way forward
Develop, Pilot and Iterate
This paper represents the earliest conception of the idea. The most effective way forward is first a donor to fund the development of a draft manual with iterative input from other donor life cycles. The lead developer should be in a position to pilot the use of the manual and incorporate those lessons into the first edition.