Costain, Pinsent Masons team up to tackle legal barriers to innovation

16 November 2015

A team made up of contractor Costain, law firm Pinsent Masons and academics from the University of Cambridge have secured a grant from Innovate UK to examine the contractual, legal and cultural barriers to innovation in construction. 

The research project will take 12 months and will examine how innovative ideas can be taken up in a contract-driven environment and be promoted throughout the supply chain.

Its title – “Maximising Innovation Beyond Procurement and Contract Execution” – reflects the fact that the scope to accommodate innovation within the contract is governed by the contract itself and the nature of the contractual relationship.

Mark Wray, lead technologist for the built environment at Innovate UK, said: “Within current contractual frameworks, there is a degree of fear and uncertainty inside the supply chain with regard to innovation.

“Innovation by its very nature carries a degree of risk. Where collaborative innovations are undertaken and the desired result is not as expected, these relationships can become litigious.

"Within current contractual frameworks, there is a degree of fear and uncertainty inside the supply chain with regard to innovation. Where collaborative innovations are undertaken and the desired result is not as expected, these relationships can become litigious."

Mark Wray, Innovate UK

“What this project aims to do is essentially eradicate this reduction in the ability to innovate, ensuring that the opportunity is maintained throughout the whole life of the project.”

Simon Deakin, professor of law and director of the Centre for Business Research at the University of Cambridge, said: “This project provides an opportunity to test theories of contract design in a commercial setting and will generate new knowledge on the conditions for effective collaboration in complex infrastructure projects.”

The project will be split into five sections. First, the team will devise a “Conceptual Model” which will seek to rectify the problems within the supply chain around contractual and commercial processes; then “Behaviours” will measure the strength of relationships within the supply chain.

Third, there will be a case study showing how clients have encouraged innovation across their programmes. From there, the team will produce “Commercial and Legal Guidelines” – or a toolkit – which includes clauses that can be adopted as recommendations for how to get more from the supply chain. This will allow for innovation to be ingrained throughout the whole supply chain relationship.

Finally, the team will produce a White Paper to take the learning and discussion points from the project to stimulate debate within the industry, including large government clients.

Shy Jackson, a partner with Pinsent Masons who is involved with the project, said: “Understanding the behaviour that drives innovation is critical, but if we are able to identify practical measures that encourage innovation and remove perceived barriers that could make a real difference. In a highly competitive market, this can demonstrate that innovation is more than just another buzz word.”

Adam Golden, a legal executive at Costain and member of the BIM 2050 group, helped to secure funding for the project. He commented: “Under many current industry models, the potential for innovation diminishes as a project develops. The aim of this research project is to identify the barriers to innovation and see what steps can be taken to reduce the uncertainty and risk related to innovation.”

Tim Embley, Costain Group innovation and knowledge manager, added: “It is vital that we consistently review our business models and mechanisms to bring new solutions to address customer challenges. This project clearly illustrates that Costain and its business partners are deeply committed to collaboration and bringing value to our customers.” 

Key activities will also include a workshop on 18 November to look at the contractual barriers to innovation and, early in 2016, a client-focused contractual innovation briefing to delve deeper into the issue with different stakeholders.


What a good idea. I am in that situation with a product Oxypod that won a CIOB Inovation & Research award 2014 It has also been taken up by RBS as a project as part Bristol Goes Green. Our product has been independentley tested giving a 16% saving in gas in the laboritory and 28% and 30% saving in gas when tested for over a year on site by Ealing Council. So where next? What is the best way to get the construction industry to take up the product. What inovative contracts do we need? So Mark - Simon - Shy - Adam and Tim Embley Can you please help. Bob Harris MCIOB

Robert, 17 November 2015

This is an excellent initiative that should result in some very valuable incite into how contractually we should avoid some of the potential areas for dispute when collaboratively innovating for the best project outcome. However it would also be extremely valuable to understand how we can bring about a radical shift, in this post BiM era, in the ultra conservative approach taken by the people who are expected to become open and collaborative in an industrial environment where competition for work and resources is accute and an adversarial stance is increasingly the norm. Is anyone working on that?

Brian Impey, 17 November 2015

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