Public Policy

Evaluating construction productivity for the UK government

For many years, productivity in the construction sector has been markedly worse than in other UK industries. This productivity gap represents a real problem for the economy, with construction responsible for 7% of output and 9% of jobs in the UK.

To help solve this problem, the government launched the Transforming Construction Challenge (TCC) in 2018, one of more than twenty Industrial Strategy Challenge Funds seeking to promote innovation and growth across critical emerging and enabling sectors.

Backed by £170 million in public investment, over four years, the aim of the TCC is to close the productivity gap and pave the way for safer, healthier, more affordable and more sustainable places to live.

Evaluating the TCC

From the beginning, Frontier was commissioned by the UK government to evaluate the TCC, in partnership with BMG Research.

Our evaluation included four phases:

  • An evaluation framework and baseline report (2019), which set the approach for our work.
  • A process evaluation (2019), which reported on what was working well and what wasn’t in the delivery of the Challenge.
  • An interim update (2020), which refreshed the evaluation framework in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • An impact evaluation (2022), which presented our overall findings on the impact of the TCC.

Adding expert insight

In creating our evaluation framework, we identified a number of ‘TCC concepts’ – construction technologies and methods that would need to be demonstrated and disseminated in order for the programme to meet its aims.

These included integrated energy capture and storage systems, off-site manufacturing and improving the whole-life value of buildings.

We then created a logic model, which related the TCC’s activities to the economic and social outcomes the programme wanted to achieve. In doing this, we outlined seven themes for assessment, each with a set of success indicators attached.

We also developed a methodology for assessing the counterfactual – what would have happened in the absence of the TCC? We implemented a theory-based evaluation, seeking to test and validate the underlying logic model drawing on a mix of quantitative and qualitative evidence.

Frontier’s impact

Our final impact evaluation was published in early 2022, the first final report of any of the Challenge Funds to be published. It allowed the government to assess the impact of the TCC and to consider next steps for a vital industry.

And there was good news. While still quite early days given the overall aims of the Challenge, Frontier’s evaluation provided strong evidence that the TCC is acting as a precursor to transforming UK construction.

We found that the TCC exceeded its internal targets on the projects it influenced. These projects achieved productivity improvements and saw reductions to whole-life costs, delivery times and carbon emissions.

In surveying the organisations involved, we also found optimism that the use of TCC concepts will have positive impacts for firms and the sector as a whole.

The challenge in the future will be to increase awareness and adoption of TCC concepts across the whole sector – and channel funding accordingly.