Last week my master study into wooden multistory construction (WMC) came to an end as the pro gradu thesis project was officially accepted by the faculty (read here). Having moved to Finland from the USA, and having had no formal education in forestry, the topic of wood construction in Europe was little known to me prior to starting my degree. However, in the research I interviewed 11 civil servants from six municipalities with the aim of identifying key personal attitudes towards the prospect of including WMC projects in city planning. A multitude of opinions were shared--too many to even discuss fully in the context of my thesis! In this blog post I will briefly share some main findings.
Identifying key barriers and drivers through qualitative content analysis
Using qualitative content analysis (see: Schrier 2012 here), topical phenomena discussed multiple times throughout the interviews were identified and categorized as either barriers or drivers of WMC. Categories were created for each of these phenomena and compiled into a framework. From the interviews 16 benefits emerged as drivers of WMC projects, while 18 barriers emerged as hindrances to WMC development. The framework was then cross-references throughout each interview to establish the rate at which each category was mentioned by each participant (see: Table 1 & 2).
Motivation through benefits
Civil servants cited numerous drivers behind the motivation to implement WMC projects. Many drivers circumscribe how WMC projects result in benefits to key stakeholders—the stakeholders whose interest municipalities consider when engaging in urban planning.
Three major benefits of WMC emerged: the economic benefits to local and national industries from WMC projects being supported; the lifestyle benefits which end users and residents will receive from inhabiting WMC homes; and the technological benefits of using engineered wood products which developers gain by erecting WMC projects (see: Table 3).
The benefits described by civil servants can also work in tandem to one another. For example, the novel and flexible designs, which developers could create through wood construction technologies also allows the creation of salient and desirable lifestyle, which benefits end users. These salient lifestyle benefits in turn provide market actors with an opportunity to brand WMC projects, thereby increasing the industries economic capacity (see: Figure 1).
Analyzing the phenomena described as barriers to WMC implementation revealed that the largest hindrances were often caused by the WMC industry facing market entry challenges. Civil servants rarely discussed the shortcomings of the engineered wood materials as a factor hindering project development; WMC projects are not seen to be bad products. Instead, civil servants primarily cited aspects related to a poor operating environment (i.e. topical misinformation stemming from limited access to information and the weakness of the WMC industry resulting in the inability to compete with the business as usual concrete construction industry). Coupled with the perception of limited government support for WMC, this triggers a perception of WMC project being largely high risk and high cost endeavors. (See: Figure 2).
The thesis did not provide suggestions to reforming these perceptions, or how to overcome the barriers – it merely outlines a thought process shared by civil servants. In truth, more barriers were shared than drivers. Given that WMC has yet to normalize in the housing market, this does not seem too far-fetched. Still, the thesis cannot determine how civil servants value the importance of the benefits to using WMC compared to the difficulty of overcoming the barriers to implementing WMC projects.
Other actors are considered by civil servants
The civil servants were also asked to share how they believed other relevant stakeholders viewed the practice of WMC. 13 stakeholder group perceptions were shared. Of these groups, civil servants most frequently imparted opinions on behalf of public and private developers, municipality residents, and the civil-servants own municipality.
Shortcomings and future work
When writing the thesis analysis, it became clear to me just how far-reached the planning of wooden multistory construction is, largely because housing development impacts so many different stakeholder groups. Surprisingly, one whole aspect of the research was ultimately abandoned: the study of communication methods amongst stakeholders involved in WMC decision making. This would have proven to be an interesting third research question, but the robustness of the interview data and the lack of previous perception related research on WMC did not allow deeper exploration into this topic.
In the future, it would be important to explore how local government, WMC industry actors, private developers and residents interact with each other to influence housing development materials. KäPy research has already begun to explore these individual stakeholder groups (see: Katri Palonen 2017; Juho Pöyhönen 2018), but it is also important to see how these actors intersect with one another to create WMC housing demand (if at all!)
Text & images: Florencia Franzini