Too complex to standardise? A case study of a socially loaded pier inspection process at the port of Gothenburg
Paper in proceedings, 2017
This paper presents a micro-level study of an organisation considering to standardise a facility management process. Standards serve an instrumental purpose in the built environment reducing complexity by promoting similarity across time and space. However, differences in practices and perceptions of involved actors can make standardisation a complex endeavour itself, limiting its effectiveness as a mode of governance. Science and technology studies (STS) approaches are used to study standards in the inspection process. Standardisation is understood in this study as performative and a process of power, understanding, and emerging interests. The empirical material stems from a case study of a pier facility management process at the port of Gothenburg. Ten semi-structured interviews were conducted with actors involved in the inspection process – asset managers, structural engineers, inspectors and a document controller. Additional observations made during pier inspections and project meetings at the port were used to develop the context of the study. The analysis shows the multiple demands and interpretations present among involved actors prior to an attempt to standardise the pier inspection process. Asset managers and structural engineers voice a preference for guidelines that support ideal ways of working implemented using a checklist. Alternatively, inspectors wish to receive a common terminology. More strategically, the symbolic value of an ISO type standard matches a perceived need by the port management for credibility to satisfy customer demands. Simultaneously, a standard is expected to give clear directives to hired consultants, make the process more cost efficient and ensure a stable quality. The variety of interpretations and demands observed in this study underlines the social character of asset and facility management and the uses of standards. It is suggested to reflect on socio-technical conditions in standard design.