Productivity measurement - the social construction of reduction through expansion
Paper in proceedings, 2018
A recent large-scale measurement of productivity in Swedish construction involved some 880 respondents and around 500 projects. It covers construction costs, lead time, use of manpower and management in the building of office buildings, public institutions, and civil engineering. Measurements were done through questionnaires and telephone interviews, aspects of productivity such as project start and end, project costs, use of manpower, major disturbances in the process. The results showed a remarkable variety of almost all parameters including cost levels per square-meter building and meters infrastructure (roads, bridges). The aim here is to critically scrutinize the construct of such an investigation. What kind of inclusions and exclusions of concepts and devices are made to stabilize the result? What kind of value does it represent for stakeholders? Drawing on Science Technology and Society concepts, such as qualculative practices and sociology of calculation, it is argued that the social construction of this investigation actually merely represents an everyday event in a society completely penetrated by auditing regimes. Building up the social network of the investigation, involves negotiation of relevance and rigor. Methodologically the scrutiny builds on self-reflection of the main author of the productivity investigation and interactions with researchers and key stakeholders. There is no more need to be modest about productivity measures, than many other big data bombardments of everyday life. Actually, most productivity measures are built on respondent's interpretation. This goes for national statistical bureaus, but it also goes for most productivity research. "Reduction" is and recurrent in the calculation process. It occurs when reducing the value of a building to square-meters, or the initiation and finalization of a building into two dates. "Expansion" is also in play following rules of large volumes of respondents, but performing in a surprising manner as it produces a representation of large variation in building projects.