Government Soft Landings

A framework to prioritise user needs in the design, build and handover of buildings.

Last updated: 17th December 2020

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Innovation Lead: Jo Dickson

Website:
www.constructioninnovationhub.org.uk


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Summary

The Government Soft Landings (GSL) is a strategic open-source framework that helps the smooth transition from design and construction, to operation and use of a building. Just like when we buy a car and have a list of requirements - is it big enough? does it have low emissions? - so GSL makes sure the same questions are asked of the end user to make sure design and construction teams build with the final occupants in mind. And just like the operation manual you might get with a new car, GSL helps with the handover of a building so it's easy to operate and maintain and users can enjoy all the benefits it brings. Frustratingly, there has been slow adoption of GSL, and there's not enough evidence to show how successful it can be when used at the start of a project, not just at handover. So two public bodies, NHS Scotland and the Department for Education (DfE), set out to prove its effectiveness. Thanks to them, there has been a greater application of GSL and growing evidence of its use, leading to school and hospital teams getting the most out of their new buildings.

Innovation type: Process, Procurement
Organisation type: Government client

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Project pioneers

NHS Scotland and the Department for Education (DfE) both have track records in adopting new innovative approaches in they way they procure hospitals or schools and colleges. Faced with more constrictive budgets but with a desire to build for the long-term, these public sector teams are committed to embedding whole-life value in the buildings they commission. And by helping occupants better understand how to run and maintain these new buildings, they hope to better serve the needs of those people using them.

The problem

End users of buildings are often missed from the construction process and so their needs are not considered. Too often the people who use and run new hospitals and schools don't know how to make the most of them because they don't understand the complex digital models that operate them. We would never buy a new car or new house without asking first what we need from it or how to get the best performance from it. So to get the buildings people need, it's vital to first identify required outcomes, define performance targets, demand the operating data and test actual performance. Government Soft Landings (GSL) asks and answers key questions about the occupants to make sure user needs are baked into the design and construction of the building. It also supports a smooth transition (soft landing) between design and construction teams and the people that run these new schools and hospitals. However, the adoption of GSL has been slow so there is limited evidence about its impact, especially when used from the very start of a project. This means the whole-life value of users continues to be neglected from the design and build of public sector buildings. And yet without this evidence, design and construction teams are reluctant to use it. It's a vicious circle that needs to be broken.

Vision

Both NHS Scotland and the Department of Education (DfE) have created innovative ways to demonstrate the benefits of the Government Soft Landings (GSL) process to improve the design, build, use and the whole-life value of schools and hospitals in the UK. Widespread adoption of GSL will help to create hospitals that promote improved healthcare provision, and schools that improve teaching outcomes. Simply put, GSL supports better operational and societal outcomes. For example, by following its guidance and processes, the Department for Education (DfE) can ensure new buildings meets the school’s functional and operational needs, and are sufficiently flexible and adaptable to accommodate future changes. It also means that the DfE can lay the framework for a smooth transition from construction to occupation so that a new or refurbished school building meets the school's performance requirements for both staff and pupils from day one.

Key Insight

The uptake of Government Soft Landings (GSL) has been slow, and the impact has yet to be felt. With the Transforming Construction Challenge Fund representing the government's biggest investment in the industry for a generation, it inspired NHS Scotland and the Department for Education to start on their respective journeys to promote the widespread adoption of GSL in both of their sectors, essentially becoming trailblazing advocates for the process.

First step

For the Department for Education (DfE), the first step in promoting Government Soft Landings (GSL) was to develop a bespoke strategy with support and funding from the Construction Innovation Hub. It aligned existing DfE projects and contract management processes with GSL, and also with the latest UK BIM framework guidance. For NHS Scotland their first focus was on clarifying user needs and expectations from the beginning to help set performance targets and measure against them. Again supported by the Construction Innovation Hub, they worked together to create an interactive GSL process map.

Barrier

There is a perceived cost implication of using Government Soft Landings even though the reality of taking a whole-life value approach means that the costs of running the final building is significantly reduced. There are also increasingly complex demands on building design through BIM and digital modelling. The GSL approach is relatively untested and so there are questions about how it can actually support improvements across the process and how it will smooth the transition from construction to occupancy. A proof of concept was needed.

Digital Innovation

There is a need in the industry to demonstrate how a digital approach can lead to better design, build, operation and integration in the built environment. To help here, the Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB), a core partner working in the Construction Innovation Hub, works with construction and infrastructure sectors to help them digitise their processes. On this project, the team created an interactive GSL process map to provide a framework of reference for government departments and other public sector organisations. SMART success and performance targets were also set which can be tested during design stages using BIM, coupled with simulations and 3D walkthroughs of the final building.  Project handover information can also be delivered digitally, providing an accurate representation and quality record of the completed building asset to help the final users and managers of the building understand how to get the most from it.

Whole life innovation

Government Soft Landings (GSL) is all about a focus on the long-term use and performance of an asset, which ultimately means a mindset shift from short-term cost to whole-life value. To help with the adoption of GSL in the development of new hospitals, NHS Scotland created an interactive GSL process map with the Construction Innovation Hub. The map which provides a framework and reference so other public sector organisations can create their own specific plan which can flex and respond to their unique needs and procedures. As a result, Health Facilities Scotland is helping embed GSL across the NHS Scotland boards. Again, working with the Construction Innovation Hub, the Department for Education (DfE) created and developed a GSL navigator tool that is being rolled out via training programmes and presentations to DfE Project Managers, Technical Advisors, contractors and their supply chain who are delivering all DfE school building and renovation projects across England. As a result these school construction projects will now adopt the DfE Soft Landings strategy.

Collaborators

This Government Soft Landings (GSL) project has demonstrated why collaboration and sharing of best practice approaches can work to the benefit of all. The Department for Education's collaboration with the Construction Innovation Hub, and close working with every level of its supply and user chain, helped embed GSL in all current education build projects. The Construction Innovation Hub also worked with NHS Scotland to build a digital approach to better design, build, operate, and integrate the built environment and champion whole-life value. Both projects are also creating GSL Champion who represents the needs of the building's end users – headteachers and other school staff for DfE; and hospital staff, patients and visitors in the case of NHS Scotland. 

  • Centre for Digital Built Britain
  • Department for Education
  • NHS Scotland

Lead support

Transforming Construction Challenge funding has allowed the Construction Innovation Hub to provide expertise, funding and support to deliver these innovative demonstrator projects and share the learning and tools developed across the sector. The Construction Innovation Hub is also working with other organisations including the Ministry of Justice and Local Authorities to develop tools that can be used by other Government and local Government clients so that more organisations can realise the benefits.

Long Term Vision

Government Soft Landings (GSL) is a strategic open-sourced standardised framework that ensures the users needs are embedded into the design and build process, but also that the handover of their new building is smooth and easy so they can run and maintain them in the most effective way. This framework also responds to Building a Safer Future, the independent review of building regulations and fire safety published in 2018 following the Grenfell Tower fire of 2017. The report calls for a ‘golden thread of good quality information’ to be generated so that building owners receive the information they need and that there is a clear link between design, construction, occupation and maintenance.  A key purpose of this golden thread is to ensure that there is an accessible, complete and correct record of a facility’s construction and its regulatory compliance. ‘Starting with the end in mind’ is the vision of for golden thread – which is why it is so critical to enable building projects, both big and small to be able to adopt the process in a way that suits them.

Human Stories

By starting the process of construction with the end user in mind, the industry will embed whole-life value into new built environments. Hospitals will be designed, built and run in the most effective way to provide improved healthcare, and schools will have better teaching and learning outcomes at their heart. At the centre of the process is a GSL Champion who represents the needs of the building's end users – headteachers and other school staff for DfE; and hospital staff, patients and visitors in the case of NHS Scotland.  The approach also supports greater collaborative work, best practice and shared learnings throughout the supply chain so all partners embrace a whole-life mindset, and are working to a shared goal of putting people's needs at the heart of construction.

Powerful Processes

In 2012, the Cabinet Office announced that by April 2016 all publicly funded construction projects should be delivered in accordance with Government Soft Landings (GSL). The Government Soft Landings approach was defined in the Cabinet Office’s Government Construction Strategy (2011). The Government Soft Landings (GSL) NHS Scotland Interactive Navigator was published in February 2020. It is an interactive GSL process map which provides a framework and reference for government departments and other public sector organisations to create their own specific plan which can flex and respond to their unique needs and procedures. As a result, Health Facilities Scotland is helping embed GSL across the NHS Scotland boards. The Department for Education Government Soft Landings Strategy was published in February 2021 and is being rolled out via training programmes and presentations to DfE Project Managers, Technical Advisors, contractors and their supply chain who are delivering all DfE school building and renovation projects across England. As a result these school construction projects will now adopt the DfE Soft Landings strategy.

Benefits

Assurance
Virtual testing of the build-ability and maintainability of a construction programme will allow teams to test the building before anyone has even stepped on site.

Regional Balance
The impact of Government Soft Landings (GSL) is being felt across the country with the NHS Scotland navigator, Scottish Futures Trust, developing a new standard approach for public sector clients across Scotland and the DfE strategy and navigator used on school building projects across England. The Ministry of Justice and local authorities are also developing new tools as a result.

Time
Using Government Soft Landings (GSL) can help reduce total project timescales by involving the building users from the start. It can also reduce the time taken for a building to reach its optimum performance and mitigate unplanned or unexpected delays. So far, the evidence suggests that adopting GSL for school building projects will:

  • Reduce construction errors through misinterpretation, poor communication or unrealistic expectations
  • Reduce total project timescales due to unplanned and unexpected delays
  • Reduce the number of project staff returning to site after project handover date
  • Improve timescale for the school to reach its optimum performance in the new building
  • Improve wellbeing for the building occupants including staff and pupils. 

Uptake
As a result of the Department for Education (DfE) navigator tool and training, all new and refurbished school construction projects will require the Government Soft Landings (GSL) process in programme delivery, making this a critical part of building procurement. To embed these into DfE purchasing, there is an internal Soft Landings contact who can provide support, help answer questions, receive feedback and provide further information. Regular Soft Landings updates, training, presentations and review process are offered to DfE Project Managers, Technical Advisors, contractors and their supply chain.  Equally NHS Scotland was able to encourage all hospital boards within its remit to adopt the same process and embed it into hospital building procurement. David Philp, the Construction Innovation Hub’s Digital Impact Director, said “Health Facilities Scotland is helping embed GSL across the NHS Scotland boards and it is already being successfully utilised on several of their flagship projects providing common understanding and unlocking the benefits across the health system."

Whole-life Value
Whole-life value is at the heart of these projects and at the very core of the Government Soft Landings (GSL) approach as its guidance puts the end user at the heart of the planning, design and construction process. GSL not only means the user needs are incorporated into the design and build stages, but that the handover of the finished building is smooth. Users will better understand the complex digital models that support their new building so they can run, manage and maintain them effectively and get the most whole-life value from them, now and for generations to come.