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Proceedings of a Workshop to Review PATH Strategy, Operating Plan, and Performance Measures 7 Discussion of PATH Goal II—Improve Technology Transfer, Development, and Adoption Through Information Dissemination PANEL MEMBERS’ OPENING COMMENTS MR. GONZALEZ: The next goal that we will discuss concerns information dissemination. To start the discussion, I would like to introduce Randy Cantrell from Virginia Tech. DR. CANTRELL: I am here today on behalf of Virginia Tech’s Center for Housing Research. I am standing in for the center’s director, Dr. Theodore Koebel, who has a prior engagement. I am an adjunct research professor at the Housing Center, and also an employee of the National Association of Home Builders Research Center (NAHBRC). Dr. Koebel’s written statement is in Appendix E. The goals, obviously, pertain to research undertaken by Dr. Koebel and others for the report The Diffusion of Innovation in the Residential Building Industry (listed as a reference in Appendix E and available on PATHNET.org), which found that it is very difficult to identify any particular segment or cluster of homebuilders that are early technology adopters or innovators. The industry appears to have fairly unique diffusion trends. In many industries, small manufacturers have a large impact on innovation. However, in the homebuilding industry, the larger manufacturers and builders are the predominant innovators. There are clusters of more innovative builders in every segment, but the small single-family production builders seem to stick with the more proven technologies. These smaller builders are driven by consumer demand. They will use innovations that are focused on marketability and increased profits. As in most industries, the propensity to adopt new technologies is ingrained in the culture of an organization. They are unlikely to change quickly because of PATH or any other initiative. Their approach is to see if it works before they use it. However, they are scanning the environment routinely to find an advantage. Some larger homebuilding corporations have a dedicated individual focused on finding or creating innovations to improve their product or competitive advantage. NAHBRC is aware that the diffusion of innovation in the housing industry is a complex problem that is barely understood. Based on the current level of understanding, the PATH program goals seem very ambitious. However, this ambition has increased knowledge of innovation in housing. PATH is refining its approaches to these challenges and moving in the right direction. PATH is the best federal program we have seen to date for increasing the knowledge of innovation in housing construction and promoting innovation. PATH is sponsoring several ongoing research efforts to model the innovation diffusion process using NAHBRC’s data on the diffusion of highly innovative products. Another study is looking at the commercialization processes used by large manufacturers and another is looking at the role of the supply chain in spreading innovation. In regard to the PATH goal of information dissemination, a non-commercial, independent source of information about new technologies is essential to the promotion of innovation in housing. The source of the information needs to be transparent and users need to have the ability to do independent assessments or verifications. Too often innovators withhold information about their innovation in fear that others will use the idea. There needs to be an independent group that can verify the validity of the innovators’ claims while allowing them to maintain ownership of intellectual property. There may be benefit rendered by combining goals 2A1 and 2A3, to establish and maintain centralized, industry generated sources of credible, relevant information.
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Proceedings of a Workshop to Review PATH Strategy, Operating Plan, and Performance Measures The metrics for Goal 2A should be designed to find the gaps in current distribution of information to determine how and why sources of information are not used. Just to know that we have a given percentage of builders using a source is not enough; we also need to know why they are going to that source and others are not. Goal 2B is to understand stakeholders’ behaviors, attitudes, and needs for information about new technologies. This goal addresses the processes that drive the adoption of innovation. The third goal is to change behavior through access to relevant information and materials on innovation and innovators. These activities and performance measures need to account for the differences in the ways people adopt innovations. The early adopters, early majority, and so forth obtain and use information differently. PATH needs to recognize that the success of a new technology depends as much on the early majority as it does on the first adopters. DISCUSSION MR. GONZALEZ: It has been demonstrated that dissemination of information is practicable. ToolBase, PATHNET, and the demonstration projects have all contributed to the dissemination of information on new technologies. The question remains, however, whether the logic chain is valid, and this information has led to the increased development and diffusion of innovations in housing. We do not know the quality of the information, or if PATH is disseminating the information that decision makers need. Will the chain of falling dominoes get to the last tile? The proposed metrics may not provide this information. This portion of the workshop is for general discussion to give PATH an idea of how to place those dominoes to reach as many people as possible and support the program’s mission. It would also be helpful to hear some anecdotes about the effectiveness of the current efforts to disseminate information. MR. ASDAL: I would like to comment on ToolBase, PATHNET, and the PATH-sponsored research reports from the perspective of a builder/remodeler and former high school principal. For centuries, researchers have produced research reports and then disseminated their findings. This helps the progress of mankind, but it is separate from learning experiences. PATH filled an archive with wonderful research that has not led to learning experiences. PATH will not be able to further its mission until it bridges the gap between information and learning. A simple way to do it is by using some educational templates. The Web is wonderful for both dissemination of information and providing learning experiences. Sarah described it very appropriately when she said that you can Google all the information you want. Before the Web, you could use the phone to get all the information and before that you could drive around the country. But getting information is not the same as changing behavior. The goal of education is to create behavior change, not a bigger repository of research findings. The learning process requires the conversion of compelling information into learning points and activities that convey their meaning. The process on the Web needs to be fast paced and geared to the medium and average adult attention spans. To change behaviors, the activities and output metrics should focus on learning. It is not a big deal to post a class on the Web and once that is done, PATH can start to change behavior. Use of the learning system could be promoted by trade unions or manufacturers’ incentives for builders. MR. SPEAR: There is an excellent example already in place, the HUD-funded affordable housing design advisory Web site at www.designadvisor.org. Architects, builders, neighborhood reinvestment groups, and academic institutions have been partners in this activity. The site has interactive educational sessions. The PATH Web sites have links to the design advisor Web site. PATH and its partners could take a similar approach. DR. O’BRIEN: The University of Texas has a program called Utopia, which is designed to take the knowledge that is found within the University of Texas and make it widely available. The UTexas.edu Web site has a link to the Utopia home page. It is geared to K through 12 education but it is
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Proceedings of a Workshop to Review PATH Strategy, Operating Plan, and Performance Measures an example of what is possible. The Utopia program has a funding mechanism for faculty members who have material ready to go into the system. It is not an expensive process and a similar process could be added to PATH research grants. To do it well requires some knowledge and expertise that could be provided through PATH. DR. SLAUGHTER: A lot of companies, particularly service-based organizations, focus on supplying solutions, which is essentially what PATH is doing. The first step is to determine what are the most prevalent questions or the problems that need to be solved. The second step is to package the information as solutions. When people want to know how to put in caulking, they can go to the place where it says this is how to caulk. Defining information as a solution is a total transformation from applied research at one end to commercialization at the other end of the value-added chain. There are examples of performance measures for solution-based information. For example, Amazon.com has a constant feedback mechanism on the value of its information that is an industry standard. Amazon has a system for determining how often the information is used and if the information is useful. There are many existing paradigms for measuring the dissemination and the usefulness and value of information with respect to current problems. MR. ENGEL: When PATH started, an Internet search for tankless water heaters listed PATH on the first page. Now, PATH is on page 7 or 8. That can be a measure of success. The technology has gone beyond PATH into the marketplace. Is the fact that we are no longer included on the first page a measure of PATH’s dissemination of information? We do not know. There are many other factors outside PATH that led to increased Internet activity for tankless water heaters. Once people are no longer using us, then we have done our job, or there are better sources of information. DR. SLAUGHTER: That may not be a good indicator because Google and other search engines place Web references according to fees paid by vendors and others. It is going to take some additional research to determine PATH’s influence. MR. ENGEL: Nobody was paying for listings five years ago. DR. SLAUGHTER: Right, but the algorithm was different then. At that time a Web page went to the top based on the number of hits. But there are methods to measure the value of Web-based information. As I mentioned, Amazon.com provides information on and reviews of the products it offers for sale. At the bottom of the blurb is a button where the shopper can respond to say if the information is useful. That provides immediate data on which to base revisions and management decisions as well as a long-term performance measure. Performance measures need to be timely and provide relevant information to program managers. DR. WONG: This kind of feedback mechanism can be useful but it can be gamed. There are cases where authors have provided biased feedback that invalidates the results. PATH also needs to consider the demand for information and the source of that demand. Since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, people are concerned about energy prices, which led them to contact organizations such as the American Petroleum Institute (API). API wants to assure people that the rising cost of fuel is not an oil company conspiracy and assist them by telling them how to reduce their demand. To do that, they need sources of information. PATH needs to think beyond dissemination to a broad audience and also consider dissemination targeted to certain institutions, such as API. MR. GONZALEZ: Going back to the discussion of tankless water heaters, there is obviously some degree of success, even if it cannot be measured. Something has obviously happened. I don’t think we have been able to measure much of anything, but that technology is at least going in the right direction. Regarding the target for dissemination of information, if PATH chooses the right target, it may have more impact and it might be easier to measure its impact. It would be interesting to hear from the workshop participants about who the most effective target audience might be. In terms of the domino analogy, by choosing the right target, the first one might kick down ten more dominoes as opposed to a single domino standing out there on its own. MR. HODGES: It is obvious that homebuilders are a prime target, but which of the 60,000 homebuilding companies in the United States does PATH need to reach and which people in the
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Proceedings of a Workshop to Review PATH Strategy, Operating Plan, and Performance Measures company? Is it the vice president of construction, the purchasing director, or both? Who is looking for the information and how do we get it to them? PATH might be instructed by Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, which is based on the premise that ideas, social behavior, messages, and products sometimes behave like outbreaks of infectious diseases. Gladwell discusses how in a given system some people and actions matter more than others. PATH needs to identify the mavens, the connectors, and the salesmen that are likely to value the information and move it along throughout their organizations and networks. The first part is to find the people who are creating a demand for the information, who have the greatest propensity to look for that information. The information needs to be presented so that they understand and use it. Whose job is it in the homebuilding company to understand that information? I think PATH can reach a tipping point (create a social epidemic) by addressing issues of profound importance. Every two years some major technological issue comes up in the homebuilding business. Right now, it is water intrusion and storm water management. A focused effort can have more impact than trying to be all things to all people, or providing opportunities for 50 different technologies. Builders should know PATH is a resource for learning about an important issue. PATH can provide a tipping point. It can be the source that makes things happen for important issues instead of trying to be all things to everyone. Right now, storm water management is a critical issue, so that is the subject of meetings inside the company and in the professional community. It is not that difficult to find the storm water management mavens and provide them with information that they and others can act on. The information from PATH might create the tipping point for positive change. DR. MARTIN: By focusing on topical issues, PATH runs the risk of being associated only with that one issue. MR. HODGES: I would rather have PATH be associated with one issue than be the definitive source for nothing. I am not suggesting that it is all or nothing. PATH can have diversity and at the same time focus on one or a few issues that may change over time. The point is to be able to create a tipping point that in turn creates value for the dissemination of information. Hit the hot buttons of the industry more than the buttons that do not matter that much. Focus on the issues builders care about, the issues that are scaring them and keeping them awake at night. Help builders find ways to mitigate that problem. DR. MARTIN: My concern is whether a focused information dissemination program is sustainable. MR. EMRATH: I understand that is a risk, but I think the greater risk is that the key people do not know PATH. If builders know that PATH is focused on current issues of interest and it provides valuable information, then they will come. MR. HODGES: Once builders or consumers have used it once and it has provided valuable information that satisfied their current needs, then they will learn that PATH is a valuable resource. They will develop a conditioned reaction to go to PATH when they need information. If PATH resonates with its audiences, then they will keep coming back. MR. GONZALEZ: This sounds like putting demand pull above technological push because it will attract more people. DR. VANEGAS: To use Mr. Gladwell’s analogy, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is a model of a very effective program. Of course its annual budget is a little larger than PATH’s. Nevertheless, everybody knows what the CDC is and that it is the definitive source for information on communicable diseases. They have an excellent system for dissemination of information. CDC is not just about basic research. It is about finding solutions to problems. MR. HODGES: The point was made earlier that builders are more concerned about short- rather than long-term benefits. If a builder is worried about water intrusion, because one big claim will put the company out of business, then a technology that addresses this problem has immediate short-term value. MS. BURT: One of the problems in using CDC as a model is that CDC is the federal government’s civilian focus for activities it is doing. However, federal activities concerning the homebuilding industry are diffused in a number of federal agencies. In addition to several offices in
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Proceedings of a Workshop to Review PATH Strategy, Operating Plan, and Performance Measures HUD, there are related programs in the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and others. The agencies have some common goals and try to work together as much as possible, but the process is difficult. There is a need to develop an interoperability of agencies so that demand for specific information can be seamlessly directed to the most appropriate source and eliminate competitive efforts. The American people want the federal government, not any specific agency, to provide the solution to their problem. MR. ASDAL: The fundamental mission of PATH is not to do research but to coordinate the efforts of all the agencies and the private sector. If PATH is not doing that for federal government programs, it needs to be done. MS. BURT: I am not saying that coordination is not happening. The problem is specifically in regard to where people go for information. The average person does not know enough about federal programs to identify the best place to go for their specific information needs. The agencies are cooperating but are relying on the audiences to understand the programs well enough to know where to go. MR. ASDAL: The average person does not care which agency provides the right answer. In theory, PATH is supposed to pull it together. If there is internal competition for which agency gets the most hits, then we probably need a different approach. MS. BURT: I did not say that the agencies are competing for attention. I am saying that people do not necessarily know where to go for information. DR. MARK: Alleviating that need for the consumers to figure out where to go is one of PATH’s functions. In other words, PATH needs to be the place for one-stop shopping, because the user does not care if the information is drawn from Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, or any other source. In some ways this discussion has identified a solution, as well as articulating the problem. In addition to people getting information, there are also other problems in interagency coordination. DR. VANEGAS: The Whole Building Design Guide (www.wbdg.org), which is a Web portal, is another possible model. A portal for information does not reinvent something that another group has already done, but rather it provides a method to easily find and move to that source. MS. BURT: I have to say that I think we have made tremendous progress in the three primary agencies, EPA, HUD, and DOE, in coordinating our activities so that we do not do the same thing. The agencies are still addressing the issues of how best to get information out. MS. SHIPMAN: Even CDC’s Web site acts as a portal for information. Information on a particular disease might come from NIH, but the user does not need to know that. The Internet is designed to integrate and interconnect multiple sources. MR. HEITZMANN: I am working on redesigning ToolBase. ToolBase currently operates as a portal with links to many sources. ToolBase is trying to draw people in by highlighting what we think are topics of current interest. For example, responding to the recent hurricanes, ToolBase is steering people toward materials, mold resistance, gypsum, alternatives to plywood, and other topics of interest. The most important thing is ensure that the popular search engines list the site. ToolBase is using methods that do not require a fee. Entries at the very top of the list are always paid advertising, but users know that and usually skip over them. ToolBase showed 9,000 pages of tankless water heaters this past November, which surpasses the companies that are selling them. Nevertheless, Toolbase needs a better understanding of the audience and the information those people want to see. MR. ENGEL: PATH does not necessarily want to reach the head of the company. It wants to reach the people within the company. The problem is finding the target person. Each company has a different structure. The person’s title and place in the organization chart is different in Pulte than in Centex or any other company. PATH has not yet been able to develop a strategy to identify those key people. MR. HODGES: Use the building industry’s media structure. Place an advertisement that says; “Here is your path to information.” Those resources are there and many media companies would provide the space as an industry service. A one-time spot will not work. It requires long-term consistent exposure.
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Proceedings of a Workshop to Review PATH Strategy, Operating Plan, and Performance Measures All the purchasing guys will be reading the magazines and see that PATH has information on their current topic of interest. Once they go to PATH for information, their contact information can be used to build a database. MR. SPEAR: Seminars at national and local builders’ trade shows can also be effective. Provide PATH materials where the target audience is going to be. DR. MARK: Part of the earlier discussion was about branding as an activity that PATH could do. In essence, this recent discussion has been about branding PATH, that is, the marketing of PATH as an entity. There is a whole host of ways of going about that depending upon the particular audience. Sometimes it is copies of free media that get to the consumers. Sometimes it is finding the key information conduit. There was a campaign in the environmental area to give swordfish a break from the fishing industry. The proponents did not try to reach consumers. They got a few chefs to support their cause, who then got more chefs on board and then things snowballed. It was a fairly effective campaign. The right approach depends upon the target group. There is a set of approaches that can be taken once that group is identified. It is marketing PATH as opposed to marketing some technological innovation. MR. KASTARLAK: What we are talking about is name recognition. The public needs to know PATH, where to contact PATH, what PATH does, and so forth, rather than the other way around. This means that PATH has to advertise that it is the principal source of information about homebuilding in this country. PATH needs to advertise to get brand recognition. It also needs to ensure that once it makes contact with its target audience, it provides the kind of comprehensive, high-quality, unbiased, transparent information that has been discussed earlier. It also needs to ensure that the information addresses the audience’s interests and provides what they need to know. Faced with the reality of limited resources, PATH’s dilemma is finding the optimum balance between funding activities that provide content and activities that provide outreach. That balance point will probably change over time, so it will take an ongoing effort. DR. SLAUGHTER: PATH’s industry partners can promote the program by telling peers that it is incredibly useful, particularly in problems faced by key people on hot-buttons issues. PATH’s partners are the program’s peer reference. MS. BURT: That will work if the partners decide to do it. DR. SLAUGHTER: PATH can also be promoted as a way for builders or manufacturers to differentiate their company from the competition. By being associated with PATH they are associated with the best practices. It is a point of enhanced reputation for the participants. DR. MARTIN: That is actually one of our goals—that builders will be differentiated based on PATH. MR. COTCHEN: McGraw-Hill Construction can look for ways to assist PATH by posting information on our Web site. Public service advertisements are also a possibility. There is also an opportunity to connect PATH to editorial departments of various McGraw-Hill magazines, such as Architectural Record, Engineering News Record, Design Build, My House, and 10 regional publications. All these magazines are looking for good content. There may be additional ways that the McGraw-Hill Construction Group can work with PATH. DR. MARTIN: HUD believes that what the workshop has been calling branding—that is, getting more people to recognize the PATH name and know what the program has to offer—will help the program succeed. DR. MARK: We have mixed two different aspects of branding. They work together but they are distinct. One is name recognition and the association of that name with a set of products and services. This is something that PATH needs to accomplish on its own. The other is using the PATH name to represent a set of values or attributes that people will want to be associated with. The model will depend on the objective. Manufacturers want to be associated with EnergyStar because consumers recognize that as adding value. This creates a dilemma, because name association creates a conflict when providing solutions to problems for builders and others involved in the housing industry, who are looking for unbiased information.
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Proceedings of a Workshop to Review PATH Strategy, Operating Plan, and Performance Measures MR. GONZALEZ: Five years ago, PATH’s name was known only to a limited number of people who had been involved with a PATH activity. Over time, anyone who has been in contact with the program recognizes its value. At the same time there has been slow but steady growth in name recognition. The fact that McGraw-Hill is participating in this workshop and publishers such as Hanley Wood have been helping out, speaks to the momentum for even greater recognition. The question then is what can be done to increase that momentum. One of the related issues we are dealing with is targeting the channels of communication. Broad name recognition is not enough. PATH needs to be known and used by the people that make a difference in the development and diffusion of innovation in housing. PATH needs to connect with the senior vice president of purchasing. DR. MARTIN: It would help if those key people did not change jobs so often. The problem is two-fold, making the contacts and keeping them up-to-date. MR. HATTIS: Improved communication with the dealers and other supply chain participants provides a good opportunity. A major plumbing supplier who attended the barriers workshop had never heard of PATH or visited any of PATH’s Web sites. Participation in the barriers workshop was his introduction to PATH. Construction product dealers are the link between the right person at the manufacturer’s end and the right person at the builder’s end. Connect to the dealers and they will lead PATH to the right people in the building community. Successful dealers are interested in the same issues that their customers are interested in. The supply chain should be a targeted audience for strengthening PATH dissemination activities. MR. HODGES: Dealers are a good conduit to the smaller builders, but the larger builders no longer negotiate with dealers. They negotiate directly with the manufacturers and the dealers provide logistics. The dealers’ conversations with large builders’ purchasing agents are about how many trucks are available and how fast the product can be delivered. The point is very relevant to the smaller builder, but there are two separate kinds of audiences. DR. VANEGAS: The universities are educating more students to go into the construction industry. Many universities also have links to the manufacturers. Universities can also be a conduit because they provide a very rich environment that connects with a lot of constituencies. There are student chapters of professional and trade organizations and many universities have industry advisory counsels that provide an existing network. There is also a national consortium of university housing research programs that is a focal point for housing issues. MR. SPEAR: That is especially true for the major state land grant universities, such as Texas A&M, which has a strong training program for builders. This topic came up in the NRC review that urged greater PATH involvement with land grant universities connected with the USDA extension service.
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