Discussing the changing role of the specifier with Keith Robinson: CSI Member Spotlight

What opportunities does CSI have to grow?

CSI has been in a state of existential reflection for many years now. The economic downturn in 2008 hurt those working in specifications particularly hard. As specifiers are non-design team members, we were often the first employees dropped from payroll. At this time, the importance of the specification was put to the side as traditional roles between designer and documents necessitated a sense of preservation of self.

We lost a lot of valued members during that time and continue to struggle to regain those bygone associates. If value is not seen in the specification, by extension, value in the specifier is gone.

This all sounds a bit post-apocalyptic; however, the way I see it, there is opportunity in understanding the changed dynamic. In many ways, a process similar to “truth and reconciliation” can work to revive the perceived value of the specifier and the documents they prepare for a project. Practitioners and design professionals are being challenged by builders about the quality of the documents we all produce.

“With its multi-disciplinary membership opportunities, CSI can help identify and overcome communication failures in the industry.”

Those working in the industry are undergoing a ground-up shift in the way we exchange information and communicate. There has not been as great a potential for change since the modern roles of architect/engineer and contractor were established in the early to mid-1800s. Nearly 200 years since the invention of our profession and we finally have an opportunity to reinvent the perception of specifications and the written content in emerging BIM-oriented project delivery methods.

CSI has a special relationship with its members and the association can bring influence to support growth in these new technologies. CSI is unique in that its membership includes all contributors to the built environment—architects, engineers, constructors, lawyers, owners, and legislators. CSI is not a single-interest association; it represents many facets of our industry. This means the opportunity to initiate growth and understanding of the specification is already there and we just need to act on it.

What is CSI’s biggest challenge?

We need to confront outdated attitudes and approaches to documentation and the perceptions of who we are. Holding to outdated ideals is a challenge. To employ an allegory: dinosaurs had dinosaur brains and we do not see very many dinosaurs these days. No significant change can happen if we, as CSI members, do not adjust the perceptions of how we see ourselves. Our self-awareness reflects the way those outside of our membership perceive what we do.

Maybe that sounds a little pithy, even preachy. It certainly qualifies for inclusion on a bumper sticker along the lines of “be the change you want to be.” Perhaps a more careful interpretation along the lines of Mahatma Gandhi’s remarks needs to be acted upon: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a person changes their own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards them. We need not wait to see what others do.”

Ultimately, the challenge is change. The world is changing and we need to adapt to these changes or specifiers, as a defined element of our profession, will cease to have meaning and we will lose the benefits of the modern architect/engineer and constructor relationship.

What is the construction industry’s biggest challenge?

I would say it is similar to that of CSI, but with a different focus. The biggest challenge facing the construction industry is showing value in the work of all of those who contribute to the built environment.

Unfortunately, we often experience failures in communication between different working roles within the industry. For example, it is very easy for a constructor to impugn the value of the documents they are working from when the basic understanding of the relationship between said document’s drawn components are not evident. That might sound hurtful, but the sooner we accept there is a failure in communication, the sooner this industry challenge can be resolved.

Oftentimes, we are so busy working in our silos or pointing fingers at others in an attempt to offload perceived liabilities and/or cover up gaps in our knowledge, we fail to see how working together in a collaborative environment can create buildings that make us all proud. This is not intended to sound “doom-and-gloom.” There are many examples available in our community that support this ideal and demonstrate positive outcomes that occur when cooperative effort to project deliverables is attained.

With its multi-disciplinary, multi-professional, and multi-vocational membership opportunities, CSI is in a special position to help identify and overcome communication failures in the industry.

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One comment on “Discussing the changing role of the specifier with Keith Robinson: CSI Member Spotlight”

  1. Great article Keith. I’ve had many discussions with Keith over the decades and he is one of my ‘go to’ colleagues when I have a specification issue to resolve. His honesty and dedication to help the industry is well known. I here he is communing with nature in the Amazon for a well deserved break! All the best Keith and see you at the CSC Conference in Edmonton, Canada, at the end of May.

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