How HS2 is helping embed the learning legacy as an industry standard approach

From: Association for Project Management
Published: Fri Feb 04 2022

Blog posted by: Karen Elson, 03 Feb 2022.

Learning legacy is a structured approach to the capture and dissemination of lessons, good practice and innovation from major projects, aimed at raising the bar in industry. Ten years after London 2012 launched the industry's first learning legacy to much acclaim, and building on the subsequent learning legacies of Crossrail and Thameslink London Bridge, HS2 has taken the metaphorical baton and launched its own learning legacy.

I led the development of the London 2012 learning legacy framework as part of my role as a programme assurance executive for the Olympic Delivery Authority, and also set up the Crossrail and HS2 learning legacies.

What is particularly brilliant, however, is that having published the learning legacy framework for Crossrail, Thameslink developed its own learning legacy for the London Bridge programme, demonstrating that the learning legacy is becoming embedded as an industry standard approach.

While I was scoping out the HS2 learning legacy, one particularly engaged main contractor that I interviewed described the learning legacy back to me as a social value initiative for the professions. That's the best description I've heard to date. Giving back to the industry, supporting professional learning and ultimately raising the bar are the goals of learning legacy.

So, how effective is learning legacy?

The knowledge management purists among us argue that you can't codify knowledge. Others say that 20 per cent of knowledge is explicit and can be captured, while the other 80 per cent is in people's heads.

I say that, while the articles and resources on the learning legacy websites focus on sharing the 20 per cent, learning legacies can also tap into the 80 per cent through active dissemination programmes with industry partners that enable experts from across the project (including the supply chain) to connect with peers through presentations, discussions and conversations - further increasing the chance of knowledge flow.

On London 2012 we had the Ambassador programme, and at HS2 we'll be rolling out the Author Speaker Programme to do this.

The benefits of starting early

HS2 is the first project to launch its learning legacy programme this early in the life cycle at 20 per cent complete (versus 60 per cent for Crossrail and 95 per cent for London 2012). This has the benefit of being able to capture the learnings around the early stages of a project such as procurement, initiation, enabling works and mobilisation, which were distant memories on previous learning legacies.

However, starting this early means that there is still some way to go, so it is important that learning legacy is not a one-way vehicle, that HS2 can both share its learning but also learn from other projects. We are setting up reciprocal knowledge-sharing agreements/mutual NDAs between HS2 and other major projects to enable the detailed learning between projects, to support candid conversations behind closed doors that you might not want published on an open forum.

While this is necessarily a very HS2-centric approach, I can see a future where there is a major projects knowledge-sharing network with a standard approach to knowledge sharing.

Individual knowledge sharing: what's in it for me?

At the launch of the HS2 learning legacy, we asked attendees: what would make you more likely to share knowledge? Fifty-five per cent of the 159 people who responded said recognition of [my] contribution to the profession', and 39 per cent said being published'.

There has been a huge level of engagement on the HS2 learning legacy, not just within HS2 Ltd but across the whole supply chain - 220 authors across 39 organisations in the first two tranches of content. This is a real step change from previous learning legacies, where the majority of content was from the client body and where my conversations with the supply chain inevitably led to their concerns over guarding their IP.

A systems approach to learning presents a major opportunity

Learning legacy provides a social value platform for knowledge sharing across industry and between projects, and provides professional recognition for individuals. However, learning legacy is just one cog in the system of learning and innovation across our industry. A joined-up approach to lessons learned, innovation, continuous improvement and knowledge provides a much greater opportunity to leverage major projects knowledge to raise the bar in industry.

I saw a good example of this systems approach recently by the enabling works contractors on HS2, who have developed a series of learning legacy papers to hand over their learning and innovation with the main works contractors and then got together at a knowledge-sharing event to discuss them and transfer that learning.

A systems approach to learning and innovation by major projects is the next big opportunity for improved productivity in our industry.

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About the Author

Karen Elson

Karen is co-founder of Co.Cre8, an SME that supports projects to flourish through Knowledge, Networks and Behaviours. She is a chartered engineer and certified knowledge manager with 25+ year's experience of major projects and is best known for leading the implementation of award-winning learning legacy and continuous learning programmes to raise the bar in the construction industry.

Company: Association for Project Management

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