Featured Research

ARC Discovery

Rethinking housing: actor network analysis for digital collaboration

“Rethinking housing” aims to understand persistent housing sector supply problems through analysis of digital collaborative practices. The housing sector has long been criticised for shortcomings in affordability, efficiency, quality, social and environmental responsiveness and appropriateness of offerings. This project expects to generate new knowledge for an emerging housing digital economy using interdisciplinary actor-network theory and data visualisation techniques.
This three-year research is a Discovery Project funded by the Australian Research Council and has a cash value of $443,188.


The study outcomes will be increased capability of digital collaborative practices by industry and government responsible for our housing supply sector. Improved capability will enable better policy and practice decision making by stakeholders on challenges plaguing the sector in providing an effective and efficient housing supply sector. Benefits will include a more professional workforce, increased competitiveness, higher quality housing stock and longer term a better quality of life.

Research team

Torrens University Australia

University of South Australia

Western Sydney University

Research question

Our study’s main question is “How can key housing sector challenges be addressed by strategically-formulated, digitally-supported collaborative practices that facilitate the effective integration of actors into inclusive networks?”

Research aims:

  1. To understand and analyse barriers and enablers of emergent digital collaborative practices in housing supply networks through innovative case study exemplars using actor-network theory.
  2. To contribute to the theoretical development of inclusive digital collaborative practices models linked to the complex ecologies of housing sector outcomes.
  3. To inform policy and practice innovation by evaluating and communicating the digital collaborative practice model and typologies through a series of housing industry and government stakeholder workshops.

Research approach

We use qualitative techniques in the context of three case studies to examine collaborative practice in housing supply networks. We use an analytical approach called actor-network theory, which allows us to examine both the social and technical dimensions of collaborative practice.

Case Studies

Case Study 1: Collaboration in Australia's first pop-up shelter

Pop-up shelters are temporary accommodations set up in vacant properties that are awaiting development approval, thus land and buildings can be allocated to housing for a window of at least 12 months. Our first case study involved the establishment of such a pop up, the first of its kind in Australia. A four-storey structure was made available to young people at highly affordable rental rates. The project team extended its mission beyond housing provision and has allocated support for a free grocery store, a free clothing facility, and free mobile laundry services. The case provides novel insights on organisational citizenship behaviours, developing creative solutions in the midst of interlocking planning regulations and the value of developing strategies in an emergent rather than top-down manner.

“…we met with two different service providers. We...just said, ’Look, we've got this place. You've been recommended to us. We don't know how long it's going to take to get a DA. It could be minimum 12 months, it could be longer, and we're looking for someone to perhaps - there's kids here, everywhere sleeping under the bridges and they're homeless and you go to The Cross, you go everywhere. There are all beds free. We want to help young people.’ Her eyes popped out of her head and said, ‘Look, that sounds fantastic. It's exactly what we do. But how much is it going to cost us?’ [Our manager] just looked at her and said nothing, ‘It's all yours.’"

London, K, Pablo, Z & Gu, N 2019, 'Robustness as resilience, mobility and stability: an actor-network approach to identifying typologies of Australian pop-up shelters', CIB World Building Congress 2019: Constructing Smart Cities, Hong Kong, 17-21 June 2019.

Pablo, Z, London, K, ‘Sustainability through resilient collaborative housing networks: a case study of an Australian pop-up shelter’, Sustainability 2022, 14, 1271. https://doi.org/10.3390/su14031271

Conference paper:
London, K, Pablo Z and Gu, N 2018, ‘Robustness as resilience, mobility and stability: an actor-network approach to identifying typologies of Australian pop-up shelters’, in Constructing Smart Cities: Proceedings of the 22nd CIB World Building Congress, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong, China.

Case Study 2: New quality-tracking technology and its impact on collaborative practice

A multi-national housing developer launched a new tablet-based application that aimed at reducing the number of defects in completed houses. Our second case study was timely given recent controversies involving failures in quality in safety in Sydney apartments. Findings suggest that “quality” can be defined in different ways, technology-supported collaboration can have unexpected results and simple things like fading stickers can potentially stand in the way of a large scale initiative.

So what the guys do is they walk into a house and they use the little round red dots to stick on where the issues are and the room became like it was a measles looking house and I remember that, because we did a whole PowerPoint… it was really funny, because we created a PowerPoint where it just like measles and like a diseased sort of house, where you walk in and red dots everywhere. It was just inefficient because there’s lots of paperwork and people had to carry lots of paper with them, got the customer to sign on paper and everything was just paper and handwritten notes, which was quite illegible sometimes and it was just cumbersome. So then they decided at that point everything was going digital… then [we] decided, okay, let’s just see if we can do something on a tablet, or on an iPad.

Case Study 3: Collaborative practice in the pursuit of ambitious social and environmental goals

Our third case study involved a project team with a unique and complex ecology of goals: a building that would bring together and house diverse programs, including long-term retirement accommodation, short-term disability respite accommodation, commercial office and retail space, and a range of services for people experiencing homelessness, substance abuse, and other social issues. In addition, the building has achieved the highest green-star rating for a commercial building in Adelaide, South Australia. In our analysis, we explore how the complex and sometimes competing metrics used by financial institutions, environmental consultants, commercial clients and vulnerable groups were negotiated. The analysis covers decisions that range from high-level strategic decisions like overall capacity, building access and flow, and environmental sustainability objectives, through to more specific operational issues such as implementing elevator access for residents with disabilities.

…the owners talked really clearly about the fact that they felt that they were representing the people in society who were most vulnerable to future impacts of climate change and therefore they should be the ones that have the best access to sustainable buildings and to knowledge about how to reduce their impact on the environment. And so to me on this project, the social and environmental were really closed tied together and that doesn’t normally happen.

Gu, N., Soltani, S., London, K., Pablo, Z. and Davis, A. (2023), Stakeholders’ Perceptions of Digital Collaboration in Delivering a Mixed-Use Housing Development Project: A Case Study in Australia, Buildings 13(9), https://doi.org/10.3390/buildings13092229.

Book chapter:
Gu, N., Y, R., London, K., Pablo, Z. and Roberts, M. (2023), Evaluating the Use of Digital Technologies to Support Design Collaboration, in Lee, J.H., Ostwald, M.J. and Kim, M.J. (eds), Multimodality in Architecture: Collaboration, Technology and Education, Springer (accepted on August 31, 2023).

Digital Collaboration through HyVE 3D

During the simulation phase of our project, we invited stakeholders from private and public housing organisations to digitally collaborate by models in collaborative spaces. We initially set up one collaborative space at the Western Sydney University Parramatta South Campus, where the project was originally based, before moving to Torrens University Australia. Another collaborative space was at the University South Australia.

At the core of these spaces was a technology called the HyVE. When the project was housed at Western Sydney University, we designed the HyVE’s setup after consultations with colleagues in the HyVE community in Montreal to create an area designed to draw participants into a tight collaborative huddle and to allow participants to annotate and sketch on existing digital models. Experiments were also done at the Australian Research Centre for Interactive and Virtual Environments.

Cookies help us improve your website experience.
By using our website, you agree to our use of cookies.