The Australian Road Research Board’s new generation of workshops is providing the road and transport sector with tailored, interactive and practical sessions, aimed at boosting industry knowledge sharing and best practice.
Last September, Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) changed the way industry thinks about transport research when it unveiled its new high-tech premises in Port Melbourne.
The opening of ARRB’s headquarters in Melbourne signalled the beginning of a more modern approach for the company, which is not only reflected in the premises’ world-class materials lab and shared spaces, but in its renewed focus on workshops and knowledge sharing within the road and transport sector.
In mid-2018, ARRB switched up its focus on knowledge sharing events to move away from the traditional once-a-year conferences. The idea was to run more regular touch points with the Australian road and transport sector, to help boost the shared knowledge around best practice on topics such as sealed and unsealed roads, bridge inspection, basic geometric road design and high-friction surface treatments.
Now, the organisation runs nearly three workshops a month nationwide and about 50 free webinars a year on a diverse array of topics, hosted by in-house presenters who share their wealth of knowledge with attendees. Gareth Thomas, ARRB Principal Professional, Knowledge Transfer, says the benefits of more regular workshops and webinars for industry knowledge sharing is bolstered by the workshop series’ more comprehensive focus on practical outcomes.
“The changes we’ve made to our workshops take a more customer-facing approach, finding out what industry bodies and government agencies really need and the programs that benefit them. The conferences of the past were great, and suit a particular formula, but these workshops and webinars are different – we’re looking at ways to make them more relevant to what stakeholders in the industry need right now,” Mr. Thomas explains.
To develop a relevant and practical workshop program, ARRB has partnered with the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia’s (IPWEA) Queensland branch – a partnership Mr. Thomas says has been key to the workshop’s early success in the Sunshine State.
“Industry bodies like IPWEA QLD have much more knowledge in the local government space, particularly with regards to areas like sealed and unsealed roads, which complements what we’re doing at ARRB,” he says.
“I think the big difference compared with other workshops out there is we’ve got this new model with real, practical outcomes, and there’s a big market for that in Australia.”
Josh Seskis, Senior Professional Leader of Future Transport Infrastructure at ARRB, leads some of the new and improved workshops focused on bridge inspections. He says the desire from industry for new and more practical outcomes has helped the bridge inspection workshops, in particular, extended beyond conventional theory-heavy sessions.
“There’s definitely the push for it in industry. The workshop is designed to be a really good place for people to gain an understanding of what bridge inspection is on paper, but also the practical ideals along the way too,” he says.
Rather than being bound to an office, Mr. Seskis is a presenter at the coalface of the sector, inspecting bridges on a daily basis – a recurring theme of ARRB’s new and improved workshop series, which, he says, places the practicality of the sessions front and centre for attendees.
“Getting people who are out there working in the industry presenting these workshops brings the classroom and fieldwork together into a practical and shared space – it’s just giving people more of an understanding of why we do inspections and how the asset information is captured.”
He says knowing how this information gathering process works and being knowledgeable about bridge inspections in general is such an important consideration in this kind of structural asset management.
“If you’re running a background on a bridge, the only real information you have is inspection data. When a bridge ages and changes over time, often the only thing we have to base decisions on is the inspection data.”
The data, he says, are exceptionally pertinent to local governments and practitioners at the moment, with many regional areas like Far North Queensland and parts of New South Wales seeing structures built more than 50 years ago, and even at the turn of the century, requiring repair or replacement.
“Structures built in the 1960s, for instance, are getting old. When they start to present problems, they can then slow down the network access immensely,” Mr. Seskis says, adding that there is also increased demand for asset managers to do more with a lot less funding.
He explains that being smart about bridge inspection data and using it for managing the asset effectively are key practicalities that need to be taken into account, and are some of the reasons why ARRB’s workshops are placing emphasis on the practical side of bridge inspection by taking attendees for physical field testing and site inspections.
“There’s documentation out there covering the process of collecting and maintaining inspection data, but these workshops put attendees in an environment where they’re working with other practitioners who have a lot of shared experience and learnings,” he explains.
“These workshops are putting them in an environment with very experienced practitioners to learn a lot of the practical foundation work, but they allow you to fail in a safe environment. They’re not theory heavy, we’re actually doing the work and we want to bring those learnings back to the industry. Practicality is core focus for us. – it’s by practitioners, for practitioners.”
This year, following the success of the existing bridge inspection workshops, ARRB plans to expand the scope of its bridge workshops to include a practical focus on bridge asset management, complementing the organisation’s overall move to up the ante with its workshops series in 2019.
“We’re seeing that the sessions are working, we’ve had positive feedback from IPWEA QLD on the unsealed roads workshops as well as bridge inspection sessions too. Now, we’re looking at doing more national-focused workshops in 2019 to meet demand,” Mr. Thomas explains.
“With the success of our relationship with IPWEA QLD, we’ll also be chatting with all the state IPWEA organisations around Australia to see where else we can collaborate and make the content of these knowledge sharing workshops more relevant.
“We’re also working quite closely and collaborating with iRAP and ANCAP on driver distraction after finding that our webinar series produced some good outcomes when it came to safety aspects, which we’ve found to be well run in webinar format.”
Aside from in-house experts like Mr. Seskis and its strong partnership with IPWEA QLD, ARRB’s established international partnerships are complementing its next-generation workshop sessions and webinars by emphasising knowledge transfer and best practice around the world.
“We’re looking at better types of pavement, such as EME2 and best practice around that, working with the Nation Asset Centre of Excellence in Queensland and talking to international bodies like the United Kingdom’s Transport Research Laboratory about what’s working for them and whether it will work in Australia,” Mr. Thomas explains.
“We’ve had other in-house sessions in ARRB with the likes of VicRoads, safety groups and even freeway operators like EastLink to share findings with regards to driverless vehicles.”
Heading into 2019, Mr. Thomas says ARRB is continuing to bring together experience and knowledge on industry best practice through its new and improved workshop series, with an eye to expand further and introduce comprehensive five-day intensive sessions, or “mini-conferences”.
“In the case of road design, for instance, we want to be able to share knowledge on best practice for everything to do with the asset, including unsealed sections, cost benefit analysis, basic geometric design and even intelligent compaction,” he says.
“We’re not just going with the traditional formula anymore, and this is what we as an industry need more of.”