The Golden Thread

The Golden Thread of information

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The Golden Thread provides an accurate record of a construction project, including maintenance and operations data for the final asset, but how effective can it be and when? Martin Couling, BIM solutions specialist, Microdesk, shares his thoughts


In May 2018, the Hackitt Report was released in response to the UK’s Grenfell Tower disaster. In it, and in the interim report released in December 2017, Dame Judith Hackitt called for a critical need for change from the ground up in the construction industry to document accountable, reliable, consistent, secure, and accessible information. The reports stated these criteria should be applied to the entire asset lifecycle and characterised them as the Golden Thread of information.

This determination was a welcome one as it has many of the same goals that Building Information Modelling (BIM) has been trying to achieve for years. These include establishing information management as the foundation of industry standards and processes that define the UK BIM framework.

The results of the 2020 Golden Thread Review investigations found that just over half of the respondents believed less than 25 percent of UK projects were being delivered in alignment with the UK BIM Framework. This raises the following questions. Are BIM and the Golden Thread inherently tied together, or can one be achieved without the other? What is preventing the adoption of these vital elements of the construction industry’s digital revolution?

The industry is no stranger to the principle of the Golden Thread. Various definitions existed before the Hackitt Report’s release and the concept has appeared in numerous government released correspondence. Government Soft Landings stated, “Government Soft Landings will be used to maintain this golden thread and ensure its continuation into the building’s operative stage.”

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) approached it from the planning perspective stating, “At the heart of the NPPF is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be viewed as a golden thread running through both plan-making and decision-taking.”

These references are key to understanding the principle of the Golden Thread. Although these different definitions refer to the principle specific to their respective fields, the practices and requirements are all established by competent information management which consists of centralised, standardised, and organised information with its associated history readily available.

For the construction industry, the Hackitt reports have been indispensable in giving the Golden Thread purpose and bringing recognition. Previously, it was more a buzzword than a principle and for all intents and purposes, fell on deaf ears. Now, it is tied to the very fabric that forms the structures around us and, most importantly, how they keep us safe. However, nearly four years on from the findings, the question remains the same. Is the industry more intellectually and technologically equipped now to deliver the Golden Thread?

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45 percent of respondents to the Golden Thread Review believed the appropriate people within their organisations understood what is meant by a digital Golden Thread of information. But as an indicator of industry readiness, this is a concerning figure. True progression comes from within, where internal practices and processes can be analysed, distinctive needs for change become obvious and solutions implemented. This will not happen until insight and judgement are applied and action taken. Only then will the industry advance.

The three gateways

As a result of the Hackitt Report the industry coined ‘Gateway Regime’ defines three gateways. These are vital for accountability. At each gateway, the duty holder (respective to the gateway) is required to submit the Golden Thread of information to the Building Safety Regulator for approval. The gateways and associated duty holder are as follows:

Gateway 1
Planning Application phase,
Principal Designer

Gateway 2
Construction Commencement phase,
Principal Contractor

Gateway 3
Practical Completion phase,
Occupier

It is clear the duty holders are expected to communicate the information they have been responsible for in a structured manner at each key transition of a project’s life cycle. This will ensure key handovers are effective. The intention is for the gateways to enforce these requirements. Currently, the industry is creating and sharing guidance on each gateway and its requirements.

On 10 May 2021, in an effort to address the potential issues arising from the lack of industry adoption and understanding, the government published a draft statement form and associated guidance for the first of the three gateways effective in August 2021. But with an estimated ‘Royal Assent’ date of the Building Safety Bill predicted for the summer of 2022, Gateways 2 and 3 will not be enforced until 12 to 18 months later. Additionally, it is unclear when guidance will be released for the other gateways. With the above timeline we may not see the implications of Hackitt’s findings implemented industry wide until potentially 2024. While it is appropriate that such broad-based vital decisions be scrutinised and discussed at length, the topic of occupier safety the final gateways implementation cannot come soon enough.

Challenges ahead

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” George Bernard Shaw
As with all progress, it is often the few against the many. Industrial advancement only happens when change takes place on a cultural level, from leadership down to the individual. The construction industry is infamous for lagging behind the curve, with ‘old school’ sentiments and mentalities being the main detriments to advancement. Placing the Golden Thread principle within the more tangible framework of Fire Safety practices means it could be easier to achieve and engage the usual ‘back runners’ onboard at a much earlier stage, with the duty holders leading the charge.

Historically Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) are linked to the slower than desired uptake of BIM, with client demand, lack of expertise and training and cost being the commonly cited barriers noted in the National Building Specification (NBS) 2020 Annual BIM report.

As the duty holder for Gateway 2, the Principal Contractor will be responsible and now more inclined to ensure the information they receive from their sub-contractors (commonly SMEs) is validated and complete. After all, it is no longer a matter of completing delivery and hoping it is approved with the knowledge that there are gaps. Liability is now being tied to the history of the project, the asset, and the stakeholders. With this there is optimism that SMEs will be more responsive and better supported to deploy the required technologies and processes to achieve the requirements of the Golden Thread.

These issues fall under the general wider topics of understanding, technology, and culture. Circling back to the initial query of whether BIM and the Golden Thread are inherently related, it is clear to see that if one process has a problem, you can nearly guarantee that the other process will also fall prey to the same obstacle.

Of course, you can have the Golden Thread without BIM and vice versa given the right circumstances and poor management of projects, but why would you want to? With an established BIM framework and wealth of knowledge and digital technologies suited to deliver the requirements of the Golden Thread, hopefully, the time for BIM and the Golden Thread is now.


Golden Thread explainer

What is the Golden Thread?

The Golden Thread provides an accurate record of a project and includes maintenance and operations data for the final asset. It also stores all decisions made since the asset’s inception and ensures accountability to mitigate risk to occupiers.

Where did it come from?

Although the Golden Thread is not specific to construction, the term is most frequently used in conjunction with it. In that context, its earliest reference appears in the 2013 Government Soft Landings Executive Summary.

What are its implications?

The implications of the Golden Thread are traceable, complete sets of information that provide the history of decisions made about all aspects of design and construction. By having this wealth of information operational decisions can be informed by past actions, detailed data sets, and alignment to current standards. It also facilitates the reviews of best practices.


About the author
Martin Couling is a BIM Solutions Specialist with Microdesk providing technical support, training, BIM assurance and consulting services. He focuses on practicality as part of the training for implementing ISO19650 and develops bespoke deliverable review processes for BIM projects and clients.

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