What makes the ACE Awards different - with the convenor of judges David Bridges

The ACE Awards are one of our most important events of the year. We spoke to the convenor of judges, David Bridges, as he begins the awards deliberation process. 

David Bridges at the 2016 Awards

David, how many years have you been involved in judging the awards?  

Around 18 years. It is one of the most refreshing things I do each year.  

The process exposes me to some of the great work that consultants are involved in around the country and allows me to move outside my work bubble. I think you can get very focussed on the field that you are currently working in and become a little blinkered about what is being achieved by the sector at large. The judging work has also become an essential part of my ongoing professional development and helps recharge my battery.  

Have you been able to make any progress with the judging process during the COVID-19 lockdown?  

Yes. We're on-track with the judging, but we have had to develop a slightly amended timetable. We've also initiated some different processes this year, including the use of video conferencing rather than face-to-face meetings. However, that is the way the world is moving, and most of us are now pretty comfortable with the technology.  

The ACE Awards focuses on robust judging. How do you maintain the integrity of the process each year?  

There is a massive commitment from the judges. They own the process and maintain the bar. The judging is an evidence-based validation process which ensures that the information included in the entry has happened on the ground. There are many innovative people involved in projects around the country, including contractors and clients, and this evidence-based approach ensures we validate the consultant's claims made in their submission. The integrity of the process ensures that when we make an award, we can be confident that the consultant has delivered outstanding expertise and service to the client.  

What information are you looking for in an entry?  

The great entries are the ones that are owned by the people who have delivered the project. That includes the engineers, scientists, architects and all the other professionals who are passionate about the project and have achieved the outcomes. An entry should be supported by strong technical evidence that is well-presented and written in plain English. It should be understood by a broad audience and written in a manner that allows the judges to develop and share the passion for the project.  

Submissions prepared in this manner will have a better chance of success than those that are prepared by marketers. As judges, we drill below the marketing/communications hype to try and understand what it truly is that makes the project outstanding.  

How much technical information do you require with a submission?   

The judging team requires a sufficient depth of technical information so that we can determine exactly what the consultant provided to the project and what makes that contribution outstanding and award-worthy. It is important to remember that the judges are experts in their field, recognised by their peers for this expertise. It's not easy to pull the wool over their eyes. Being great consultants, they like to dig deep and understand the technical detail.  

Where do you start with the judging of entries?   

Once the ACE New Zealand office receives all the entries, they're sent to me, as the lead judge. I read every entry to form a view as to what the project is about, and that allows me to decide who should take the lead judge and second judge roles. I also select three readers. Often the entry involves more than one engineering or scientific facet, so it's a matter of identifying a mix of judges who are relevant to that project. The projects are then sent to the judges for an initial read and are discussed further during a teleconference meeting. This session culminates in a go/no go decision for each project which will see the most worthy entries moving on for further consideration. We'll do a site visit to the projects which make the cut, and we have an interview with the client and contractor. At the end of that process, there is an adjudication meeting to determine which projects are indeed award-worthy 

Is there an overall winner?  

The awards are about business excellence and the delivery of outstanding consulting services. We don't have a single winning project. All projects are judged on their merits, which means that in some years, we may only have one or two gold-winning projects; in other years, we may have five or six.  

How many judges are on the panel in 2020?  

This year I have around 38 judges available for the panel. I can also call on specialists if there are projects that require more judging expertise. As an example, this year, we have an entry for an overseas geothermal project, and this will need the appointment of a specialist judge to ensure we have the correct expertise when considering the project.  

Has the type of award entries changed much over the years?  

Yes, they have. It is essential to realise that consulting is far more extensive than just large infrastructure projects, civil, geotechnical and structural engineering. This year, entries range from the cost management of projects to a geothermal project, contaminated land projects and stormwater and environmental water improvement projects. An exciting aspect of the 2020 award entries is that the number of structural and geotechnical submissions is lower than in past years while there are a higher number of entries which focus on sustainability, the environment and alternative transportation.  

Do you still get a buzz from attending the awards evening each year?  

Each year at the awards event, I continue to be surprised at the quality, depth and extent of work. It's inspiring to see the diversity of projects entered and the different disciplines that are involved. I encourage our members to think outside the traditional civil, structural, geotechnical, and roading projects when considering placing an entry. We need to reflect on the contribution our sector is making in the creation of sustainable communities and be willing to showcase it to politicians, decision-makers and the wider community. Submitting a project for the awards is an excellent way of doing this.    

2020 Awards celebration  

This year, because of COVID-19, our Awards ceremony will likely be held in late November / early December. Award finalists and ACE New Zealand members will be notified closer to the time.

Read more about the ACE Awards