We have learned over the years that we actually need to get people involved much sooner and in greater detail. We now have a project steering group for every building project so that the overall strategy is driven by the university executive. (academic )

Some institutions have found user engagement more difficult to manage than anticipated. In one of our case studies, three faculties were involved in a project where each had different views about what the project was about and they all wanted different things. The result was a compromise which sought to accommodate three faculties with very different agendas – a very beautiful space which is not utilised because it was not what we needed in the first place.

In consulting users about their needs and aspirations, hopes and fears, institutions may like to consider setting up the following consultation framework:

  • space champion
  • steering group
  • focus groups.

Steering and focus groups are likely to meet fortnightly, monthly or bi-monthly, depending on the size of project and what stage of briefing, design or implementation is underway.

Space champion

The person nominated to this role will have overall responsibility for user involvement in the project and should expect the role to take up a considerable amount of his or her time. Responsibilities include:

  • providing leadership and motivation
  • implementing consultation process
  • representing user priorities when liaising with estates, university, design and project teams
  • implementing change support programme to help all user prepare for their new environment.

Steering group

With responsibility for project steering and decision-making, the size of this group can be anything from 4-12 people, depending on the size of the project. We suggest that anything above this becomes too unwieldy. Responsibilities include:

  • assembling user requirements and making decisions
  • articulating user brief to estates and university, design and project delivery teams
  • ensuring emerging design supports learning, organisational and business strategies
  • assessing benefits or risks of project decisions for users
  • developing new structures where appropriate for effective use and management of new facilities.

Focus groups

As these groups represent the needs of different user stake-holders, the number of groups required depends on the size of the project and diversity of requirements. Responsibilities include:

  • gathering detailed information
  • keeping colleagues informed.

On big projects, it can be useful to incorporate cross-group sessions at key stages of the projects to identify potential synergies.