An overly extensive process can tend towards a dilution of the original aims of the project through a search for consensus. You start out with the ambition to be visionary and innovative, but because of the large size of project working groups the end product bears little relationship to what you set out to do originally, and there is a tendency to all go back to the comfort zone of how do we make sure we get bums on seats. (manager)

Our case studies suggest that the formal governance structures characterising university decision-making may not be the most appropriate frameworks for generating innovation. On the other hand, there is concern regarding an over-reliance on informality as a way of generating innovation and experimentation, whereby corridor-conversations can work against good systems of communication and coherent project and campus planning. A possible stake-holder model to consider is governance through the committee structure, informed by innovation and strategic experimentation through individuals.

Institutions may find that a great deal of confusion and frustration can be avoided by clarifying decision-making powers from the outset and identifying those who will:

  • make and be responsible for decisions
  • participate in some decisions
  • provide information
  • receive information.


Decision-making brings us back to the role of each of the clients involved – user, estates and university. Drawing each group’s attention to their role is often enough to clarify who the key decision-maker should be for the issue at hand. To recap, the question for users is how will this project support the learning, working and social experiences we want to provide and receive? For estates, how will the space provided by this project support user needs in a way we can afford – both now and in the future? And for the university, how will this project contribute to the strategic objectives of our institution?


Decision-making is increasingly a collaborative process. This can mitigate against wayward decision-making by an individual, but decision-making by committee can lead to mediocre results. Participative decision-making is particularly challenging for educational institutions where building projects bring three decision-making structures together – the committee structure of academia, the project management structure of estates and the consultation structure of user engagement. Decision-making processes need to honour all three structures.


Here, all major stake-holders are consulted to provide information around organisational structures, activities, viewpoints, hopes and concerns. When the process is working well, there is the opportunity for all participants to learn something new about themselves, their colleagues, their work and/or their space requirements. The more curious and engaged participants become, the richer the material provided upon which decision-makers can act.


Keeping everyone informed of decisions taken, and the rationale used, is about keeping everyone engaged and allowing sufficient time to prepare for the changes ahead. An institution’s marketing and communication department may be best placed to address this need.