Any project involving space, be it refurbishment or new build, requires a client brief to instruct those tasked with carrying out the work. In higher education building projects, the client is generally a multiplicity of voices with many different views on who the client is, what the requirements might be and how best to meet them. Developing the client brief is essentially about enabling these voices to collectively talk their future into being. This is done by tuning-in and joining-in. We tune-in by paying attention to what people are noticing and talking about. We join-in by participating in conversations that progressively move us from how we are now towards how we believe we could be.

Being a client is not easy. Many institutions seem to experience confusion, and occasionally frustration, when different parts of the educational body come together around a building project. This briefing tool seeks to clarify what’s involved in being a client, identifying requirements, making decisions and managing expectations. It suggests ways in which conversations around key issues might be structured to balance the needs of all stake-holders and to encourage a both/and, as opposed to either/or, approach to developing their client brief.

In formulating this brief, institutions are in effect saying, given what we know about our past, present and future, this is our best guess for what we believe is required. We suggest that institutions already know much more than they think they do. There is, after all, a considerable amount of data to draw upon – academic plan, corporate plan, financial plan, student satisfaction survey, retention figures, vision documents, ict usage, timetabling information, space utilisation survey, estate strategy, condition survey, master-plan and so on. These different data-sets are rarely reviewed together, yet when they are, the gaps or over-laps between them often reveal new and compelling ways forward. Indeed, findings from the Learning Landscapes Project suggest that the degree of innovative space development is related to the quality of dialogue between different stake-holders, the most innovative examples being those that seek to unite teaching, learning and research needs.

As institutions become more skilled at tuning-in and joining-in, it is hoped that better futures can get talked into being – sustainable futures that support both tradition and innovation in an ongoing process of learning what a university is.