3.2 Who is the client?
We want spaces to work well for learning, but we do not always know how to achieve this. We need someone to show us what innovative teaching spaces might look like. (academic)
There is no standard issue academic. They all have different needs and the closer we can get to their vision the more we can provide possible options. (estates)
On educational projects, the client focus tends to shift depending on the issue under consideration. This means it’s often not clear who the actual client is for a particular project. One of our case studies has sought to address this by setting up a Teaching and Learning Facilities group which brings staff and students together to think holistically about teaching, learning and space planning.
It is the one place where you have academics, estates, ict services, students and library staff together in one room. The representatives of this group are very active about consulting with colleagues and do a good job of representing the interests of their faculties. You can be sat in this meeting and you’ll hear somebody give their view and think, I hadn’t thought about that, I hadn’t seen it from that perspective, we should be doing that. So I think this group works very well in terms of generating ideas and bringing everything together.
Another of our case studies changed the way its committee structure operates in order to encourage greater dialogue between academics, estates and students. Representatives from estates now sit on its Teaching and Learning and Development Committee, Student Experience Committee and Learning Landscapes Committee. Student representatives are also involved in the process and have a seat on most academic board committee groups, which allows the student voice to be heard in this process.
Institutions may find it helpful to consider themselves as being made up of three key groups, each with their own roles and responsibilities:
- Users: students, staff and visitors who use space
- Estates: staff who manage space
- University: staff who provide space.
In seeking project direction and decision-making, risks and frustrations are minimised when all participants are clear about the focus of their client group while also understanding, and respecting, the remit of other client groups.
The role of the user client is to focus on the user aspects of the client brief. Information will include organisational structure, description of activities, work-flow processes, project aspirations, anticipated future profile, required adjacencies and so on. Where teaching and learning spaces are concerned, we suggest a key role will be to provide the educational brief. This will be based on users own knowledge and experience as teachers and learners, backed up by the wealth of research now available around effective teaching and learning. The question this group needs to keep in mind throughout the project is how will this project support the learning, working and social experiences we want to provide and receive?
The role of the estates client is to focus on the spatial aspects of the client brief. Information will include space types and amounts, anticipated costs (capital and operating), flexibility (short and long-term), compliance with estate strategy and campus master-plan, statutory requirements, project programme and so on. The question this group needs to keep in mind is how will the space provided by this project support user needs in a way we can afford – both now and in the future?
The role of the university client is to focus on the strategic aspects of the client brief. Information will include vision and mission of institution, business case, investment rationale, possible risks, importance to short/long-term goals and so on. The question this group need to deep in mind is how will this project contribute to the strategic objectives of our institution?