It is often said that there are no new ideas – only old ones that are continually recycled and revamped. There is some truth in this and that is why you need to talk with as wide a range of people as possible. Experience tells us, however, that the majority of stakeholders find it hard to think beyond having more of what they already have. This is not surprising as they have their heads down getting on with their teaching, learning, research or all of these. So you need to choose people who are flexible.
A balance is needed between the current and the future needs and some people you talk with will have great ideas that may appear to be outside the scope of the project. Don’t dismiss these – in fact don’t dismiss anything – but make sure that all the points made are noted, collated, and considered, these ideas may be just what is needed to provide the right balance between today and tomorrow.
Ways of encouraging ideas include:
- Focus groups – you should have a range of these and consider having membership from a number of constituencies rather than single interest
- Writing walls that people can contribute to
- Postcards that can be sent into the planning group
- Web boards and online chat spaces for people to contribute to
- You might also consider using collaborative social software applications for the project – for example something like del.ico.us, a social bookmarking web service giving people a place where they can tag items of interest to the project that are elsewhere on the internet and save the tags for others to use.
Part of your communications strategy should also involve ‘telling’ stakeholders what is happening. You can do this through:
- Open meetings and presentations
- Roadshows (particularly useful at key decision points for example when choosing furniture)
- Displays of drawings, sketches and plans
- Videos and computer-based animations such as walk-throughs of the project
- If you have a model of the building make sure that you put this on display in a variety of locations on campus
You should also consider running some competitions as these are great for getting involvement. These could be about ideas for particular pieces of furniture, ideas for incorporating artwork into the project, or what the name or logo might be. As well as getting a wide range of people actively engaged in the building project such competitions often produce ideas that you can actually use in the building or at the very least use them for publicity about the project.
"The greatest virtue of programming (developing the brief) is that it deeply involves the users of a building and makes it really their building. The great vice of programming is that it over-responds to the immediate needs of the immediate users, leaving future users out of the picture, making the building all too optimal to the present and maladaptive to the future."
From all of these conversations you will need to draw out the key points that add value to the vision for the project, provide innovative ways of implementing it, and avoid ideas that dilute its impact. Brand again:
"Pei (designer of the MIT Media lab) has said that academia often is a difficult client, and he’s right. At MIT the client was at first too vague and later too specific about its needs. Boston architect William Rawn notes that professors are notorious for wanting space designed precisely around their current research, and never mind the future."
Collecting key requirements from stakeholders to guide the vision and hence the building programme will be an iterative process and time needs to be allowed for this. At this stage you need to ensure that there has been a recent review of existing facilities to enable comparisons during the evaluation of the refurbishment or new build. Whilst gathering requirements, performance indicators can be allocated to ensure that these are not forgotten – this will make evaluation of your new space much easier.