Narrative Box 5

2. Design with not for. In other words, don’t assume how a space will be used — ask instead. This seems obvious but the fact is that end users are not always asked about what they’d like to see in a space being designed for them. When it comes to work on college campuses, this often means students. Seek unheard perspectives that go beyond a token member of a pre-selected stakeholder group.” While clients may initially view this as “opening the problem;” i.e., creating headaches for the project team, our experience has shown that the process avoids costly backtracking because it confirms the design criteria for the project, and thus leads to more successful outcomes. 

3. Use multiple means for feedback.. You’ll get more, and higher quality, responses when you use a variety of communication channels. Understand that people  — especially those who are used to being dismissed or ignored may not be comfortable speaking up in a group situation, or may not be able to put their finger on what it is that makes them uncomfortable.  In Jones’s work at Massasoit Community College, which involves renovations to two buildings to house science programs, nursing, allied health, and respiratory care laboratories, we’ve designed a multi-phase engagement process to help build trust with the community. We started in the project’s study phase and conducted another round in schematic design. 

We’ve used online surveys, in-person conversations via open houses, sticky notes, and yes/no votes. We have fliers with more information if people don’t feel comfortable engaging right off the bat — they can get their bearings and come back to us, either in person, or by linking to the survey. We’ll also reach out to student clubs via social media, and offer hybrid small group discussions . For owners concerned about the amount of time (or money) involved in user engagement, we were able to gather feedback from more than 100 people in two days during the study phase, and about 90 people, including administrators and faculty, in the second phase. It is not an arduous process and adds tremendous value.