September 26, 2019

Planning Tool: Connecting Education Spaces, Services, and Staffing

Designing Experiences

By Elliot Felix

Imagine an Apple Store that had innovative products showcased in cutting edge spaces, but no genius bar, no classes or workshops, not enough staff moving throughout the space to give you the help you need, and staff that didn’t have a commitment to customer service. This kind of Apple store – a space without the right services or staffing – wouldn’t achieve the 88% customer satisfaction Apple stores do today. There is a lesson here for planning educational facilities.

So many spaces in higher education require the kind of integrated facility planning approach that Apple stores utilize: welcome centers, career centers, advising centers, incubators, libraries, and one-stop-shop service centers. In these places, a student’s experience is determined by how well the spaces, services, and staffing work together. In this post, we’ll walk through our tool for this kind of integrated facility planning and step through an example of it in action.

Why use this kind of integrated approach for planning educational facilities? Well, thinking back to the Apple store, consider how much of Apple’s retail success has to do with how spaces, services, and staffing all work together. This is no surprise because the initial concept was to create a store that felt like a public space such as a library, and was designed to support the ownership experience, not just the buying experience.

That Apple uses an integrated approach is also not surprising given that Apple has attributed much of their overall success to their approach of designing and manufacturing both hardware and software together in order to better integrate and control the entire experience.

A store is no different: the space, technology, and furniture in it are the “hardware” and the services and staffing are the “software” that activate it and interface with people.

A Simple Tool for Planning Educational Facilities in a Holistic Way

So, how can you apply this integrated approach to planning educational facilities? Specifically, how can you consider spaces, services, and staffing together in a way that connects the “hardware” and the “software”? brightspot created a simple tool called the Integrated Space Planner that does just that and gets these all literally on the same page, at a glance. The Planner includes inputs to guide your thinking and then for each space it identifies goals and users, access, service offerings, service delivery, staffing and skills, relationships, and assessment. Then it identifies next steps to move the ball forward.

What Happens When You Don’t Connect Spaces, Services, and Staffing?

We’ve likely all seen the symptoms of not thinking through space “hardware” and services/staffing “software” together. Institutions have to cut back on operating hours because it takes more staff than anticipated and costs are not sustainable. Or there are empty service desks because more desks were added than you cannot afford to staff. Because they’re in the wrong location, the most expert staff are bogged down in answering routine questions like how to print or where the bathrooms are.

Or students are always going to the “wrong place” to get help so you have to send them to the other desks instead of providing a “one-stop-shop” with cross-trained, generalist staff. Students have to come in person for transactional services that could and should be done online to also free up staff time where it’s really needed. Rooms, their equipment, and their technology sit unused because, without the support in place, users are intimidated or unaware. Spaces are dead because the events and programs that would otherwise activate and enliven them haven’t been thought about.

What’s in the Integrated Space Planner?

To avoid these and other problems of planning educational facilities, the Integrated Space Planner connects the space “hardware” with the services and staffing “software” in three sections that you complete roughly chronologically (of course, expect to have some iteration as you go back and forth between and within sections).

  1. The inputs: The information that should guide the planning of spaces, services, and staffing such as a strategic plan, a user needs assessment, an opportunity map, peer benchmarking, or anything else that articulates goals.
  2. The core of the Planner: A table in which each row describes a space and the goals, access, service offerings, service delivery, staffing and skills, and assessment pertaining to that space row (note that you can have as many rows as you have spaces, just keep adding more pages to your Planner).
  3. The next steps: Where you reflect on how you can prototype or pilot the space, service, and staffing concepts; what the barriers might be; and how you can overcome them.

The Integrated Space Planner in Action

We’ll use a project brightspot completed with the University of Rochester and walk through what’s in the Planner and how you might fill it out. As background, the University’s strategic plan called for community service learning, experiences conducting research with impact, and supporting innovation and entrepreneurship. At the same time, the campus libraries sought to contribute to these goals while positioning libraries not just as a place to access information individually, but rather as a hub for creative, collaborative student projects.

brightspot worked with the university to map the campus innovation ecosystem to identify opportunities and then we engaged students, faculty, and staff in interviews, town hall meetings, and workshops. From this, together we crafted the vision of what became known as the iZone: a pre-incubator where students go to explore and imagine ideas for social, cultural, community, and economic impact by building skills, accessing tools and resources, getting advice, and connecting with a community of collaborators.

The University of Rochester iZone contains a variety of spaces, and so for simplicity, we’ll focus on four core spaces we identified during the planning stages for each row in the example Planner above.

1. Welcome Zone

The Welcome Zone does not have a service desk but rather is an open, inviting space in the entry with services like welcome, orientation, tech support, equipment lending, and general information are offered by roving staff. Like many progressive support models, the goal is to blend spaces where students work with places for them to get help. This configuration enables side-by-side help rather than building a barrier between the users and the staff. The core success measures for this space are the utilization of the services as well as user satisfaction with them.

2. Forum Event Space

The Forum is an informal presentation and performance space, where students go to learn new skills, present their ideas, and find inspiration during the operating hours. The key services revolve around hosting events and include event planning, room booking, tech support, food service, and room setup. These services are delivered in advance remotely and live on-demand, through both full-time staff and fellows. Their success is measured through attendance, satisfaction, and communication (i.e., social media around events).

3. Studio Workshop Space

The Studio is a flexible workshop space for students to learn new skills for problem-solving. The Studio is booked in advance and the core services focus on supporting the learning experience through facilitation, tech support, consulting, and supplies/equipment. These services are delivered in advance remotely and live on-demand, through both full-time staff and fellows. In addition to KPIs similar to the Forum, the measures associated with the Studio include the impact of activities like workshops or classes so teams that attend a team-building workshop have greater persistence.

4. Assorted Workspaces

Assorted workspaces include open tables, semi-enclosed group booths, and enclosed rooms to support individual and collaborative work. These spaces are also where 1:1 consultations with mentors and fellows can happen on students projects. These workspaces are both scheduled and ad hoc, and they require services such as tech support. These services are delivered in advance of the event both remotely and live on-demand through full-time staff and fellows.

The iZone began offering programming in 2017 on a pilot basis in temporary spaces and the Barbara J. Burger iZone formally opened in 2018. Today iZone is a collaborative hub for students to solve problems and to explore and imagine ideas for social, cultural, community, and economic impact.

Getting Started Holistically Planning Educational Facilities

Once you download the Planner, you might be wondering how to get started with planning educational facilities in an integrated way. So, here are some collaboration suggestions:

  1. Use the Planner to gently “force” collaboration among the different players and partners, keeping in mind that as with many planning activities the act of getting people together to discuss the questions and work on your Planner is likely as valuable as the completed Planner you’ll have as a result. So, be sure to capitalize on that process to build (or repair) relationships and create momentum.
  2. Prototype aspects like welcome, orientation, and basic support. These services are particularly indicative of user satisfaction and the Welcome Zone plays the primary role in providing this service experience. Rent space to be a temporary home, do mock-ups with role play, or run programs in other spaces. These allow you to get feedback, build momentum, and change the conversation with potential funders from asking for support for an unproven idea to enlisting their support in scaling up something that’s already working.
  3. Along the way, ensure you are assessing and communicating by measuring what you’re doing in terms its utilization, satisfaction, and impact. Then, share success stories and stats to build awareness that will make a case for reimagining your spaces and services.

Good luck as you move ahead and please get in touch if you need a hand – we’d love to help you get results!