31.07.2012 THE MENTAL REBUILDING – DEVELOPMENT IN A TIME OF COST-CUTTINGS

Both public and private companies are currently facing a situation where focus needs to be on development and new concepts in order to create value in the middle of a recession causing additional cost savings in the public sector. This means that many of the current building projects focus on making the existing physical space perform better as there are no longer the same financial resources allocated to building projects. Therefore the challenge is:

How can we create resourcefulness and  make development possible in a time of cost-cuttings?

Throughout the years, SIGNAL has come across some of the same dilemmas in different projects. Dilemmas that freeze the new ways of thinking and the value creation:

  • Solution before need: Too often, the solution is chosen before the actual need has been challenged properly. And as a consequence we get stuck in the perception that we can only create the future by turning to the solutions we are used to. Prolonging of the past and conventional thinking is blocking innovation, new ways of thinking, and development.
  • The innovative paradox: The experts who advice clients must be able to challenge the innovative paradox because “how am I supposed to know what to choose if I don´t know what I can choose from?”. As consultants, it is our responsibility during the process to bring new possibilities to the table in order to make new resources and needs visible – and link them to a new use of the existing building.

THE MENTAL REBUILDING

At SIGNAL, we have worked with the mental rebuilding in a number of different projects. How far can we go with an organisation and its need for value creation only by challenging the thinking of how space is used – without moving a single wall? We can go far! Based on concrete projects, we are able to document that it is often possible to optimise about 30 to 50 per cent of the existing physical space. The idea behind mental rebuilding was also applicable to municipalities where they found free resources across administrations which made it possible to introduce new offers to the citizens.  We also have examples from analyses carried out in knowledge workplaces showing that 30 to 40 per cent of the existing square meters can potentially be used in a better way by rethinking the ways of working in organisations.

SOME FACTS

When it comes to the new campuses that are established these years in connection with mergers in education institution, it is clear that there are unfulfilled resources which can be used for changes and support of the strategy.  Our data demonstrates that it is possible to find room for new functions, extra educational offers, and more students by challenging old habits and thoughts about how we use space in our everyday life:

  • The campus is often empty after 2pm – but it runs all day round. Would it be possible to challenge the habit and suggest that classes could also be taught between 3pm and 4pm so the campus would be active all day and thereby give room for new ways of learning, new facilities for the students, and new educational offers?
  • Classrooms for e.g. physics, music, and sports are often only used 20 per cent of the time and are left locked the rest of the time. Would it be possible for other similar lessons to use those classrooms – and to store equipment by establishing depots nearby? It would free a lot of space for new educational offers.
  • Data from booking systems at the campuses show that often 20 to 40 per cent of the capacity is vacant – differencing from location to location. From our observations on how space is booked and used at a campus, we can see that there is an unused capacity of 30 to 60 per cent at the different locations. Would it be possible to convert those rooms into modern learning rooms that to a greater extend support modern pedagogy and diversity in educational offers?
  • Many degrees are struggling with large numbers of students dropping out during the first years of their studies – it is expensive for the welfare state. At the same time we know that by establishing study places at the campuses that make the students a more active part of the social culture, the drop-out rate is reduced. Would it be possible to let some of the unused square meters be converted into study places?
  • Teachers often leave campus right after the scheduled classes are over. Would it be possible to use some of the free space for new spots where teachers can prepare their lectures in interdisciplinary environments and develop new and interdisciplinary educational offers – which probably is part of the desired value creation of the merged institutions? This could also challenge the teachers to stay at campus and thereby let the students know that they take them seriously by making the preparation a transparent process and by being available for the students in between classes.
  • We have found that the traditional “owned” classroom still dominate scheduling of classes. At the same time, our data shows that students normally spend maximum 2/3 of their classes in this classroom. Would it be possible to challenge the ownership of square meters – to let the students from the same year share a number of rooms and move between them depending on the classes, and in this way give room for more educational offers within the same room and allow more diversity in the space design?

These are only a few examples – we have plenty suggestions in our drawer. Our data shows that there are further development opportunities to be found if facilities are shared between different campus locations – this way it is not necessary to have all equipment at each campus, but each campus can specialise in something that can be shared with the other campuses.  We have more if we share and we will begin to think in common ownership and shared resources – like a truly merged campus!

The mental rebuilding creates new possibilities for optimisation: In regards to building physics, it offers flexible use of space, multifunctional shared facilities, integration of new functions, challenging of spatial ownership, an opportunity for flexible and mobile furniture, and thereby more educational options. In regards to the learning culture, the gain is the opportunity for getting a campus that is active all day. Unfortunately this is not always part of our building projects. Maybe it has got to do with the tendency to define changes as a building project that changes the physical space rather than defining it as a development project that also involve changes for the users of the buildings.

In regards to finances, building physics, and social as well as behavioural sustainability, there is a lot to gain from using mental rebuilding as a working method taken into use before defining the actual building project.

Af Gitte Andersen.