Utilisation Surveys: it was a bad week…
A significant part of EventMAP’s optimisation work with large organisations starts with a physical utilisation survey, which is a useful tool in determining what is actually happening within a building or site in terms of activity and space usage.
Although the methodology of a survey varies depending on the sector and type of asset or space under investigation, at its core it normally comprises of a team of surveyors ‘walking the floors and opening the doors’ over the period of a week. Well… actually following predefined routes around the buildings or campus under consideration and recording if an activity is taking place and how many people are involved. This is traditionally referred to as usage frequency and occupancy, both of which are reported on in terms of percentages with the product of both being the overall utilisation.
Let’s look at an example: in terms of curriculum delivery in education or training, if a space is used every hour between 9am and 6pm, the frequency would be recorded as 100 percent and if each hour the hall was only half full the overall occupancy for that day would be 50 percent. The overall utilisation for that day would therefore be 50%. (Of course, when you’re studying something like office workstation utilisation across all sectors it’s a little different – this is measured purely in frequency terms because someone is either working at their desk or they are not…)
As you can imagine, the figures recorded in a survey can be drilled down to in various depths and presented across the survey week, by spaces or even by space or asset types under investigation. This can lead to a bewildering number of graphs and statistics related to how a client’s space is currently being utilised. A consistent theme across all sectors is that the figures always are a surprise to our clients, in terms of the low level of usage they report on. And, as often happens, the first reaction to our results is inevitably ‘it must have been a bad week to do the survey’! But why is this almost always the case?
Well… multiplying percentages together tends to give the impression of a low usage value even though either the building’s frequency or utilisation may actually be quite high – which would suggest that perhaps the actual utilisation construct isn’t really all that useful and it’s probably better to analyse the usage figures in terms of frequency and occupancy as separate entities. This way a clearer relationship can be made evident in terms of whether a space being used intensely and, if so, how many people typically use that asset. So this ‘mathematical illusion’ of multiplying percentages together does play a role in people’s perceptions. But what else?
There is also the unescapable fact that space is not being used as well as it could be – even when it’s not obvious to the people planning activity within a space how it could conceivably be improved. This may be down to their current planning leaving activities inappropriately allocated within the available spaces. It may also be down to an over-reporting of the amount of activity which is taking place. The reasons for this can be complex and always require investigation in terms of what space is actually required and how can activity be mapped efficiently to ensure best usage. A utilisation survey cannot deliver all of this but it is the first step in understanding and creating the conversation around how space could be used more efficiently. This naturally leads clients on to questions about how transformation can take place – how activities can be changed while still delivering agreed services and what effect would this have on the underlying space. But that’s really the next step in the process.
So, when presented with overall utilisation figures for the survey area, staff often struggle to understand the data and interpret the meaning. The all-important detail is usually well hidden and staff are quick to interpret the findings in a negative and defensive way, leading to that familiar cry of ‘it was a bad week!’ – even when every effort has been taken when deciding on the week to carry out the survey so that it was as representative as possible. The solution is for us has been to be more intelligent about how we present the results and to provide in-depth interpretation in line with accepted strategic space need and usage goals – for example ‘do we have enough lecture theatre space of the correct size and how is the current demand mapped onto the existing space?’ or ‘do we need more office space or how can we deliver the associated function using less space and workstations?
Interested readers can look into the HEFCE utilisation standards for more information within the HE sector – alternatively, we can take you through this in depth if you get in touch. Unfortunately, across other areas within the public sector, little information is available on benchmarks at all – suggesting that this does require some analysis, but in terms of frequency as opposed to utilisation. Frequency should be used as the global variable to compare like with like, with occupancy being used locally to an institution in terms of understanding of actual sizes of space and how appropriate they are.
EventMAP are, in fact, currently working with senior representatives within the defence, policing, health and university sectors to help understand what should be considered as benchmarks and, importantly, what this means in terms of planning and reimagining what constitutes appropriate spaces to deliver services without compromising on quality. As we’ve noted before, the current economic and political climate means that it’s a very interesting time to be working in the field…