Humanities Space Utilisation Survey

The challenge

In line with the Humanities Division’s aspiration to build a major new facility on the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter (ROQ) to house much of its research and teaching activity, the ROQ Humanities Project Steering Group commissioned Estates Services to survey how the Division and the Bodleian libraries associated with it were using space.

The Division needed to know more about how closely the space it currently occupies matches its needs in order to help make a persuasive case for the new project and to inform its design.

The solution

A space utilisation survey is a physical review of the space a department or division occupies. It aims to reveal how much of the time space is used, and how fully, relative to its theoretical maximum capacity.

This one covered 450 spaces in 21 buildings, containing almost 5,900 seats spread over 21,500m2. It took two weeks, with each room surveyed once every hour for a week. It included academic and support offices as well as teaching spaces. The buildings involved ranged from the Examination Schools and St Cross Building to the Sackler Library and ROQ Humanities Building.

Ahead of the survey, the departments involved expressed concerns about its impact – in particular, over the inclusion of academic offices, which could disrupt the work of those within. The Space Management team worked with them to allay these concerns; each department nominated graduate students to do most of the work, meaning those carrying out the survey were already known to and trusted by building occupants.

The graduate student surveyors were trained to be as unobtrusive as possible, wherever possible looking into rooms through internal windows. Where this was not possible, they would knock on the door, look into the room and quickly count how many people were there.

Communication with building occupants was vital in securing their cooperation. All staff were notified that the survey was taking place, and office occupants had the opportunity to opt out if they preferred. The Space Management team made it clear that they were not looking to take offices away from their occupants, reassuring staff that provision of offices was entirely a matter for the department and division – this survey was purely about understanding how well the department’s space matched its needs.

The outcome

Humanities Division staff were pleased with how the process unfolded and received the results of the survey very positively. It provided useful information on the mismatch between the space allocated to Humanities departments and their true needs. It identified a general pattern that teaching space was used frequently, but often not by very many people.

The results strongly suggested that the faculties within the Division were working with the wrong mix of teaching and meeting spaces. Too many large rooms were being used for small groups, and the departments needed a greater number of smaller spaces and fewer large ones.

This information strengthened the case that the Humanities Division needed space that matched its needs more closely. The data fed directly into the pre-feasibility study for a new Humanities building at the ROQ, helping determine the design parameters that the Division is now using in its efforts to raise the funds to build it.

Carrying out the survey also provided the Space Management team with valuable insight into how it could do future surveys more efficiently with less disruption to building occupants. Team members are now exploring new methods such as automatic sensors on doors and at desks that would let it collect information about the use of teaching and office space continuously over longer periods, with less disturbance to users. These could allow it to provide even better customer service when carrying out future space surveys.

Map of buildings surveyed

Humanities space survey - map of buildings surveyed