Untangling complexity in higher-education learning space design : a sociotechnical systems approach
Navarro Bringas, Eduardo
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The issues of conceptualising design quality and value in the built environment have remained a forefront challenge, as both are contingent on the context of use, built type, and the perspectives of those involved. This makes front-end design and decision-making a complex process, often with no straightforward solutions. Moreover, during the last two decades, the HE campus has significantly transformed, driven by the predominance of student-centric pedagogies, and recent ICT and policy developments. In particular, spaces for self-directed learning, also known as informal learning spaces (ILS), have become prevalent, in the form of learning and information commons, crush areas, or social study. This transformation has led towards an increased involvement from diverse stakeholder groups as well as, indications that space design in Higher-Education (HE) remains still an under-researched topic. Considering this, a paradigm shift is proposed. One that focuses on unravelling the complexity of performance in-use of these spaces. This research aims to investigate the design of ILS through the lenses of Sociotechnical Systems (STS) theory, in particular an existing framework for the design and analysis of complex STS, known as the Abstraction Hierarchy (AH). To address the aim, a sequential mixed methodology design is deployed. This involves an in-depth case-study of an ILS development programme, comprising semi-structured interviews with stakeholders involved in developing these spaces. Based on this initial research an AH model is developed, which is subsequently refined and validated through a modified Delphi approach. The Analytical Network Process (ANP) in combination with the validated AH model, were then used to elicit the perspectives and views of stakeholders around the criteria and purposes shaping ILS developments. Finally, through the application of network centrality metrics, a structured methodology to assess design impacts is trialled and reviewed. The results suggest that a STS approach can address some of the shortcomings identified in HE space design processes by; making complexity explicit (i.e. interrelations and the impacts of design choices), integrating stakeholder requirements on a single model, and managing conflicting views. Building on this, four project lifecycle interventions, underpinned by STS, are proposed. By exploring two of them, the thesis contributes through the proposal of a novel approach, termed ‘Systems Pre-Occupancy Evaluation’. The systems Pre-OE provides a new platform to integrate stakeholder requirements and to provide a structured method to assess design alternatives during front-end design.