Good practice in planning and implementing needs and post-occupancy assessment
The following summarizes good practice in processes, methods, and techniques for facilitating assessment related to learning spaces. It addresses both needs assessment, which helps institutions understand envisioned goals and activities for a learning space, and post-occupancy assessment, which helps institutions answer questions about how well spaces are working and whether they met the initial goals of the project.
- The goals of the project should form a foundation for the development of the assessment process. In the needs assessment phase, the development of goals may involve an iterative process of gathering information from the intended user groups and formulating and refining goals during that period. Ultimately, in post-occupancy assessment, you will need to evaluate relative to those goals.
- In an initial data-gathering phase, find out what has been done on campus; gather reports and data from the Provost’s office, institutional research office, information technology unit, undergraduate education office, and relevant parties. Identify key institutional goals, especially those related to learning. Review the literature and examples on this website to see if there are models that you would like to adopt or adapt.
- Partner on the assessment so that you can benefit from professionals on campus; for example, most institutions have an Office for Institutional Research that has staff who are experienced in methodologies and protocols. You may also be able to piggyback on some of their efforts, such as undergraduate surveys.
- Work with teaching and learning experts and instructional designers to discuss how learning outcomes can be tied to goals for the space and the envisioned activities that will take place there. Most space-related assessments focus on use and/or satisfaction; consider including a focus on learning-related issues.
- Consider doing an inventory of spaces on campus that may be related to the facility you are planning; this can be helpful in identifying potential overlap and also existing gaps in types of facilities or services.
- Consider using both qualitative and quantitative techniques; triangulation helps you get a more well-rounded understanding of what your data mean.
- Determine which user groups you wish to target, e.g. undergraduates, representative majors, graduate students and consider subgroups like honors program students, early adopters of technology, or commuting students. Create profiles of different user types and how they might use a variety of spaces.
- Think through how the time period in which you collect data (quantitative or qualitative) might impact your process; for example, if you want to gather data during typical times or during heavy use times during the semester.
- Understand the limitations of assessment because, while it is tempting to look for a direct, causal link between a learning space and a learning outcome, it is better to avoid thinking that space can definitively determine an outcome. Instead, it is better to assess whether you’ve increased the potential for something to happen, whether you’ve enabled a desired set of activities and increased their likelihood of occurrence.
- Assess needs and performance (ideally) before and after a change is made to space, technology, and/or support services, providing an opportunity to compare the change against a baseline and refine the design in response.
- Remember that assessment should be iterative and ongoing; plan a continuing program of assessment to stay in touch with user needs and to check how well a space is meeting needs and envisioned outcomes.