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Learning Outcomes

15 October 2006

Planning a post occupancy evaluation at the beginning of a project and identifying what benchmarks will be used so that all involved know that the building will be assessed, enables everyone to clearly focus on the outcome. Alastair Blyth explains

THE AIM OF CARRYING OUT A POST OCCUPANCY EVALUATION (POE) is to obtain information on how buildings perform and how they interact with their users after the end of a construction project and after the new building, or part of new building, has been occupied. POE is part of the building delivery and management process. Therefore POE techniques can be used before a building project is conceived, as well as during design, construction and occupation. In the UK building sector, clients and their professionals have shown relatively little enthusiasm for carrying out POEs. While organisations do carry out some form of evaluation, it seems that from our research at the University of Westminster that very often POEs are neither carried out often nor systematically.

One of the best sources of information on POE in the UK remains the PROBE studies, published by the Building Services Journal and funded by the UK Government, to show how much can be gained from a POE. The PROBE studies analysed over 100 buildings between 1995 and 2000 ranging from commercial, education, healthcare and industrial. They provided significant insights into the relationships between buildings and their users, demonstrating empirically how easily a poorly thought through and executed building design impacts on a building’s use. Examples include how perceived control over their environment correlates with users’ perceptions of their productivity – the more control they have the more productive they are.

In 2005 the Association of University Directors of Estates commissioned the University of Westminster to develop a guide for carrying out POEs in the UK’s higher education sector. The result has been a framework within which estates managers can both carry out a variety of POE investigations but also gather together and share the information. This work was driven partly by the need to get better and more systematic information about managing buildings in a changing environment but also because the Higher Education Funding Council in England, which sponsors many university building projects, was making POE a condition of providing the money.

Although the project was carried out for the education sector, the framework is applicable within all sectors. It is founded on:

.....The systematic collection of information: POE provides important feedback on how the building and its systems are performing. It should provide feedback on the initial project brief and answer whether the brief was met, and indeed whether the brief was correct in the first place. POE should also provide feed forward for the next project, so that useful information on lessons learned is fed into the brief. Many higher education institutions build regularly, either those projects are new buildings or remodelling of existing buildings. Finally, it provides the opportunity for identifying the lessons from these projects and feeding them into other projects.

.....Sharing of that information: information from POEs should be publicly accessible so that everyone in the sector can learn from each other.

.....POEs should be planned from the start of a project so that those involved understand that there will be some form of structured measurement of the outcome.

Broadly, the conclusion from the research is that there are different drivers for POE depending on whether the organisation sees it as a tool to manage change, feedback to the next project or for the management of the asset over a long period of time. Indeed the motivation might include all of these. These issues have to be explored in a different way to meet each need. The research identified that different time frames suited different needs and provided different levels of information. It also identified that POE is perceived as performing several functions including enabling an exploration of the process; finding quick answers to problems after occupation; enablingimmediate feed forward of information to the next project; enabling the operational management of the building; and informing strategic development of the estate. For FMs trying to organise POE systematically, it provides a framework within which they can work.

Essentially, a POE asks a range of questions. Does the building perform as intended? Have the users’ needs changed? What problems need to be tackled and how quickly? What can be learned for future projects? A POE can be broken down into three broad areas: a ‘process’ review of the project or FM, or an evaluation of ‘functional performance’ or ‘technical performance’ of the building. Evaluations can be tailored to address just one of these key issues, or all of them.

.....Functional performance: how the building supports the client and occupiers’ needs and addresses space (size, relationships, adaptability), comfort (lighting, temperature, ventilation, noise, user control), serviceability (cleaning, maintenance, security) and operational management (Booking and space allocation systems, user support systems, help desks, manuals, training).

.....Technical performance: how the physical systems perform including physical systems (lighting, heating, air handling, acoustics), environmental systems (energy consumption, CO2 output, water consumption), adaptability (ability to accommodate change), durability (robustness of fabric and the need for routine extensive maintenance, incidence of down time for unplanned technical reasons)

.....Process: including the delivery of the project from inception to handover through to the operational management of the buildings by the FM team - brief development (development of the concept on which the design was developed including financial management), procurement (team selection, contractual and technical processes including time and value aspects), design, construction and commissioning process. POEs can be carried out at different times during a building’s lifecycle and it is important to be clear about the focus of the investigation and to tailor it to those ends:

.....three months after occupation when teething problems with the building identified, particularly if there is a programme of smalln projects so that findings feedback from one project to the other quickly.

.....After 12-18 months. Much POE, certainly in the research community, has been focused on this timeframe because it is then possible to see how the building responds to a full seasonal cycle, also the users and managers will have a good understanding of what systems do and do not work. A review at this stage may well identify aspects of organisational change which are not being supported by the building. Although the original brief for the new building project should identify how the building should respond to organisational change, unexpected change may have occurred since construction.

.....After 3 to 5 years when there may be a more defined need for a long term appraisal on the effect of organisational change on the building, whether the building should be disposed of or altered to meet the changing needs.

Typically a range of techniques are used in a POE although when each is used depends on the focus of the study. Evaluation techniques include observation/building walkthroughs, interviews, focus groups, workshops, questionnaires and measurements. These techniques can be combined, although rarely would they all be used together in one study. For example focus groups can be used to tease out further information from about questionnaire responses and compared with data collected on energy use, for example.

It is important to restrict the amount of data collected to avoid being paralysed by data swamp. “The trick is to collect data that generates information that is both meaningful and useful,” says Bill Bordass, an building services expert who as part of the PROBE team has carried out numerous POEs. POEs are useful tools in an FM’s arsenal but to be applied successfully, they need to be integral with the management of the facility rather than bolted on at the last minute. Planning a POE at the beginning of a project and identifying what benchmarks will be used so that all involved know that the building will be assessed enables everyone to clearly focus on the outcome.

.....Alastair Blyth, a researcher at the University of Westminster, led the research programme in Post Occupancy Evaluation, a practising specialist in briefing and is on an OECD working group on building quality

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