Redesigning Organizations and Spaces
In the summer of 2014, Yale University integrated eight separate units into a unified Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) that advises teachers, tutors students, leverages technology for teaching and learning, and fosters global teaching and learning partnerships. First an idea, then a plan on paper, and finally a new unit by administrative action, the new CTL became more of a reality when five of the eight constituent units moved into a temporary shared space in the summer of 2015. The Center’s temporary space is across the street from Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library, where CTL and Library leaders are now preparing to permanently house the center. The move into the new space at the end of 2016 will complete the physical colocation of the Center’s staff while also integrating teaching and learning services into Yale’s principal research library and providing one hub for all CTL services.
CTL and library leaders brought Ithaka S+R into the project during the design phase to help ensure the renovated space would support the work practices and address the needs of CTL staff and the students, faculty members, and university staff who use its services. They recognized that in any design and development process, technical requirements and decisions are only part of the challenge. It is equally important to identify the various needs of the institution and its constituents, some of which are practical (e.g., to provide students with tutoring and writing support) and others symbolic (e.g., to affirm Yale’s renewed commitment to teaching and learning by locating the CTL at the heart of the campus). Beyond this, some room must be made in the process to acknowledge potential gains and losses, achieve a shared understanding, and recognize common purpose across constituent groups and individuals. In addition, plans must be developed to meet constituents’ needs in a way that optimizes outcomes for the institution and the department while also addressing requirements and identities of individuals.
It is challenging to design a space for a newly integrated organization that formally exists through organizational structure, budgets, business office support, unit names, and so on, but has not yet fully actualized that integration. Reorganization increases the complexity of space design by introducing greater levels of transition and change as the new organization is established, formally at first and through actual practice later on. CTL leaders hoped that full integration would be felt and actualized both during and by means of designing and moving into the new space.
Some integration challenges were addressed through the website development process for the newly formed CTL in 2015. In a virtual preview of the space design process, CTL leaders and managers made decisions that reduced emphasis on the identity of specific offices and increased the focus on those seeking information on the website, aiming to provide the simplest possible pathway to the resources they needed. The website architecture served to integrate the CTL’s previously separate offices, services, and providers. The process of designing the space drew from the process of designing the website. It focused on the people who use the center’s resources and services and on a vision of collaborative, team-based, flexible work practices rather than the preservation of sub-identities of the various units.
Ithaka S+R helped by conducting design research face to face with CTL staff and faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduates who use its services. A project like this goes beyond basic information gathering. The people involved are dealing simultaneously with two upheavals: moving into new space and becoming part of a new organization with a broader mission, a new leadership structure, and a more visible position within the university. The goal was to design a space to accommodate current and future practices in a time of transition and uncertainty, optimism, and some trepidation.
In some projects, ethnographic studies of work practices can be used more directly and easily to identify design requirements. In this complicated project, the ethnographic work served as a preparatory process to clarify the relationship between the individual needs of both the CTL’s staff and the people who use its services and the shared, community-wide vision of what the CTL can become and the best work it can accomplish. The ethnographic work also served to identify points of confusion and possible friction among constituent groups and their visions and needs.
As the design phase draws to a close, CTL leaders and staff are now able to visualize their future home. Open and welcoming, it will feature areas for collaboration and one-to-one work as well as touchdown spaces for librarians and other allied staff. The space will incorporate the most effective legacy and high-tech tools, while also being flexible enough to allow for the exploration of emerging technologies. The renovation will offer a range of sub-spaces, some private, others clearly defined yet visually and physically accessible, some designated for staff only, others open to all. By having open-plan work spaces rather than enclosed individual offices, the space design mirrors the vision of the CTL as a highly valued campus resource where the entire staff takes pride and ownership in supporting teaching and learning at Yale University.