How One Institution Took Space Management to the Next Level

Image of a Lecture Hall

Here’s how the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) completely updated its approach to space management.

What We Faced

As capital funding becomes more competitive, it is increasingly important that the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) uses spatial data in a strategic fashion to acquire monies for capital projects. Upon creating a spatial database, UTEP recognized the importance of making the data within it robust enough to identify space accurately and understand how to increase utilization and efficiency. In turn, this would help upper-level administrators to make data-driven decisions in order to meet the goals and objectives of the university.

What We Did

The Database
First, we created a spatial database that not only addressed the reporting requirements from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, but also addressed the internal university attributes that were deemed important when determining whether a space was being utilized efficiently – such as:

  • Capacity
  • Room configuration
  • Multi-media equipment

When instructors become accustomed to using a certain room, it is useful to be able to list these attributes. Then, we can justify offering them another room that better matches space capacity with course capacity and their teaching needs.

The Space Policy
Second, to stress the importance of space management to our staff and faculty, we also created a campus-wide space policy and disseminated it to all campus departments and units.

As a part of this space policy, we required the identification and appointment of space coordinators for each college and/or unit, in an effort to obtain accurate spatial data. These space coordinators serve as the point of contact for our Space Information Resources Office, so that we can keep spatial information as streamlined and transparent as possible.

The Necessary Partnerships
Third, in order for this space management approach to be effective, we also needed to build strong relationships between the Space Information Resources Office and other offices on campus, including:

  • The scheduling group within the Registrar’s office – in order to understand how instructional spaces were being utilized
  • The Vice President of Research Affairs – in order to understand how research space was being used
  • Provost’s office – in order to understand how general academic space was being utilized

A Space Committee
Finally, we needed to create an Executive Space Committee. This committee is tasked with the responsibility of reviewing space requests and making a determination as to whether each space request furthers the mission and objectives of the university. By reviewing the analytics provided by the Space Information Resources Office, the Executive Space Committee is then able to make data-driven decisions that not only increase the efficiency of space on campus, but also the possibility of repurposing space that is underutilized in its existing state.

An Online Training: Developing and Managing a Space Database

Effectively balancing both the immediate and long-term institutional goals of space efficiency requires a sophisticated understanding of all campus space. Yet, many space administrators continue to work with rudimentary databases that reveal little beyond room type, location, and square footage. Administrators who are able to redefine and allocate space according to room condition, technology specifications, occupancy, and other telling characteristics possess the sophisticated data necessary to cut through challenging political barriers and become better advocates for the existing space on their campus.

What We Have Achieved

A Live Database
We now have a “live” database that provides information necessary to make effective, data-driven decisions. As our database has gotten more robust, it is updated as changes occur—making it as close to “real-time” as possible.

Improved Efficiency and Utilization of Instructional Spaces

  • By taking spatial data and merging it with enrollment data, we were able to “build” out the instructional spaces in our scheduling software system with information like square footage, capacity, room use, and space attributes (i.e., tables and chairs v. standard tablet desks, AV equipment, document cameras, chalkboards, etc.).
  • By keeping a living record of this information, the scheduling group is able to more strategically schedule classes in appropriate spaces that still provide the instructor with the tools that he/she needs to effectively teach the course.

Accountability for Space Use
Now that all colleges, departments, and units have a space coordinator, there is more accountability for space stewardship. The space coordinators are more knowledgeable about space management requirements and work with the Space Information Resources office to translate those requirements to their prospective faculty and staff.
A Shifting Campus Culture
All of this has meant that our campus culture is changing:

  • Previously, space decisions were made in silos with very little data associated with those decisions. Now that we have useful data available, these decisions are being made more prudently and with all affected stakeholders playing a role in the decision-making process.
  • Campus researchers are now utilizing our spatial data to leverage funding by linking the availability of space to the overall goals of their research projects/proposals. Based on a center that currently exists on the UTEP campus, we were able to document space type, space amount, floor plan, and space use to include with a UTeach grant proposal. This documentation proved our ability to provide information on what an in-kind space contribution for this grant might look like should funding be awarded.

Practical Takeaways

What can you learn from UTEP’s approach?

One key to effective space management is developing effective relationships with other offices on campus who deal with space management on a daily basis. Doing this will ensure that multiple offices are more efficient and not creating individual databases that duplicate each other’s work.

To foster closer partnerships with critical offices:

  • Be as transparent in your data collection and reporting as possible. For instance, we link database information to floor plans so we can publicly share color-coded floor plans that indicate departmental space use and funding. Thus, when we created a new college for our extended campus and were faced with the question of where to house it:
    • We identified floor plans of a building on campus that housed some extended campus programs as well as an unrelated program that had lost its funding
    • Our data allowed the decision to be more about using spaces appropriately and less about politics.
    • Within three days of sharing this information, the decision was made to house the entire extended campus college in one building by relocating the program that had lost its funding.
  • Demonstrate how understanding your university’s space management plan benefits the goals and objectives of your university.
  • Know your stakeholders and try to customize space information based on their needs. We do this by providing each college/unit with an annual space portfolio, customized based on what each unit head wants. In the case of the dean of engineering, that means creating a portfolio that:
    • Is not just visual but has raw data.
    • Is sent to every chair for them to verify that they still have the space.
    • Includes a summary of research dollars as they relate to space
    • Shows who is losing grant funding

With this information in hand, the Dean can appropriately ask “What do you need the space for?” if a chair requests more space but is losing money.

  • Make all correspondence related to space as data-driven as possible.