Category Archives: Sustainability

Leadership: Are you flying?

FlyingI’m told that it’s essential to understand what the numbers tell you when flying and that without reading what your instruments are telling that you can easily deceive yourself as to your whereabouts.   However flying also requires being attuned to what one’s senses are telling you. I believe that workplace leadership is similar. For example, when Captain Chesley Sullenberger landed his stricken aircraft on the Hudson River, he will no doubt have looked as his instruments but he was also attuned to what was necessary to make the necessary decisions.


Gerd Gigerenzer’s “Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions” makes interesting reference to this incident. He also draws attention to the need to not only understand what numbers are telling you but what they won’t necessarily tell you or what you could have reasonably deduced from using your senses not only in emergencies but also over time.   Gerd even illustrates how poor understanding of figures and insufficient attention to good judgment, can even create curious and potentially dangerous illusions, as can – not paying attention to numbers. Read what he says about the “turkey illusion!” Yes numbers are important but what are the numbers in front of you (and how you are reading them) not telling you?

OK, so your business might not be heading for a dramatic crash, but how many of your employees or customers are equivalent to being airsick, cramped, stressed or at risk of leaving the journey you are taking them on? Despite this, it seems that many workplace decisions resolve around simplistic figures derived from capital cost savings and not value derived from those doing the work in the place that they have been provided with.


Could you be creating an illusion for yourself? For example, capital costs tend to be easier to calculate than revenue value – especially value derived from wellbeing. Nevertheless, common sense tells us that even a moderate long term improvements have the potential for paying for themselves and not just in direct and easily quantifiable terms.   Despite this, how many times has one paid attention to short term savings – rather than what one’s senses are saying? Next time perhaps when someone offers to “value engineer” a project for you, you might consider whether what they may actually be doing is removing value and actually only engineering cost?

You might say, “ah but Steve, our business is flying with the current trends of workplace strategy.” You might even, make reference to trendy workplace terms such as “lean”, “agile”, “smart” or “activity based” workplace strategies that your advisors have told you about.   However, is what you are getting still an illusion? Are you in reality following a predetermined course set by others?

Using Your Senses?

How about stepping back from these trendy terms for a moment and paying attention to what your senses (and the senses of those about you) are telling you? I’m not advocating that you ignore figures – indeed they are very important, but again – what is the particular set of figures in front of you not telling you?

Apparently one particular aircraft was designed with a performance range that equated with the straight line distance to a particular destination, but that it was not effective in service. This was because its range did not take account of operational circumstances that would prevent straight line flight to its destination. Measures of effectiveness (informed by what one’s senses are telling you) whilst requiring more thought than simplistic and limited performance measurements will usually yield important and more profound business insights.

Understanding Your Senses?

What could your hearing, sight, touch, smell and even taste be telling you about your work environment? Did you know that we also have sensory functions to do with time, position and balance as well? You might imagine that most of these senses are important to flying aircraft, but have you stopped to think about their impact on work? Did you also know that much of that which takes place as a consequence of our senses is not in the realm of our sensory organs but in how our brains function whilst processing and integrating sensory information?

How effectively do our brains function then if our senses are struggling with the environment that we are working with? I would suggest that it’s worth reading “Living Sensationally: Understanding Your Senses,” by Winnie Dunn to understand more of this subject.

Understanding Others?

Might I suggest that you take the opportunity to step off of your “flight deck” and spend time in the workplaces your employees or customers are using? You may already be one of those captains of industry / organisation who work amongst your staff. Is the sensory experience, that you and those around you are exposed to, conducive to you doing effective work? Maybe, you can cope, at least for a time… but how about others? Are you all the same? What about the diversity of staff?

How about those who tirelessly work on thankless tasks requiring great concentration, but our stressed out by the environment they are working in? Chances are you’ll find out a lot by just talking to colleagues. You might find it a struggle for a start, because you may have taken your senses for granted – since you may have managed them subconsciously without stopping to think what is actually happening.   As such, it might even help if you take on board individuals with accentuated experiences… and not just sensory but physical ones too.

Gaining Insight?

Take my Research Director at the Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems, Michael Clinton for example, who has used a wheelchair from childhood; oh – and by the way – happens to be an aeronautically trained engineer and held a pilot’s licence! If you were being honest about stereotypes, you might have easily assumed otherwise!? Even so, I too could also shed some light on challenges that I have faced, even though these experiences wouldn’t be immediately evident to you by just looking at me – only by getting to know me.

Because of these experiences, Michael and I have taken one of his aeronautical discipline’s terms – that describes a set of criteria expected of an aircraft to keep it in the sky – the “Envelope of Performance.”   We have come up with what we might describe as the Clinton-Maslin “Envelope of Need.”

You might have heard of the Maslow “Hierarchy of Need,” however the Clinton-Maslin “Envelope of Need” is different if not similar sounding, in that it’s about refereeing to the people’s accentuated and acute experiences and applying it to the design of built environments and services to the benefit of all. What is more, in the workplace context identifying an “Envelope of Need” is also likely to identify insights into effectiveness and not just performance.

Economics as if People Matter?

Still not convinced that taking notice of what your senses are telling you have anything with the economics of your business? Did you see the “Credit Crunch” coming?   Were you aware that E.F. Schumacher, the economist and author of ”Small is Beautiful, a study of economics as if people mattered” identified the unsustainable activities that would ultimately to lead to the “Credit Crunch”, decades ago? What did his book advocate? Essentially it was this: to take on economic activity “as if people mattered”… I rest my case.

Where now?

So what can you do about this? Well, I my Research Director and others within the Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems network include attention to the “People Matter” part of work life. Our network includes those specialising in facilities management, human resources, organisation, design, communication, occupational psychology, sustainability etc.

Ultimately we can tailor what we do around you and your organisation to work on that which has impact on real value and how you brand sits within the market place.

For example, I undertake stakeholder engagement, property/service design reviews and can advise you on project briefs and designs from the perspective of the users. I can also arrange for sensory awareness training to help you and your staff better understand how senses affect how you, your employees and customers function.

Others in are network are able: to devise controlled experiments; risk assess human factors; advise you on organisation and sustainability; or take change and design forward.

Over to you: what do you want to do and how might we be of help..?


Steve Maslin RIBA, NRAC Consultant, FSI



Senses and Service connect us to Place

PlaceI was asked by Glass-House Community Led Design to join their debate around “To a more Ambitious Place” and the question “is our view of Place too short-sighted?” and was one of their speakers at their Bristol event 11th February 2015 which was written up by Maja Jorgensen in their Blog. As a continuation to that debate I post the following:

I’d like to begin by referring to couple of blogs I wrote a while ago “Sustaining Sustainability” and “Engaging Sustainability” about the need for achieving a broader and long term perspective to project preparation.  It is therefore encouraging to hear that in Wales the role of Place Coordinators is to build productive relationships and to help break down the barriers between communities and services.  Even though their role isn’t about urban design it’s worth reflecting that we usually get caught up with just the designer’s notion of Place and lose sight of what should be behind Place at a societal level.  Moreover, we tend to take for granted the very means by which we connect to Place at an individual level, namely our senses.

Frequently the word Place is used in a coupled or compounded form and connectivity is implied, such as Places of Worship, Workplaces, Dwelling Places and the Market Place.  But what makes Place really work on a societal level?   For example, a Place of Worship may arise through a movement and a mission (passion for service) and start to enfold a membership, and yet too easily becomes a monument!   The very place that was intended to facilitate service becomes an “idle idol” – drawing attention to itself and not the purpose for which they it was built.  Without serving a purpose, passion and connecting with people, places cease to function as they were intended.  Furthermore, some historic and even modern environments (that we are inclined to cherish) still present physical barriers because we put the fabric of Place before people.  But what about the sensory / neurological barriers that people encounter?

I have been taking particular interest in what I refer to as “Design for the Mind” and towards this I recently wrote “Place Working vs Open Plan” in which I sought to make the connection between our sensory needs and the tasks we undertake in the Place of work.  I believe that similar observations can be applied to urban realms and other Places albeit with different design solutions.

The work of Dr Jean Ayres  and more recently Dr Zoe Mailloux and Dr Winnie Dunn would suggest that we have differing sensory processing needs and respond to physical and social environments in different ways.  These needs are significantly influenced by vestibular, proprioception and tactile comfort and activity, the ability to access stimulating sound or cut out extraneous noise and our need to be able to choose locations with different degrees of human presence, outlooks, lighting, smells and even associations with taste.  For some these sensory processing needs are known to be more acute than others.  It also turns out that our visual field also plays an important part in our memory as with the act of going from place to another tends to wipe our memories; relocation from one place to another tends to be more difficult in older age.  Familiar environments tend to support memory and orientation.  Positive human presence can also help make us feel secure.  We need therefore to take more account of the dynamics that makes us feel stressed, calm, insecure or secure. For many our psychological needs go unnoticed, since many of us learn to “make do” – but at what cost?

I believe that we could be achieving better places, if we paid attention to Service Design principles and really paid attention to people’s physical, sensory and neurological needs – by engaging communities and those who provide inclusive design support.


Steve Maslin RIBA NRAC Consultant

Director of Building User Design



Research Fellow the Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems


Composing Inclusion

Composing Inclusion – beyond tick boxes

ComposingAn analogy
I like equating the task of getting equalities/inclusion/access to work, when commissioning and then occupying a building (or an external environment), to composing and then conducting a piece of choral music with an orchestral accompaniment. Everyone needs to prepare, rehearse and then “play their part”. As with a major choral piece, not everyone sings or plays the same notation, but all need to be singing or playing parts drawn from the same overall “hymn sheet”.
In my own work, I have identified the principle range of project types (metaphorical choral pieces) that could form the basis of a particular project, and then identified the basic “notation” for the project type. I have also identified the range of potential players and the parts that they are most likely to play; coupled with parts we suggest each player should be aware of. Having done this, I have then indicated the selected project type and the resulting “notation” that advises the client, briefs the consultants and therefore invites feedback from the consultants and then instruction form the client, followed by each party undertaking the necessary action.

The Producer and Conductor
As far as the overall exercise is concerned, I see the primary Client Representative as being akin to the musical producer. They need to take informed decisions, based on the advice coming from those around them. The Facilities Manager is akin to the musical conductor, who is charged with organising the smooth running of the final result. Yes that’s right; this is because the facilities manager or their operations director are responsible for smooth of the environment when it is complete. They therefore need to anticipate the implications of the final “arrangement”, in order that they can achieve an appropriate result.

Arranger, Choral Expert and Lead Musicians
The Lead Consultant (Architect or Project Manager) is akin to the person who “arranges the choral piece” for the particular project in question, but is not necessarily fully familiar with all the nuances of the piece and will need to receive advice and foster a team effort in order to achieve the best result. The Access Consultant is akin to an expert in choral music who has collated the potential “notation” that informs this document and is available to advise the client and production team. Other Consultants are akin to lead players for each instrument within the orchestra. As such they need to be consulted by the Lead Consultant, in order that the “arrangement” takes full account of their expertise and “the playing out” of their particular part.

Printing and Publishing
The Contractor is akin to one who prints the arrangement of the piece. They should take great care to avoid “misprinting” the arrangement. The Graphic and Web Designers charged with publishing the information that accompanies the occupation of the project are akin to the recording studio. They need to enable clear and enjoyable communication.

Audience Participation
The users of the building are akin to the audience. The success of the exercise depends on their enjoyment and the extent to which the final result invites a wider “audience” than historically achieved. The client’s “Inclusion Duty-holder” (whether from Human Resources, Equalities, Customer Services or some other people orientated role) is akin to the production company’s community outreach worker and ought to be charged with enabling a wide audience interest, involvement and attendance. With this objective in mind the Inclusion Duty-holder needs to engage the communities that form the potential “audience”, to obtain feedback from key people by involving them whilst the wider project team explore potential themes within the emerging “arrangement”.
To take the above analogy further, some of the most enjoyable choral events are those where members of local communities are part of a production and where the audience have an opportunity to join in. In a similar way, some of the most rewarding and valuable projects for clients are those in which people (who will use the premises or environment) are engaged at an early stage.
Preparing the Musical Score
As part of the preparing for a project, there is a need to utilize a process that is equivalent to forming a musical score. I use a “Briefing Matrix” to advise each participant of what they need to focus on and what to be aware of when getting involved in the process. I also use what I call an “Inclusion Register” to record some bespoke observations made by the Access Consultant, track and obtain feedback from each of the project participants, stakeholder and to record decisions taken by the Client and identify actions taken by each party.

If you are interested in engaging stakeholders, then please contact Steve Maslin

Engaging Sustainability

Engaging Sustainability – value by engagement

CollaborationWhilst sustainability has long been synonymous with the environment, there is growing awareness that socio-economic factors also have an essential part to play.  This is underlined by stakeholder engagement requirements within:

Furthermore, the Portas Review of December 2011, has also surmised that capital investment follows a process of establishing socio-economic value through stakeholder engagement.  Meanwhile, social-economic factors increasingly feature in corporate agendas such as Sainsbury’s 20 by 20×20/ and M&S’s Plan A

A lack of Engagement

Despite policy and legislation seeking to encourage and even require stakeholder engagement, there seems to be little real indication of stakeholder engagement taking place during the brief development stages of a project to anywhere near the level one would expect.  As a consequence, the brief development process and the then socio-economic value of projects suffer.  Why is this?  I would venture to suggest the reason for this is due to many organisations struggling to put stakeholder engagement processes into place because of a fear of losing control, use of over simplistic tick-box processes and previous experience of poor consultation processes, that failed to:

  • clarify roles and manage expectations,
  • progress from ice breaking exercises,
  • approach third parties at the right time (either too soon or late ),
  • engage internal duty-holders and seek external expert  advice,
  • pose relevant questions and gather relevant information

Nevertheless, brief development processes really need to offer a client the opportunity for stakeholder engagement which addresses clients’ business aims, legislative responsibilities and external assessment criteria whilst affirming project managers as “gate-holder” and then manages stakeholder expectations. 

 Sustainable Engagement

It is arguable that there is more than one approach to stakeholder engagement, however I advocate a process managed by a facilitator, and comprising of four stages:

  1. Exploratory meeting(s) with the client contact / project manager, based on a pre-prepared sector relevant package.  This meeting would be an opportunity to explain the process and overcome any anxieties.  Before moving onto the next stage there would be opportunity for experts to brief project managers and to tailor the engagement package. 
  2. Specialist consultants and the client’s own internal duty holders meeting so as to establish an organisational consensus as to the way ahead. 
  3. Sharing thoughts with third party stakeholders and identify any matters for further consideration.
  4. Providing feedback and reviews via gate, duty and third party stakeholders sequentially.

Improved brief development processes, through stakeholder engagement, are anticipated to reduce time wasted by inadequate briefs and late changes, reduce liabilities and achieve a better, and therefore a more sustainable result.

If you are interested in engaging stakeholders, then please contact Steve Maslin

Sustaining Sustainability

Sustaining Sustainability – Social sustainability’s significance to sustain economic and environmental sustainability

I believe that social and economic sustainability are critical to achieving environmental sustainability.  As with wildlife conservation, if we ignore the people within that environment, then we will fail to achieve our environmental /ecological objectives.  As an architect, access consultant and someone who worked within social provision environments I am what might be best described as a social sustainability practitioner, providing advice in order to achieve positive and sustainable user experiences of built environments.

The User Experience

I also believe that there is an intrinsic relationship between real building value and the quality of the user experience.  Premises that fail on a social and economic level are, I believe, intrinsically dysfunctional and plainly unsustainable in the long term.  Either they are so bad that they get pulled down earlier than their predicted life expectancy – or they continue to subject the majority of their occupants to low level deficits of functionality with regards to wellbeing, health, productivity and economics.  For some individuals, especially disabled people, socially dysfunctional buildings become serious impediments to their reasonable expectations for sustainable social and economic life choices – see

Social Buy-in

If we focus solely on the environmental factors we will not achieve the end goals for the environment and could ultimately miss out on buy-in from society in the long term and ultimately miss the point of why we (the planet’s occupants) want a sustainable environment to live in and in which we need to function socially and economically.  Without social and economic sustainability factors being taken into account there is also a greater risk that assessment of environmental factors alone runs the risk of conflicting with legitimate and relevant social and economic criteria and provision.  

Management and Information

There is also the matter of management and information.  In the field of access and inclusion there is a tendency for those who aren’t access consultants to focus on physical provision and to neglect the wider significance of management strategies and information strategies.  A similar paradox exists within the broader subject of sustainability.  Understanding people’s needs increases our understanding of the management and information strategies need to be implemented, not only to achieve inclusion, but achieve social, economic and environmental sustainability as well.

Form Follows Function

We could refer to the architectural maxim of “form follows function” and describe the “function” of a building as being social and economic and that the “form” a building then takes being the outcome achieved within a particular environmental context.  However this is where there is a risk of neglecting evidential information pertaining to social sciences and sustainability.  This is, because in the first instance some social factors can be perceived (by some) as intangible and not what some might consider as “objective” and about “function”.  Take for example, within the realm of inclusive design, access matters ought not be confined to access for people who have mobility difficulties alone and ought to extends to sensory and neurological needs as well. Some may, at first glance, think neurological needs have few tangible implications for building design.  However, academics and social scientists working fields such as environmental psychology can point to there being significant evidence as to neurological and psychological factors, relevant to the population as a whole,  impinging on how well built environments function. 

Schools as an Example

Take for example The University of Salford’ s Study into the effect of classroom sizes of children’s performance -see:  One therefore questions whether school buildings built under reduced space standards as proposed by the current government are sustainable, quite apart of from the detrimental effect one suspects it will have for children with mobility difficulties or children on the autistic spectrum?  How long will it be before such buildings are pulled down?


When seeking to achieve sustainability, one would suggest that we resist the temptation to focus on pre-conceived outcomes.  Greater social sustainability is partly achieved through guidance and standards, but more particularly through process – i.e. procurement, stakeholder engagement and brief development.  As with environmental sustainability, it is often the processes that designers use to arrive at their proposals that determine the ultimate success of what they are doing.  If processes do not anticipate management implications of designs through appropriate procurement, stakeholder engagement and brief development processes then the chances are that the design will not function in a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable way.  If decision makers are only asking the question “where does it say that I have to?”  …they invariably haven’t quite understood the subject.  If they are encouraged to follow a collaborative and thoughtful process, then they are more likely to know why they ought to do something, because they understand the implications of their decision.  In turn, they are more likely to sustain this understanding during occupation of their premises or when undertaking yet further projects.


This blog can also be found at:

…and relates to the following event on the 11th April 2013 at The Create Centre,
Smeaton Road, Bristol BS1 6XN