Post-Occupancy: Implementation and Evaluation

From his essay “Post-Occupancy: Implementation and Evaluation” in the Public Interest Design Practice Guidebook

Question 3: How do we evaluate our projects in a manner that informs the ever-evolving definitions of public interest?

I offer slightly more thorough guidelines to the third question. The fact that conditions, and the conflicts caused by them, are ever changing suggests a need for new methods of evaluating the consequences of what and how we build. In traditional post-occupancy evaluation (POE) researchers expect that conditions documented at one time and place will reoccur similarly in future cases, with the assumption that all other conditions remain the same.2 We know, however, that change is constant. Nothing remains the same as it once was—not the climate, the technologies we use, the people who use them, building regulations, or the definition of public interest.

This qualification does not mean, however, that empirical knowledge derived from case studies is useless. Rather, it means that empirical knowledge of the past must be tempered by, and fused with, knowledge of its future context. The ability to reason in this way is what American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1931) called “abduction,” the designerly ability to anticipate how multiple conflicting systems might combine in the future as a single complex. Or as researchers Wolfgang Preiser and Jacqueline Vischer (2005) put it, we need a method to “feed forward” the knowledge gained in making the world a better place.

If the definition of public interest changes over time in response to constantly evolving contexts, the practice of POE can be improved by using methods more sensitive to the context in which design decisions were made and subsequent changes to that context (Flyvbjerg 2006). In other words, we need to know the intentions of the design team—which includes the architects, engineers, owners, and any participant who influenced any substantive decisions—before we can evaluate the efficacy of the decision (Holub 1984). Did decisions result in intended consequences or were some consequences unintended, be they positive or negative?


To read the entire essay, see Chapter 7: Post-Occupancy: Implementation and Evaluation in Public Interest Design Practice Guidebook: SEED Methodology, Case Studies, and Critical Issues, edited by Lisa M. Abendroth and Bryan Bell, 81-89. New York: Routledge. 2015.


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