Spotlight: New College Dining Hall Team Shares Their Results!

By The New College Dining Hall Team

These past few months, our team has been investigating student and staff perspectives on how the New College Dining Hall might be redesigned to offer an innovative, multi-use community eating space. When this process drew to a close, we then presented our data and analysis to the University of Toronto’s Food Services stakeholders. We brought forth three themes that emerged throughout our research: comfort, community and communication.

In terms of comfort, feeling secure and respected are important for both staff and students. Power of choice, aesthetics and cleanliness were all insights that emerged within this theme. The power of choice theme refers to a need for agency and accessibility, for both staff and students. Students value a homey environment, which largely depends on the aesthetics of the dining hall. Cleanliness is also of great importance and plays into the ‘homey’ feel—especially to those who would like to study in the space.

The theme of community spoke to socialization, a multipurpose space, and engagement. Designing a dining hall that facilitates socialization was important, because the space was seen as the heart of New College. With their busy schedules, students value a multipurpose space; they can take their meal time as an opportunity to study or socialize, depending on their imminent needs. Students would like to be more involved in the meal preparation processes and choosing their menu items. As we spoke to students about engagement, we realized there was a gap in communicating events to them.

Promotion and feedback were two insights that emerged when analyzing the theme of communication. Students are interested in the services offered at the New College Dining Hall, and yet, are not aware of many of them. Feedback also drew attention to opposing ideas between students and staff regarding what one group thinks the other wants. For example, the staff want to hear student feedback, which they see as a gift, but students don’t think that the staff want to hear their opinions. Clearer communication could benefit both students and staff.

When we presented these themes, we asked the stakeholders if they found anything surprising. They were happy to say that our research resonated with many of their previous findings through conducted surveys. They enjoyed having their previous thoughts grouped into three clear themes and appreciated the presentation of these findings–through three fictional personas embodying different student experiences. Initially, they were concerned about the number of students we had interviewed; the stakeholders wanted to ensure the data was truly representative of the population that uses the dining hall. We addressed this concern by explaining that our process relies on an in-depth method of interviewing and data analysis, as opposed to a shallower yet wider data collection.

In order to represent our findings to the stakeholders, we decided to use a visual representation of the student experience. This visualization was based on our analysis of student and staff interview transcripts and our field notes. We created a journey map through the New College Dining Hall to illustrate to our stakeholders the many decisions the students will make as well as their overall experience navigating the space. Journey maps can be a really valuable tool to help others understand the typical path of a user through a space. In particular, we highlighted that student often encounter long line ups, choosing to sit in the brighter areas or ‘dark side’ of the dining hall, and choosing where to sit based on their interest in socializing or studying. This tool helps stakeholders connect to the experience of users by going on a virtual journey with them.

We believe that we represented New College Dining Hall users’ experiences well, trying to include a variety of voices from students and staff who use the space regularly. The whole process from start to finish took a lot of hard work, but it was very insightful once we were able to consolidate the student needs into the three common themes of comfort, community and communication. There were a few things that surprised us through our research, such as the tensions between what the students wanted and what the staff thought the students wanted. Going forward, we hope our findings are utilized to guide the architects of the New College Dining Hall redesign in creating an innovative and multi-use space to better accommodate the needs of staff and students.

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