Case Study

Improving the diversity of design teams through alternative procurement models

Written by Zahra Haider10 April 2023

Zahra Haider wrote this article following working at the London Borough of Enfield between April 2020 and March 2021.

This case study explores the opportunity of using ideas competitions to improve the diversity of design teams working on public sector housing projects.

Zahra joined the Strategic Planning & Design team at the Enfield Council in April 2020. Before joining the public sector, she worked in architectural private practice, working on landscape-led housing projects and community engagement for various clients, including local authorities.

An Ideas Competition For Intergenerational Housing

From August to October 2020 Enfield Council, together with registered housing provider Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MTVH), launched an ideas competition inviting teams to suggest design solutions for intergenerational housing provision. The primary objective of the competition was to promote high-quality design – of both individual homes and the housing development – in order to tackle the growing inequalities brought to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic, including social isolation, overcrowded homes, and care and wellbeing of the elderly and young parents.

Furthermore, following Black Lives Matter protests, the competition sought to address the many barriers faced by emerging, local and diverse organisations bidding for local authority projects. This competition won one of the Council’s internal Place Awards for staff achievements in late 2020.

  • A shortlisted submission from Adrian Hill Architects
  • A shortlisted submission from NOOMA Studio
  • A shortlisted submission from Architecture Doing Places & Studio Gill
  • Key Challenges

    Like much of London, the borough of Enfield is undergoing rapid population growth. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Greater London Authority (GLA) projections estimate that by 2036, the number of people over 65 will increase by 50%. Due to affordable housing shortages, more families in Enfield continue to live together in cramped conditions.

    In this context, Enfield Council, together with Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MTVH), identified an urgent need for high quality affordable intergenerational housing. The key objectives were to tackle issues of social isolation, high-quality affordable housing and the care of children and elderly. However, limited budget, resources and time within the council meant careful consideration was needed on what the ideas competition was seeking to achieve.

    A key challenge was to address the perception of ideas competitions, particularly concerns around their exploitative nature – where often design practices are asked to produce large amounts of work with minimal payment in the hope of being awarded a commission.

    There was also an ambition to work with local architects and organisations to boost local representation and understanding of challenges faced by small businesses in Enfield during the pandemic. However, the Black Lives Matter protests highlighted unfair representation and inequalities faced by minority ethnic-led practices within Public Procurement; for example, the first iteration of the Southwark Framework, a list of 110 preferred architectural practices on its procurement list, was poor in terms of diversity as a result of singular focus on small practices, a problem the council has since sought to rectify.

    Alongside encouraging innovative thinking from diverse perspectives, the competition sought to address these challenges and work with, promote and raise the profile of black-led, small and local organisations.

    External Links

    • View the full brief and competition materials

    How the ideas competition was run

    After several internal and external consultations and workshops, a two-stage process with limited outputs was devised to ensure a more fairly managed competition.

    There were no winners from the competition. Each shortlisted team would be promoted fairly and considered on merit for future direct delivery projects and recommendations on the Design Review Panel and to our partner organisations.


    As part of the brief, we welcomed applications from local, small, BAME-led and non-architectural organisations such as community land trusts, and artists, and encouraged collaborative partnership applications. This was achieved through both the language in the brief and proactive outreach. We actively advertised the competition to grassroots and BAME, LGBT+, Disability Awareness and female-led networks to ensure that we were promoting to the widest range of audience and actively encouraging diverse applicants to apply.

    Following external consultation with small and BAME industry experts, we did not set any ARB/RIBA, professional indemnity (PI) insurance and/or turnover requirements in case it excluded smaller independent practices and groups. We called and emailed local, small and diverse organisations to encourage them to apply, check-in with their applications, and allow them to ask questions if necessary. Even if they did not want to apply, it was important for them to be seen.


    Stage One asked for a simple application form, a short CV or organisation summary and one relevant piece of work previously completed. It measured Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI) and Social Value, as well as organisations’ capacity to respond innovatively through three questions with set word limits.


    All Stage One applications were assessed blindly – a resource-intensive process but the fairest method – and independently moderated by MTVH officers. The final longlist organisations were holistically assessed through two workshops between Enfield Council and MTVH officers.

    Five small, North- and East-London BAME-led teams were shortlisted to go through to the second stage: Architecture Doing Place with Studio Gil; NOOMA Studio; Studio Verve; and a joint bid between Studio Weave and JA Projects.


    Early on in Stage Two, we actively encouraged teams to present concise and limited information to combat the industry culture where more is expected for less. We presented precedents of types of drawings we would prefer and set word and image limits to avoid organisations producing huge volumes of work.

    To support the five shortlisted teams during Stage Two, we offered one-to-one workshops and design workshops with key stakeholders to clarify and expand on the brief. The five shortlisted teams presented their outputs to a diverse judging panel comprised of industry experts, Enfield Council officers from architectural and non-architectural backgrounds, a Young Person’s Representative and MTVH representatives.

    Diagram summarising each of the stages of the competition process


    The nature of the ideas competition allowed us to quickly and dynamically test new ideas and procurement practice in response to several borough and industry wide challenges while operating under Public Contracts Regulations (2015). The commitments outlined below have been agreed with Senior Officers in Housing & Regeneration and were presented to the Housing and Development Board at Enfield Council:

    • Encourage shortlisted teams to apply for Enfield Council’s Design Review Panel refresh.
    • Where the value of prospective projects is below the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) threshold, invite tenders from the shortlist and wider longlist.
    • Together with MTVH, seek to bring forward a pilot project in the borough.
    • Together with the shortlisted teams, retrofit or update existing housing stock to be better adapted for Intergenerational Living.
    • Promote shortlisted teams internally on Council-led schemes coming forward in the borough.
    • Invite shortlisted teams to deliver lunchtime lectures to promote innovation and quality.
    • Encourage partnerships with lead consultants on larger Council-led schemes.
    • Where relevant, Enfield Council will promote the teams to other Registered Providers and Local Authorities and connect them where possible.

    Written by

    Zahra Haider

    Regeneration and Development Architectural Assistant

    Keep updated

    Sign-up to our Mailing List to keep up-to-date and hear the latest news from Public Practice