Improving the diversity of design teams through alternative models of procurement at Enfield
Jul 23, 2021
This case study describes how the London Borough of Enfield and Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing launched a fair and inclusive design competition for intergenerational housing. It was written by Zahra Haider following her 12-month placement on the Associate Programme between April 2020 and March 2021.
Zahra was matched with a role as an Architect in the Strategic Planning & Design team at the London Borough of Enfield. Before joining the programme, she worked in private architectural practice on landscape-led housing projects and stakeholder engagement. Zahra also founded a not-for-profit mentoring organisation, OurGirls, working with young students from marginalised backgrounds to encourage diversity in various professions. After her placement, she stayed in her role where she has since been given a permanent contract.
This case study walks through a key project that she worked on during her placement and what she learnt from it.
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.
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 over-65s will increase by 50%. More families in Enfield are continuing to live together in cramped conditions, due to shortages of affordable housing. This can lead to overcrowding issues, increased homelessness and poor quality of life. The Coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the significant impact on health and wellbeing as a result of unsuitable accommodation for families, overcrowding, lack of suitable communal amenities and lack of care and support for the elderly.
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 meant careful consideration was needed on what the ideas competition was seeking to address in order to maintain focus and realistically manage the design outputs.
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 in order 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 BAME-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 seeking to encourage innovative thinking from a diversity of perspectives, the competition sought to address these challenges and work with, promote and raise the profile of black-led, small and local organisations.
In response to these challenges, and working with limited resources and a tight timeline, we worked collaboratively with various stakeholders and ‘critical friends’ from the onset. We researched and wrote the brief in tandem with defining a procurement strategy. We collated research and consulted internally with the Head of Procurement, Head of Homelessness and Adult Health & Social Care officers to inform the process and brief.
After drawing up a draft brief and procurement strategy, we sought feedback from external consultants from black-led and small practices, and Public Practice Associates who were advocating for change for BAME practitioners in public procurement. This was an incredibly informative series of workshops, focused on fairer representation in public procurement and compensation for design outputs in ideas competitions. We received critical feedback on challenges faced by practitioners and ideas for how the language of the brief and competition process could be modified to better address inequalities and run an overall more inclusive, transparent and fairer competition. For example, we carefully reviewed the Social Value and Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI) criteria, examining whether it was genuinely relevant and appropriate for small and BAME-led practices.
Meaningfully measuring EDI and Social Value criteria ensures the teams applying are actually championing diversity and social value through their lived experience, work and employment, not just ticking boxes. Overall these teams produce more innovative responses to the challenges faced by the many diverse communities in Enfield.
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. This comprised the following steps:
- 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 teams were shortlisted from this stage. Each Stage Two team was provided an honorarium of £4,000 to develop their ideas and produce limited design outputs (two A3 pages).
- 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 personally 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.
- 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.
- There were no winners from this competition. Each shortlisted team will be promoted fairly and considered on merit for future direct delivery projects and recommendation on the Design Review Panel and to our partner organisations.
Key Outcomes: Taking this Forward at Enfield
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 key next step is to enshrine the lessons learnt, both from the competition process and design outputs, within emerging Enfield Council projects, Local Plan and policies and establish best practice in inclusive procurement on future projects.
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.
This is an example of the type of work that an Associate in an Urban Design role did during their placement. If you're interested in these role types, read more below.