Supporting complex decision making in learning space design: WDA-ANP, a novel sociotechnical systems approach

Eduardo Navarro Bringas*, Graeme Bowles, Guy H. Walker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to introduce a novel approach, underpinned by systems thinking, to structure requirements and support front-end design decision-making around the performance in-use of developments within highly complex environments, with diverse stakeholders and users, such as the case of learning spaces in higher education (HE).

Design/methodology/approach: Work domain analysis (WDA), a sociotechnical systems design framework, is first used to model the constraints that shape the expected performance of an informal learning space (ILS). Based on the model, the following stage involved a sector-wide survey questionnaire (n = 175) to appraise the views of different stakeholder groups in relation to ILS. These were analysed using the analytical network process (ANP).

Findings: This study provides a novel approach, using WDA, to conceptualise the constraints shaping the performance in-use, integrating the perspectives of different stakeholder groups. Furthermore, it provides a structured approach to establish priorities that can serve as the basis to support complex decision-making during early design stages. The findings and proposed WDA–ANP approach aim to support HE estate managers on better understanding and integrating perspectives in relation to campus developments.

Originality/value: In this paper, a novel systems-based approach is proposed as an alternative to conceptualise ILS. Furthermore, the approach is combined with ANP, a multi-criteria decision-making approach, to develop a novel tool to derive priorities and support front-end design decision-making in learning space design.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)435-451
Number of pages17
Issue number7-8
Early online date18 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2022


  • Analytical network process
  • Design for excellence
  • Design for operability
  • Front-end design
  • Learning space design
  • Sociotechnical systems
  • Work domain analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Architecture
  • Building and Construction


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