As a strategic technology company, we love exploring the unique challenges of professionals from a variety of sectors to see how they might be addressed by the latest cloud, mobile & other software solutions.
We were delighted and privileged recently to host one such conversation with members of the Landscape Institute (LI) and Daniel Cook, its recently-appointed CEO.
In a short but precious session, we brought our worlds together and looked to the future.
For the first time since aspiring to be an architect as a teenager, I was reminded of the role played by 'place' in our experience and enjoyment of life.
LI is a professional body and charity advocating for the landscape profession that works in the public interest. The mission is about ‘Inspiring Great Places’ and this thought is central.
Place-making is is about more than the space between buildings. It is the unifying thought for a profession dedicated to ensuring our lives are lived in places which are as effective as they are inspiring, as safe as they are energising.
Key opportunities & ideas
We touched on so many valuable topics and could easily have unfolded the conversation into a week’s worth of seminars!
These opportunities represent my analysis from our conversation, rather than a final account or an official LI position. They're expressed here in an open spirit of sharing and building upon insights.
1. Grow and broaden the membership
Membership is relevant to anyone in the profession, not just landscape architects and designers. Indeed even on the more narrow definition, there are many who would benefit from membership who have not yet signed up.
A larger membership would boost the organisation's ability to ensure Place is more often at the centre of strategic thinking about both the built and natural environments.
We'd consider this challenge as one of acquisition and retention. Stronger alignment of marketing communications with the grass-roots activities of branches. Tool kits for comms and easier methods for making their stories part of the bigger story.
Making membership more valuable and accessible could be a way to aide both recruitment and retention. An LI app - for instance - could act as a hub for members to connect with others, co-ordinate their CPD, plan events and undertake a range of 'admin' tasks relating to their participation and any roles they have in running local branches. A tool with varying degrees of interaction depending on the member's level of interest / ability to participate.
It would be vital for the app to fit into the wider ecosystem or mesh of existing LI systems, social media networks and organisational processes.
Most organisations find that systems improvement is vital to ensure growth is sustainable, whether it relates to members, customers or order volume.
Automating repeat processes and enabling self-serve through the app will help to channel shift and reduce the admin effort. Enabling the team to focus more on activities that add value like recruitment.
More than cost-saving, this approach can enrich the experience of the organisation for everyone. The exemplary suggestion from Krishanthi Carfrae was to give branch leaders accessible and digestible financial data "just like my banking app".
2. Educate: now and forever
Underpinning any profession are the skills, knowledge and experience of its members - and this is no different for members of LI.
It's equally important to inspire and educate the next generation while ensuring members can continue their own professional development and lifelong learning.
Learning platforms are not a new idea but those which are allied to bodies like LI may possess more natural authority. Organised online learning with LI could complement and be integrated with current courses to both extend the organisation's reach and radically improve the experience for participants.
Giving free access to some educational content makes it a potential source of recruitment, with all of this organised from - and accessed via - the hub LI app.
3. Prove the value of place-making and our contribution
It's an unusual professional who has no need to prove the value of his or her contribution; to provide evidence or at least clues to return on investment (ROI). I was struck by how critical this is for those working with landscape.
Proper consideration of place is not given in every built environment project. Investment in the contributions of landscape professionals is at the discretion of the client under the influence of key stakeholders such as government, public opinion and of course - other professionals such as architects.
There is no doubt - even from a layman's perspective that this work is rich and valuable. Creating great places for people which pay full regard to an almost infinite diversity of ecological variables is no easy task. To say 'no two sites are the same' would sell this short and there are no hard boundaries when considering place. The eye will cross a boundary, as will people, flora, fauna and even the wind!
Ensuring that the assets created and the work itself are valued means gathering more data. There are boundless opportunities for data analysis from the physical installations as an Internet of Things (IoT) promises sensors and connectivity in many commonplace artefacts such as paving stones and planters.
Collecting explicit and implicit data from the users of spaces will yields another dimension. What can people's publicly-available social media posts from near to a designed space tell us about their experience and the impact of the work.
With each of these opportunities for data gathering comes an increased need for synthesis, analysis and interpretation. What reporting metrics would be helpful on a KPI dashboard used to compare and review places for landscape development both pre and post project?
- Start building an open platform to achieve multiple aims simultaneously. A membership app would form an extremely valuable first step.
- Become interdisciplinary with the digital sector as a way of preparing for the onset of new technologies. IoT, wearables, blockchain asset tracking, VR - each of these will only become more relevant to your mission to inspire great places. Hackathons bring together technologists with experts from other domains - and may be a great way for LI to start this.
- Engage members in shaping the direction of all development. ROI and enjoyment are always higher when the right humans are involved from the beginning and throughout.
If you'd like to explore your organisation's technology challenges and opportunities in an thoughtful and welcoming environment - contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0161 850 1692