Our role in communications
Communication is key to our work, effective communication with stakeholders is essential to the delivery of our regulatory role. We continue to use all available channels to reach out to our audiences. An open culture is also integral to deliver on the values of transparency and accountability required of all public bodies.
We work hard to maintain existing relationships with stakeholders and to cultivate new ones. Broadly speaking our audiences fall into three groups i) the public including consumer organisations; ii) architects, their professional bodies and the wider built environment, and iii) students and schools of architecture. Nonetheless we also have other stakeholders including the UK and EU government to whom we have a responsibility to deliver on our legislative mandate. In addition to this, we have connections to other regulators, consumer bodies and other organisations operating in the construction sector with whom we work to share insights and best practice. Due to our relatively small size, tapping into the networks of others in the sector is a key part of our strategy and in 2015, we continued to work with organisations like TrustMark and HomeOwners Alliance as well as developing a new relationship with Houzz, an online design community which has seen a rapid growth in popularity amongst consumers and those working in the construction sector.
Phase 2 of the Periodic Review continued throughout 2015. Phase One recognised the case for continued light-touch regulation based on protection of title and, in the second stage of the review, the Government focused on the form and function of the future regulatory model with a final report expected during 2016. The review process has allowed us to reflect on both our regulatory roles and powers and has given us an important opportunity to gain an insight into how others view ARB. Nonetheless, as the Periodic Review continues and our remit remains the same, we maintain our commitment to delivering effectively on our regulatory functions whilst also implementing improvements wherever possible.
In 2015, the project to refresh the layout of our website continued. Following the success of the focus group and in-depth interviews with architects and students, we held a staff focus group. This proved a very useful exercise, staff comments echoed those made in the external focus group with the team making practical suggestions for changing the language used and the layout of the site to make it easier to navigate. An overhaul will be undertaken in 2016 using the feedback we received from our stakeholders.
Whilst improvements are in the pipeline, the existing website remains an extremely valuable resource. In 2015, visitors to the main ARB website increased by 10%, up from 251,137 in 2014, to 277,387.
The chart below shows the total annual number of visits to the website and online Register for each year from 2013 and 2015. It is likely that this steady increase in visitors over the last three years can be attributed to the improvements we have made to the website during this time, in addition to the resources which we have deployed to enable us to raise public awareness of the organisation and the online Register. In particular our stakeholder engagement activity has seen us building relationships with external organisations so that we can reach out to their networks, these include HomeOwners Alliance, the Planning Portal, Which Local? and some local authorities.
We work hard to inform the public that the title architect is protected by UK law. We stress that only those on the Register can call themselves architects. We do this because we want the public to be able to make informed decisions, we want consumers to know that if they want to be sure the person they are considering engaging is an architect that they need to check the Register. The data on visits to the online Register reflects the impact of our work in this area with visits to the online Register rising by 15% in 2015 to almost 275,000. Individual searches of the Register climbed to 382,849 in 2015, up 12% on the 2014 number. Importantly, this means that during 2015, for the first time, the number of searches totalled over 1,000 a day.
Our social media audiences grew steadily throughout 2015 although we continue to adopt a conservative approach to social media, using it mainly to signpost our audiences to our websites. There were 2,065 referrals to the main website or the online Register from social media in 2015, which is broadly consistent with the 2014 number of 2,100. We are considering how we can adopt a more engaging approach to social media, to gain input on the views of our stakeholders.
Meeting your Architect form
The ‘Meeting your Architect’ form, continued to be a very popular resource for the public during 2015. We launched this in October 2014 to provide consumers with information about key questions they should ask during an initial meeting with an architect. We developed this tool to encourage those engaging architects to discuss issues which can lead to disputes, if they are not agreed early on, with a view to reducing complaints. Over 1,300 copies were distributed at the exhibitions we attended and it was also downloaded 615 times.
Registration Route Finder
The Registration Route Finder, which was launched in November 2014, proved very popular during 2015. This self-service tool clocked up over 5,200 visits in 2015 and represents an excellent example of our approach to the efficient use of technology to provide stakeholders with user friendly information. At the same time it has resulted in a reduction in the number of enquiries about routes and so has freed up staff time to work on other matters.
In 2015, we took steps to refresh our eBulletin, changing both the layout of the information to make it more engaging and easier to navigate. A key element of the exercise was to extend personalisation of these messages, positioning registrants’ contact details in a prominent location, at the top of the message to encourage architects to review the information we display for them on the public part of the Register. This change was very effective, and as a result of this, we now normally receive several hundred contact detail updates in the week after an eBulletin is sent out. The accuracy of the Register is fundamentally important so that consumers can use it to check an individual’s registered status prior to employing them. We consistently put out messages informing architects of their responsibility, under the Act, to ensure their contact details are up to date and advising them of the possible consequences of not providing new contact information.
We recognise the value of the eBulletin as a tool for reaching out to the profession and informing architects about our regulatory role and our work on prescription, registration and professional conduct matters. In order to provide the profession with regular information about the work of the professional standards department and architects’ responsibilities under the Code, we launched a regular information column entitled ‘Dear Architect’. This was well received and we will continue to build on this in 2016.
We launched five new videos in 2015, three related to the exam application process, one informed architects how to avoid complaints and another provided advice for consumers. They all performed strongly, receiving over 3,000 views in total.
Online videos are becoming an increasing popular way for our stakeholders to access information. Views of our online videos have climbed substantially over the last three years. In 2015, users of our services spent over 400 hours watching our online videos, compared to over 200 hours in 2013. The growing success of this medium is evident and it undoubtedly has an impact on the amount of staff time spent answering individual enquiries as visitors choose to access user-friendly information at a time and place which suits them.
The below table provides further data regarding our online videos.
|YouTube||Total Views||Time Watched (in hours)||Equivalent Working Days|
We genuinely value the feedback we receive, be it either positive or negative. We listen to the opinions expressed by those who have accessed our services and these views inform our future work. We are always pleased to hear when things have gone well but we understand the frustrations felt by those who have encountered difficulties. Improvements cannot take place in a vacuum and so, whilst negative feedback can be difficult to hear, it is often a driver for change.
We work hard to provide an excellent service and value for money although, on occasion, we recognise that things do go wrong. In these instances, we investigate what happened so that we can learn from the causes and improve things for the future. We will always let you know what action we have taken or what recommendations we have made.
Action taken following feedback
What you told us: Some registrants said that they had not seen the hard copy retention fee payment notice or email reminders about the fee as they had recently changed their contact details or been out of the office.
The action we took: We produced tips to help remind registrants to pay the fee which included encouraging architects to add ARB to safe sender lists so that our reminder messages do not get caught in spam filters. We also trialled new tools including a calendar alert, which was clicked on over 800 times, and a text reminder service, which was very successful with 300 payments received in the 60 minutes after the text was sent out.
What you told us: Those applying to take the Prescribed Examinations advised that they found the process difficult to navigate, they also informed us that they would like more information about the contents and layout of the portfolio.
The action we took: We amended the guidance we provided and developed three new videos to advise those undergoing this process. These new videos, clocked up over 2,400 views in 2015. As part of the website redesign project, we are also considering how this information can be made more accessible on the website.
What you told us: Those architects who were subject to complaints informed us that the information provided by complainants was often sparse and selective, making it difficult for them to respond to allegations.
The action we took: We have recently issued a guidance note on the standards of acceptance for any complaint; this document sets out the minimum requirements of a complaint before it can be properly investigated by ARB. This is available under the ‘Concerns about an Architect’ area of the website and is issued to all complainants.
What you told us: It became apparent from the Equality and Diversity survey, that many people were happy to provide this information and would do so more readily if it was made part of our normal offer, rather than simply being requested at the point at which an architect applies for registration.
The action we took: We added a section to registrants’ services online asking architects, who had not already done so, to provide us with equality and diversity data.