Evidence-based toilet management

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Following up from my post of yesterday on some toilet management issues at the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Business and Economics, I received another email from the administration in that Faculty reaffirming that blocked toilets were the reason why they had decided to remove the hand towels. Given that I apparently had not yet been removed from that email list, I believe this is license to continue my investigation into toilet management practices at the University.

Now a cynical person may have read my previous post as being nothing about toilet management at all but about poor theorising about human behaviour. I, personally, feel I was just filling in the gaps and we cannot expect communications from administration to articulate all of the evidence at their disposal, being, as it were, more efficient to issue (and in this case, reissue) edicts.

But from the comments of that post comes evidence on other toilet related management matters — specifically, the optimal number of facilities and their placement. I have commented on this issue previously here, here and here (the last one being an app for that). Regular readers will recall that this was the source of some extra-blog controversy a couple of years ago.

The evidence from the comments — that I understand was in the hands for many years at the very senior management of Melbourne Business School — was this New Zealand analysis of the impact of a change in facilities on queuing times. This is a must read for anyone interested in these issues.

The background for that study was a change in regulations that, near as I could tell, required many buildings to put in more toilets and, importantly, wash basins. Some evidence existed from other countries but the study’s authors “also had a sneaking worry that toilet habits might vary from country to country, so it was decided to carry out a complete analysis for New Zealand.” Not sure what sneaking they had been doing but that did seem a safe starting assumption.

Anyhow, suffice it to say in 1994, going into a bathroom at a NZ shopping mall would have been like stealing secret documents in Mission Impossible as you would have been hit with a myriad of lasers designed to document your habits. They were also careful to consider demand, “[e]mploying peak rates … for buildings where the arrivals were particularly ‘bursty’ – schools, theatres for example.” Bursty indeed. Suffice it to say, these methods could easily be employed at the University of Melbourne to identify the migration patterns of paper hand towels — the critical behavioural issue at the heart of their management.

You should read the full article which makes one believe that the change in NZ regulations was one of the major sources of an improvement in the economic conditions of women there not to mention some $82 million in direct savings. It may be one great instrument for an analysis of labour market and productivity changes.

In any case, in this world where management proceeds without evidence I think we can all be thankful that at least in one faculty at the University of Melbourne, senior management have these analyses at their fingertips.

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