Two factors to consider in designing or improving a Research & Development facility are distraction and confidentiality. In addition to a considerable amount of expertise and funding, researchers need a distraction-free and safe workspace. Interestingly, both concerns can be handled by achieving speech privacy.
What is “Speech Privacy” and How is it Achieved?
The Privacy Index
Speech Privacy – believe it or not – has long been a defined thing, according to ASTM standards. There are two ways to measure Speech Privacy:
- the Articulation Index (AI), which measures how intelligible speech is
- the Privacy Index (PI), which measures the unintelligibility of speech
As you can see, they’re both essentially saying the same thing using different words.
The Privacy Index defines several levels of Speech Privacy, but with a SCIF, there’s only one level that matters: Confidential Privacy, or a PI score of greater than 95%. This is a relatively difficult score to achieve, and you’ve got just three tools with which to achieve it.
The ABC’s of speech privacy
These tools are commonly referred to as “the ABC’s.” To improve the Privacy Index score of a given space, you can:
- Absorb sound through wall or furniture panels, or high NRC-rated ceiling tiles
- Block sound through the construction of walls
- Cover sound through the use of a high-quality sound masking technology
Most facilities focus on the A and B of speech privacy, and those will get them a decent Privacy Index score.
How Sound Masking Works
Sound masking – the C of “the ABC’s” – is based on the phenomenon that when low-level background noise is added to an environment, intruding speech and noises are less intelligible. The term “white noise” is widely used when referring to speech privacy or sound masking systems, although these systems don’t actually use white noise.
The technology behind sound masking resulted from the realization by scientists and engineers that oral privacy is actually a simple matter of making speech unintelligible. That is, if each of us can’t understand what the other is saying, we have effectively established oral privacy – even though we may still be able to see and, to some extent, hear each other.
With this in mind, the important question of placement is answered: you mask the area where the speech is heard, not where it is spoken. This is important for the two reasons listed above:
Whether trying to keep researchers focused, error-free, and less stressed or protecting their work, the establishment of speech privacy is the key. Speech privacy keeps workers engaged, while simultaneously safeguarding their work and their conversations.