Creating partnerships and genuinely open spaces where people can collaborate and exchange ideas is crucial for innovation. Over the last year, we have lost many of the in-person opportunities to connect and talk, so we decided to recreate these with a new working group focused on housing service improvements.

With more people confined to their homes, and fewer opportunities for service teams to meet in person, providing good-quality housing is more important than ever. So we’re reaching out to describe some of the activities we’ve been doing, and to invite more people working in the sector to join us.

At the end of last year, Unboxed partnered with HACT to run a Repairs and maintenance workshop with a group of housing providers, introducing the principles of a user-centred design approach and beginning to validate and explore ideas. With such a great turnout, and a strong desire to take some wider ideas a bit further, the ‘Housing Service Improvement Working Group’ was born, and we’re excited to be kicking off an ongoing discussion.

Apartment block with balconies

Photo by Benn McGuinness on Unsplash

The group has a good blend of roles and wealth of experience within Customer Experience, Property Management, Programme Management, Business Analysis, Data Projects, Service Design and Delivery. We aim to meet up monthly initially (virtually for now). Here’s how the first couple of sessions went.

First meetup: December 2020

We talked through current challenges and uncertainties we're facing, touching on some current service improvement projects, and how we might be able to work together to address issues collaboratively. We also covered some funding ideas/opportunities.

We hope some of these resonate with the wider housing community, and we can elaborate further in the coming months.

Some challenges we're facing right now or in the near future:

  • Covid-19 and the predicted recession
  • Looking at services in isolation can lead to problems when implementing into a wider system
  • Regional variations in customers / language / demand / need
  • Implementing data standards
  • Building fire safety resident information packs / designing relevant content
  • Future sustainability and how systems are supported ongoing (esp. orgs without IT teams)

Areas of big uncertainty:

  • Using Housing Management information alongside other Council data
  • Cladding investment

Some current service improvement projects:

  • Multiple Housing Management System upgrades
  • Discovery projects for functionality not well provided for
  • Developing solution incrementally to replace legacy solutions, implementing data standards

Goals we might want to achieve through this group:

  • Harnessing the first pass at new digital services (as a result of Covid), e.g. preventing homelessness
  • Creating case studies or templates for these services / showing tangible examples
  • Sharing ideas and experience, and re-using user-research
  • Identify gaps due to rapid digital implementations during Covid
  • Develop blue-prints
  • Creation of "Local Digital Fund-esque" projects (e.g. 5 housing providers co-funding opportunities)
  • Finding commonalities between organisations that can be worked on together
  • Build a network of like minded specialists with common goals/problems

One participant was kind enough to share details of the LOTI Covid Innovation fund. The closing date was February 1, but we hope in future to share details of similar funds in the working group.

Second meetup: January 2021

This session was a continuation of some of the themes raised last month, with a focus on Asset Management vs Responsive Repairs, and how current Housing Management Systems approach these services in practice.

Most housing systems work from a ‘response first’ standpoint, whereas it would be interesting to explore an ‘asset first’ approach. This would help organisations become more proactive rather than reactive.

We agreed the next session will be a collaborative user-need design session to give a taste of the process. We’ll be looking at specific needs in Asset Management with a view to improve housing maintenance outcomes.

What’s next?

With our third session focussing on Asset Management user needs scheduled later this week, we’re establishing a good base to drive forward some innovative thinking in housing. The group is informal and in early stages, with plenty of room to grow and explore ideas together.

Some of the themes I would love to discuss in future working groups are things like building safety, resident services, resident access to data (e.g. tracking repairs, maintenance, applications), smart home technology and longer term strategy post-pandemic.

Want to join? If you’re interested please contact me at jo.oliveira@unboxed.co.

Written by Jo Oliveira