Effective management of repairs and maintenance is something that can make a huge difference to people’s lives. This is how our workshop with HACT helped produce some innovative, resident-centred ideas

Unboxed has been working with HACT (Housing Associations' Charitable Trust) over the last few months on a journey to help embed user-centred design approaches across the housing sector, with the aim of designing and building better services for the people who use them.

Alongside our other recent work with local authority housing teams (including Hackney Council and City of Lincoln Council), we’re committed to sharing learnings with our expanding network of housing providers, and introducing the principles and practices of resident-centred design - initially around repairs and maintenance services.

Last month, we partnered with HACT to host a workshop to explore some ideas with a small group of housing providers, offering a creative space to collaboratively start shaping improvements, gather wider insight, and begin to validate some of the highest-impact areas.

There was an incredible response to the 90-minute workshop - ‘Repairs and maintenance: validating opportunities for improved services’ - with Lawrence Richards (one of our Senior Service Designers) leading the workshop, and Martyn Evans (our Head of Product) co-facilitating.

On the day

Condensing a complex exercise into 90 minutes is a tall order, and would normally take a lot longer, so we very much appreciated everyone keeping up and staying engaged - especially via video conference! And a big thank you to Dr Rob Wray, Chief Innovation Officer at HACT for the great intro.

We kicked off with a resident’s ‘repairs lifecycle’, running through the touchpoints of their typical journey - keeping cognisant that a repair outcome can begin long before it’s reported, and good communication throughout is key. The journey starts from the first step of a tenant moving into the property, through understanding the tenancy agreement; raising issues and reporting repairs; the communication process around scheduling, updates and completing a repair; to maintaining the property on an ongoing basis until the end of the tenancy.

screenshot - modelling the cost of repairs over time

Often, the processes and systems that support each step through the journey are disconnected, and we know from experience that housing staff find them hard to manage, resulting in frustration for them and for residents alike. Keeping mindful of residents’ experiences when designing processes, with user needs at heart, can help avoid negative outcomes.

Our research identified several pain points/barriers for each step, highlighting factors that can disrupt a smooth journey.

Next we moved onto a set of opportunities areas across four themes:

  • Redesigning content (such providing clear steps, do’s and don’ts and clarity on improvements people can make in their homes)
  • Better visibility of repairs (including capabilities for repairs operatives giving real-time updates via mobile devices, or allowing residents to track repairs status/updates),
  • Empowering tenants (such as community-sourced fixes or updating asset information), and
  • Predicting the future (by modelling the cost of repairs over time, connecting associated repairs or using smart home technology).

Within the themes were nine specific ideas to discuss and elaborate on together. After attendees gave extensive insight into what needs to be in place, and what might get in the way for each idea, they were asked to dot-vote their highest impact vs highest effort choice.

Screenshot from housing workshop

We then split into two breakout groups to discuss the two highest-impact ideas, with a group activity to ideate project briefs. This involved identifying who the users are and what they’re trying to do; what we would need to learn more about and the first things we would need to understand; what might already exist; and crucially, what the goals of the project might be.

Both groups expertly crafted project briefs that we are excited to be able to take further. More news on this to follow!

What’s next?

Effective management of repairs and maintenance has been one of the most talked-about concerns across housing, affecting both a current and post-Covid landscape. We’d love to make a difference and come together to address the problems, and ultimately have a positive impact on people’s lives.

Housing providers have a shared goal of keeping residents safe, supporting their health and wellbeing, and empowering people to have more control over their home, and this can all be done with resident-centred design approaches.

To keep the conversation going, we have a number of organisations interested in collaborating in a working group where we’ll be focusing on how to achieve service improvements. If you’d like to join, please do get in touch with me jo.oliveira@unboxed.co.

And thanks again to everyone who joined the session: we really enjoyed the day and hope you all did, too!

Written by Jo Oliveira