Rumour, Misinformation and Gossip

I’m not usually lost for words (I’m not quite Deadpool, but I’m not far off) however I do find myself at a bit of a loss at what to say following the utter hatchet job undertaken by The Spectator. As someone who works in a heavily performance/data focused part of a housing association I am well aware there is more than one way to skin a cat. The issue is you actually need a moggie in the first place. Alas the Spectator should have gone to Specsavers because whatever it has been skinning, it ain’t a feline.

Inside Housing has done a very good job of debunking a number of figures thrown about with alarming disregard for their origin or the context in which they exist (see below for my favourites). And as much as they are to be commended it would be nice to have seen slight sterner stuff come from the sector’s representative bodies. Something akin to “this is utter bollocks; we are not going to even dignify it with a full response because my 2-year-old child could have done a better job sourcing those figures” for example. Whilst the NHF has done well to rally the responses have lacked a certain punch.

Myths Debunked:

‘Places for People built 792 homes last year’- This is true although the piece does not mention the association’s plans to complete a further 6,631 homes over the next three years.

‘Housing associations managed [to build] just 23,300 homes last year’- As Inside Housing’s development survey shows, the top 50 largest associations alone completed 40,213 homes in 2014/15.

‘Over the last four years housing associations received £23bn* in government grants’ – This has already been corrected by The Spectator itself. In fact, housing associations received £4.5bn of grant through the affordable homes programme between 2011 and 2015.

*I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who went ‘eh!?’ at that particularly erroneous figure…

What the article does show is two things 1) Not many people outside of the sector have much of a clue on what we actually spend our money on – it ain’t just new homes kids, unlike a lot of private landlords we reinvest in our properties. Though occasionally we do balls this up, like really bad. 2) We need a new PR agency… stat. Maybe not so much #ImInWorkJeremy more like #ImDoingMoreThanJustBuildingNewHomesYouDicks. An excellent example has come via Phillipa Jones and Bromford (sorry I know I use these guys a lot but this is a simple, easy to use eample to prove my point). This is the kind of detail we need to set out – publicly, not just in our annual report, because who reads them, honestly?

I think what really narks me is that despite the utter shitness of the article (#sorrynotsorry it really is shit) there is a grain of truth in what is being said. We do need to build more, we do need to be more mindful of how much the upper echelons get paid. We also need to be far more proactive in the PR game. Because it ain’t even half time sweethearts we’re 3-0 down and we’re not looking pretty.

What I’ve also been saddened by is the lack of people pushing the wide range of activities we undertake. Admittedly only in the short 8hrs or so since the article hit. But Housing Associations are essentially mini-welfare states in the communities they operate. Money advice, debt advice, day care centres, training/skills classes, community regeneration are just the tip of the iceberg of what we do. For fuck sake we do so much unheralded work with the people who live in our communities (with being the operative word) but because we can’t pull our fingers out and highlight what we do (outside of 24Housing and InsideHousing) we’re getting smashed.

I will be watching Channel 4 tonight to see what is occurring; honestly I hope it’s better than the preamble that have so far been put out. If its not, I’ll be doing what all middle class people do and write a strongly worded letter…

If you feel so inclined you can follow me on Twitter here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs here.

Time To Go Out Swinging?

The non-emergency, emergency budget has seen the last vestiges of hug-a-hoody, compassionate Conservatism washed away in a tide of ideologically driven cuts. Housing and the communities we patronise serve will bear a significant proportion of the associated burdens in this round of fiscal belt-tightening. The future is grim, which ever way you want to spin it. Indeed so dour is the result of the latest budget that it makes the subtext of your average Charles Dickens book seem downright cheerful. A pocket or two is being picked, alas it is the pockets of those who can least afford it that are being rifled through. Though instead of an old man leading his gang of young rascals it is George Osborne, the Treasury and the DWP doing the dirty, so to speak.

Still, the sector perseveres, today saw the NHF hit up  #aplanforhomes in a further attempt at talking some sense into those poor souls who operate in that black hole of logical thought/pit of despair more commonly known as the House of Commons. One of the tweets coming from the event was that the ball was now with Government and that they needed to work with us to deliver it (the aforementioned plan). It is probably the deep cynic in me but being brutally honest they don’t just have the ball; they have all the rackets, the courts and the viewing public as well. And frankly it is here that our fundamental issue exists, for all the fluff, for all the bluster we have not managed to sway public opinion.

When a Government so opposed to the provision of social housing exists the ony real option is to win the popular argument. Regrettably we are still struggling to get our voices heard where it counts. Admittedly it really doesn’t help that our central message is, give us lots of your cash and we will build homes for poor people. Oh yea and whilst doing so we will be charging them rent at a lower level than you will be paying either on your mortgage or your privately rented home/flat/hobbit-hole. Even if the figures stack up in terms of fiscal policy; that my friends is largely beside the point. We’re talking politics here, not sound economics or evidence based policy.

If you have the time I would highly recommend reading The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein. A bit of an opinion splitter this one, it won’t give you ‘the’ divine truth but will hopefully provide some context as to the current Government’s thinking. The book highlights how various neo-liberal movements have used existing crises to advance their own ideological agenda. Typically this involves radically shrinking state spending, pulling back social security assistance and pushing market reforms favourable to private sector enterprise at a time when the general public is too shell-shocked to resist. Sound familiar?

This is pretty much what has occurred in the past 30 5 years. It is also why I very much doubt that in the long run we and the boys and girls in blue will be bosom buddies. We are an affront the very idea of neo-liberal economic thought. A monolithic extension of all that is bad with Government intervention in a market. Let the invisible hands of capitalism work its magic and all will be tout sweet, so goes the thinking (the obvious caveat being that this is utter bollocks).

Some have argued that this could be a new dawn for housing.  Others, that the sense of community spirit will be key. And some, well they are just interesting to read. Whilst I admire the generally positive sentiment I can’t quite gee myself up to be as chipper, sorry kids, I just ain’t that guy. Still, I have been proved wrong before (I had my money on Federer beating Djokovic) and I may well be again. In the meantime I’m going to fetal for a bit, wake me up when it’s a little sunnier.

If you feel so inclined you can follow me on Twitter here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs here.

The Future is Here, and it isn’t Garlic Bread

It is something of a cliché to say that social housing and technology do not always go hand in hand.  We either end up spending a lot of money trying to fit square pegs in round holes. only to forget about integrating the ‘next big thing’ when a new fad hits, or we go foetal and hope the server huggers in IT will sort things out.

We also don’t really get the whole innovation thing others have sufficiently ruined the use of the term but it should be re-stated that as a sector we use the ‘I’ word far too often.  It is not innovative if you suddenly start doing something that has been common place in other business sectors for years.  In case you were wondering about some examples (I know you were) please see below:

  • Your website – Just because it no longer looks like it was built when Windows 98 was king doesn’t mean it is innovative. What is its functionality like?
  • Your app – You probably overpaid for this bad boy and it probably doesn’t do what you want it to do.  What it can do is push a lot of emails out instead of linking with your back office systems. Still you’ve an app, you’re cool…right?
  • Your housing management system – When did you last look at this behemoth? At a time when you might have been merging doesn’t count.
  • The way you undertake satisfaction surveys – No, moving from paper based surveys isn’t super kawaii. It is about 5 (maybe more) years too late.

Now that I have your attention…

The above shouldn’t really be news to you, if it is and you are senior/well paid can I have your job?  But as a sector we are often happy to be seen as ‘close followers’ (a better term would be belated followers) rather than ‘early adapters’ or ‘true innovators’ (sorry, I promise to buy a thesaurus soon…).  Those who tend to think/promote different approaches get set upon in something akin to the villagers and Frankenstein in erm…Frankenstein.  People who spring to mind are Nick Aitkin at Halton, Peter Marsh, Peter Hall and anything from the Bromford Lab.  This is odd as our business model has for decades been one of the safest out there.  Which in theory should have enabled us to step out into some big balls R and D.  Alas not.

Like most social landlords Orbit, the organisation that very kindly keeps me out of mischief, carries out satisfaction surveys on the services it provides.  Typically this is done via phone, a costly approach that provides rich but limited data.  As part of a drive to improve the services we provide and I do sincerely apologise for the bullshit bingo here.  We are currently in the midst of trialling a real-time multi-channel feedback approach.

Sounds great, but what does that entail exactly?

Instead of having a time lag between service interaction, surveying and results, something that is useful for long-term trend analysis but not great for service improvement.  All of the above is now condensed into a 24-48hr period (mostly, we’re still working out the kinks and for some services this won’t be possible).  Gone are the 21 questions, a simple 1 – 5 scale prod and a ‘how was it for you bae‘ type question are all that remain. Method of contact is linked to either A) the way in which customer got in touch or B) their stated preferred choice. This enables us to get the customer’s viewpoint in their own words in the manner that they’re most comfortable with.  Even if it is just to say that we’re shit (I feel contractually obliged here to say that we really aren’t that bad!).

Here comes the geeky bit…

The real exciting thing about this project is the thinking that has gone behind the software.  Algorithms Black magic sort out meaning and context from the feedback we receive and will attach sentiment scores accordingly.  For example feedback like “Nice workman, but the job was not finished” will have a positive score for person/staff and a negative for job/repair/work. You then take these bits and define where they sit under thus enabling the quick identification of areas for improvement. The results are instantaneous, quantifiable and easy to interpret.  Quite simply it is chuffing brilliant.

Crucially instead of being locked away in the dark dungeons of the Performance Management/Business Excellence/Improvement Teams it is easily accessible to all and sundry. Check it out here.  I must give major props to the guys and gals over at Rant and Rave our partner for the pilot and the developer of the software we are using.  It is a thing of simplistic beauty.

To be clear, what we are doing is not innovative, this tech has been around for a while. This is about using what works, no re-inventing the wheel.  Regardless if early results are anything to go we will have significantly improved our understanding of our customers, the way we work and the services we provide.

If you feel so inclined you can follow me on Twitter here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs here.