How To Prepare For The Future of Housing

Community groups and individuals have delivered the most useful support networks in a physically distanced world. So now is the time for social landlords to revisit our purpose and reflect on the non value-adding activities that our organisations are involved i

THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN INSIDE HOUSING 

Late last year I attended a talk from Melissa Sterry, a Design Scientist. She was challenging the received wisdom that we would all live a lot longer in the future. “How can we say this?” she said. “When everything around us is changing so rapidly?” She went on to explain the complex global disruption caused by events such as climate change and proposed that there were few guarantees about anything anymore.

A full two months before most of us had heard of COVID-19, Melissa gave the example of new diseases emerging with strains capable of igniting pandemics. The message was clear – the world we think we know can quickly disappear. 

Endless column inches have already been filled with speculation about what a ‘new normal’ looks like. In reality none of us know what a post-pandemic operating environment looks like. However there are some areas of challenge and opportunity that we must begin to consider.

The most immediate is the way we work. The virus has kickstarted the world’s largest workplace experiment – with remote working advancing as much in a few weeks as it has in the previous ten years. Right now there are lots of CEOs looking at our empty offices and wondering what their purpose was.

Is it too fanciful to imagine a future where housing association offices simply cease to exist, with people relocated to work in the communities they are employed to serve?  I expect that we will gravitate back to our offices over time, so should take this opportunity to question whether that’s the sensible thing to do. 

People are already valuing new arrangements with a poll for transport consultants SYSTRA finding that more of us expect to work from home saving money on commute time and cost, and striking a better work-life balance. 67% of people say they believe virtual meetings will replace some or all future business trips or meetings. The longer that people go without spending their time and money on fuel and transport the more resistant they will be to returning to it.

Arguably the more challenging questions emerge when looking at  community and customer service. 

YouGov have reported that only 9% of us want to return to life as normal with 40% of people saying they feel a stronger sense of community than before lockdown. 

People have begun supporting and caring for one another to an unprecedented extent, with community led groups popping up to address needs in ways that housing associations simply can’t. Rather than organisations, it is neighbours that have shown themselves to be the most useful support network in a physically distanced world. 

Now then is an ideal time to revisit our purpose and reflect on the non value adding activities that our organisations are involved in. It is hard to imagine right now, but even bigger challenges lie ahead. The economic fallout of this crisis will hit most of us, but we know from past experience that those on benefits or in the lowest paid employment will be hit hardest. We’ve woken up to the fact that those who work in supermarkets and the caring professions are the backbone of our society, so we need to reconsider how our organisations can better support them. This means thinking beyond ‘housing’ and requires a need for the whole system to work together, through health, housing, employment and social care. 

Also now is a time to reflect on the built home itself. The sector has toyed with the concept of live/work environments and multi use spaces over the past 10 years. Starting now we need to design new homes for a work from anywhere culture and adapt lettings policies for existing ones. The idea of having a spare room for working – previously a luxury – could now be a basic requirement. 

Lockdown has highlighted the importance of open space and how valuable it is to people for their sense of well-being. The unequal access to it has been revealed through the stories of tenants without access to any private outdoor space — be it a balcony, patio or garden. This isn’t an easy problem to solve – if you build bigger outside space it means less internal space and few developers are amenable to that. How we design homes that promote the health, resilience and wellbeing of communities is a question we must answer. 

There’s no way to completely prepare for the future of housing. Nor indeed can we solve every problem. The best we can hope to do is to stay up to date on current trends, encourage local solutions and community led innovation – and prepare our people for frequently changing environments. 

Above all though we should never assume we can survive the future with the same thinking that enabled us to survive the past. 


Photo by Breno Assis on Unsplash

How To Keep Focussed (And Remain Sane) In A World Of Complex Problems

In our heart, we know the solution does not lie in reforming silo by silo but in organizing our silos the way people organize their lives, so that the neighbourhood becomes our primary unit of analysis and change – Cormac Russell

I’ve spent two days this week with both the Connected Places Catapult in London and the Energy Systems Catapult in Birmingham. I’ve had long conversations about climate change, automation, the ageing society, housing shortages and technological disruption. And that’s before we got to health inequality, crime or poverty.

My brain is a little fried. 

We are faced with countless wicked problems in the world—issues so severe and so complex that finding answers almost seems impossible.

And yet right now as I write this there’s a politician on my TV claiming they’ll have ‘solved’ four or five of these by 2030. Good luck with that.

In truth every single one of this intractable problems will affect our organisations to some degree. How do we respond without going bankrupt (or insane) in the process?

First of all – let’s take a deep breath before we launch any new initiatives.

Earlier in the week I learned that for all the millions spent on smart metering and fuel initiatives precisely nothing has changed in our behaviours. We still use the same amount of fuel.

It’s valuable to look at the outcomes we are getting before launching something new.

The National Health Service we are told is the world’s best healthcare system.  Yet the NHS has a poor record on one fairly important indicator – actually keeping people alive.

We often hear that housing associations prevent homelessness , but in the 50 odd years since Cathy Come Home rough sleeping has increased from about 965 people each night to over 4000.

We have a ‘world class legal system’,  but most of our prisons are overcrowded.  By contrast the Netherlands has a shortage of prisoners. 

How can it be that so many sectors face such crisis at exactly the same time. Is it rising demand? Lack or resources? Or the impact of years of austerity?

Or is it something more fundamental. A deeper design flaw.

Perhaps we are too keen on firing magical silver bullets – that look like attractive ways to solve deeper problems.

As Chris Bolton has written – in organisational life the term Silver Bullet has come to mean anything new that can miraculously solve difficult problems. But as he says silver bullets should actually be called Silver Boomerangs, because they fail to address the problem and keep coming back. How to avoid them? Well, I’m with Chris , if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

My reflections on this week is to return to themes that I, and many others, have written about before.

How much of our impact across the social sector is diluted by our lack of connectedness?

How much of our impact is wasted through by-passing the process of facilitating citizen-led discovery, connecting, and mobilisation? 

When all of the bullets are being fired by disconnected organisations at disconnected individuals it’s hardly surprising that most of them miss their target.

Why don’t we have seamless health, care and housing that isn’t compartmentalised, siloed and rationed across disparate organisations?

And how much of our collective resource is tied up in back office ‘management’ rather than pushing ourselves ever closer to the community?

What would it take to make such a radical shift?

In a provocative piece Adam Lent makes the case for a new law that would shift power from public institutions and into the hands of citizens. If institutions are reluctant to drop their paternalistic mind-set,  handing power and resource over to communities to solve their challenges themselves – why not force them to through legislation? 

Placing unconditional devolution and a duty to collaborate on local authorities and institutions may sound radical, but it shouldn’t be dismissed given the challenges we have.

Whether we legislate or not we need to see a transformation in leadership within our organisations. People simply aren’t prepared for a world requiring citizen led change. As I’ve written before, there are reasons for why we don’t collaborate, and our organisations are largely complicit with them.

To paraphrase Cormac  – it is time to awaken to the fact that we don’t have a health problem, nor a social care problem, nor a climate problem, nor a housing problem, we have a neighbourhood problem.

The worst two things you can do in a crisis is panic and throw money at the problem. Pausing, reflecting and doing some deep problem definition, could be the least exciting but most radical thing we could do right now.


 

Image via Straighten The Maze

Four Factors Hindering Transformation

The problem with good service design is that you don’t notice it.

It’s only when you experience truly bad design that you appreciate the good stuff.

That’s why so few organisations are design led. They focus on designing out the bad rather than designing in the good from the beginning.

Earlier this week I ordered a package – to be delivered from the Royal Mail.

It required a signature so I arranged it to arrive on Thursday when I planned to be working from home.

On Tuesday morning the Royal Mail sent me an SMS and email to say they were pleased to announce that the item would arrive earlier than expected.

They might well have been pleased at the early arrival, but I was 60 miles away and stuck in a meeting. There was no option to request a redelivery. No option to even cancel it. Just accept an inevitable failure. 

Any redelivery could only be attempted after they had first failed to deliver it.

Here was a company actually wasting the time of their employees and their customer – and seemingly proud of it.

In defence of Amazon and Uber

It’s easy to criticise the likes of Amazon and Uber for their ethics , but we forget at our peril the benefits these providers have bought us.

But they don’t pay taxes! As if no company ever evaded taxes before Amazon.

But they exploit workers! As if taxi drivers were never exploited before, or resisted the opportunity to exploit us customers.

We shouldn’t let these type of companies off the hook for their transgressions, but neither should we forget what life was like before their breakthroughs in customer experience.

Getting a delivery within 24 hours or not having to queue for a taxi now feels so normal that one starts to wonder why it took so long.

The incumbent companies they disrupted all had the same money, time and technology to change the way they did business, but they resisted the opportunity to shape themselves around what customers actually wanted.

Why digital transformation isn’t enough

Richard Godfrey makes a similar point about the failure of banks to reimagine their services. Setting up a new account in most cases still requires a bank visit, or an e-form or a phone call at the very least.  How can that still exist in a world where you can sign up for a Monzo or Revolut account in minutes by downloading an app and proving your identity and address with image capture software and facial recognition?

As Richard points out, most ‘transformations’ are nothing of the sort, but simply a digital overlay on top of how business has always been done. He wonders why the process of claiming housing benefit can’t be made so easy. Of course it can, people just don’t want to make it easy.

As someone who has worked to redesign services from the ground up, putting the customer in control, I’d say you can’t underestimate how difficult this culture change required is.

Many of our organisations – despite the rhetoric – have policies and procedures that are profoundly anti-customer. We have built checks, balances and verifications into our process because , deep down, we don’t actually trust the motivations of the public.

This is an uncomfortable truth – but goes some way to explain the difference in satisfaction levels between some of the public and private sector.

PNG_Public_sector_CX_Ex1

A new post from McKinsey finds that whilst many the public sector and governments are moving forward with customer experience initiatives, in general private-sector organisations are a lot better at providing services.

I don’t always agree with the private/public distinction but some of the stumbling blocks they identify are helpful. The common traits that prevent genuine transformation are:

  1. A monopolistic mind-set. When customers don’t have a choice, it dramatically removes a major incentive to innovate and improve service.
  2. The public sector have to be fair to everyone.  They can’t just ignore certain customer segments. This ‘fairness’ often solidifies over time into a principle of providing one-size-fits-all service. Or rather, one-size-fits-no-one.
  3. We often lack the capabilities needed to assess and address gaps in customer experience. Those with deep analytics skills, as well as human-centered design skills, are often in short supply.
  4. Data is typically incomplete or sequestered in silos. Organisations often lack a full, timely picture of the customer’s overall experience.

This ‘fair for everyone’, but exceptional for no-one, agenda presents a genuine design challenge. The capacity for innovation for huge, but the capability for it is virtually zero.

It’s hampered because innovation requires a tolerance for failure , and upsetting people.  It’s too easy to see the short-term political consequences of initiatives gone wrong and debate whether public money is going down the drain.

However we have a responsibility to take risks – we need to cultivate a culture of innovation, and sometimes that means spending money trying new things, and being ‘unfair’ to some people.

What if Uber and Amazon did health, housing and social care?

Three years ago I wrote a post speculating on that very question – it remains the second most popular piece on this blog.

I don’t stand by everything I said back then, but I do agree with the final point.

Any sector that has multiple players performing similar services is ripe for disruption.

There’s no question about whether the Uber , Amazon, Facebook and Alibaba of the public sector will emerge.

It’s simply a matter of when.

Is It Time To Rethink Industry Awards?

Award schemes have become a form of media. They exist to generate income for an organisation through a combination of entry fees and overpriced chicken dinners – Stephen Waddington

It can sometimes feel like there is an industry awards ceremony for every night of the week.

A Google search for ‘housing awards’ will get you 500 million results and nearly 700 million for ‘health and social care’ awards. That’s without awards for charities and other non profits.

There isn’t a resource where you can find exactly how many ceremonies there are in total (there’s at least sixty four UK award schemes for health and social care) , but it’s clearly very big business.

With all these awards schemes recognizing excellence you’d think customer satisfaction would be soaring to hitherto unseen heights – but that’s clearly not the case.

So what are the benefits of awards ceremonies?

Brand Recognition: A relatively quick way to signal you are above the competition is by seeking out and winning awards in your industry. This is nothing new, it’s basic marketing – companies have been touting their award-winning products for over a century.

Boost Employee Moral: For individual colleagues or teams winning a recognised award gives you public recognition, this gives people their moment in the limelight.

Encourage Self Reflection: The actual act of entering an award is a discipline that, if done honestly, encourages you to articulate why you did what you did and what you learned.

Let’s be honest though, the sheer amount of award schemes means they don’t deliver any true recognition of excellence. As Stephen says in his piece – with disciplined planning and a good entry form anyone can become a winner.

Do Industry Awards Inspire or Inhibit Innovation?

Awards and accreditation can actually act against the interests of customers.

  • They can encourage people to aim at the prize rather than the journey.
  • They can encourage organisations to tell good stories rather than promoting transparency and encouraging learning from failure.
  • They can imply that innovation is a single event, when it hardly ever is. Truly significant change is achieved over years, sometimes across generations.

And awards ceremonies can actually embed silo thinking — by promoting innovation at sector level when the really wicked problems need a more joined up approach

Serena Jones has noted that publicity from awards can help us reach new partners and investors. “They also highlight and circulate new ideas, approaches, methods which challenge us to do things better or different”.

This is helpful” says Serena, “But perhaps other mechanisms (without awards) can achieve the same outcomes?”

 

In 2014 I collaborated with Shirley Ayres in an online competition to find the people using digital tools to connect and share knowledge in new ways. It was called Power Players.

What was intended as a slightly light-hearted alternative to formal ‘awards’ turned into something else. Hundreds of people voted and the posts themselves have had over 40,000 views.

What was different about the list was the transparency.

As Shirley wrote  at the time “Digital technology has democratised access to information and created very different ways of enabling people to connect and share resources, thoughts and opinion. We live in a digitally connected world and in the crowded social space online influence is becoming increasingly important.”

I’m disappointed in the lack of innovation in the recognition and awards space in the five years since Power Players. Outside the social sector platforms like TripAdvisor, Trustpilot and Glassdoor have harnessed the digital voice of consumers to provide a more transparent way of recognizing excellence.

Indeed, transparency is where most traditional awards, many self nominated by the recipients themselves, completely fall down.

There is rarely clarity on why someone wins, why someone loses, or why someone was ruled out in the first place.

In fact the awards business wholly lacks any real transparency which is why many people leap to the conclusion that winning comes down to who sponsors what and which organisations buy the most tables.

Social media has enabled a new transparency, you can no longer control your messaging within closed industry borders.

We’ve still got organisations who are still adapting to an era where they can be answered back and where they don’t have the final word.

Many still think their brands can be controlled (they can’t).

Many still think that their brand is their own (it isn’t).

As Jayne Hilditch has said  – every time an organisation over claims how good it is, another piece of trust with the customer dies.

Those organisations who act like ‘awards tourists’, gathering baubles in very public shows of self affirmation may find themselves having to answer difficult questions.

Who really benefits from awards – and how? 

 


 

Image by analogicus from Pixabay 

If We Don’t Develop Different Relationships, We’ll Lose Our Legitimacy

If we do not respond to people and communities’ desire for power, we will lose our legitimacy and waste the potential of the many ways they can have agency over what matters to them. If we do not continually, bravely work to build trust, we will lose the essential foundation for everything we do. – Civil Societies Futures

I’ve had a week of fascinating conversations, all linked by one theme, the apparent reluctance of many of our institutions to cede any sort of meaningful power and decision making to communities.

Part of the problem is the social sector is a field of business that profits from past societal failure. The entire premise relies on reaction.

When your business model is founded on profiting from being reactive – there is little incentive to change.

There’s also a very real question about skillsets and mindsets. During my conversation with Lizzie Spring it became apparent that at some point we shifted from entrepreneurial community based models (think: the birth of the social housing movement for example) to ones based on efficiency and the accumulation of wealth.

Necessarily this has forced organisations to be more ‘business like’ with career pathways for ‘professionals’.  It’s hardly surprising that communities feel organisations have become more distanced, remote and less accessible.

CHC Trust Presentation (1)

A couple of weeks ago a consortium of housing providers tweeted an animated GIF showing a lonely looking person peering out of a desolate block of flats. The tagline read something like ‘Housing Associations provide services to some of the most vulnerable and hard to reach people in the UK’.

What on earth are we trying to say? 

A number of tenants jumped on the tweet and pointed out – quite rightly – that it is the institutions themselves that are hard to reach not the people they serve. It was deleted by the following day.

It would be easy to write things like this off as the mistake of junior comms person but this attitude speaks of something far more fundamental: that organisations have become disconnected from their original purpose and are happy in their role as rescuers of people.

CHC Trust Presentation

In today’s world of rising demand and scarce resources the doing, not just the talking, needs to be new and different. You can’t change a relationship without actual changing your behaviour.

A new report from Adam Lent and Jessica Studdert sets out a compelling case for a deep shift in public services based on a completely new relationship between citizen and state. This relationship rejects the hierarchical and transactional mindsets of traditional service models which all too often bypass people’s assets and capabilities.

It highlights the risk of seeing citizens only as atomised consumers – something the digital transformation zealots are actively encouraging. This consumerism only leads one way – to a growing sense of alienation and frustration with public services and the state.

The report goes on to state this isn’t inevitable. There is a huge opportunity to change.

CHC Trust Presentation (2)Our communities want change – and they know what’s not working. This appetite for power and influence is a once in a generation opportunity to reconnect with people and establish entirely new relationships.

We mustn’t all focus on housing the homeless. We mustn’t all focus on filling prisons or A+E departments. 

We have to move to a more preemptive model that builds on what is already there rather than seeing our organisations as curators of the worlds problems.

The conversations I’ve had this week, and the grassroots innovation that some organisations are fostering (notably in Wales), fill me with a lot of positivity.

The modern social entrepreneurs aren’t waiting for permission from regulators or consensus from their industry body. They aren’t bothered about awards or being seen at industry events. They never look at benchmarking. Many of them aren’t even paid or employed in the social sector.

They know that the way we have become organised is dysfunctional – and they are forging ahead with relationships first and services last. They are working with communities as equals rather than as professionals.

They might not know what works yet but they are clear about one thing: not returning down a path to paternalism and disempowerment.

This incremental change can build and gather momentum – becoming massive change for the entire social sector.

No-one is stopping us.


 

This post has been inspired by conversations this week with Lizzie Spring, Shirley Ayres, Serena Jones, Chris Bolton, Ena Lloyd and Pritpal Tamber. Thanks guys

The full slide deck on rebuilding trust as featured at #CHCGOV19 is featured here 

The Problem With Professionals

Social progress is about the expansion of freedom, not the growth of services – Cormac Russell

Our digital networks, Twitter, in particular, are unparalleled listening tools.

I follow thousands of accounts, many organised into lists so I can get a sense of what’s going on in innovation, technology, health, housing – and the social sector generally.

Right now – I think there’s an interesting development happening that’s worthy of comment.

It’s this:
  • It appears organisations risk becoming more siloed. Whilst digital connects us in ways never before possible – whole sectors are still just talking to themselves.
  • This sense of disconnection is being made ever more visible – to the public, to patients, to tenants of social housing.

Social media isn’t the great leveller we thought it might be – but it’s certainly a great revealer.  It’s not shifting the balance of power — but it’s shining a torch on where power is held and how it behaves.

Dissonance

A couple of weeks ago I was on holiday flicking through Instagram. By complete chance, the algorithm had placed two photographs directly above each other.

  • Firstly was the imposing black husk of Grenfell Tower –  a monument to the dead and ignored.
  • Next to it was a picture from a sector awards ceremony, with a champagne bottle placed in front of some happy smiling ‘professionals’, celebrating how good we are at engaging communities.

I’m not naming the sector (you can probably guess) but it’s kind of irrelevant. We’ve all been there and done it, and celebrating success IS very important – but our digital behaviours are now being represented and recreated in contexts we are not even fully aware of.

The Problem With ‘Professionals’

What social media does very effectively is highlight where friction occurs. Nowhere is that friction more evident than when people in housing, health and social care cast themselves, often unintentionally, as professionals and experts to be listened to.

This behaviour can give off the impression of an exclusive club, populated by those in the know, who are using their exclusive access (and exclusive language) to solve problems and design services on behalf of citizens.

The professionalisation of the social sector – conducted in a such a public way -immediately places one group in a position of power and influence:

Empowering words, but disempowering actions.

The digital age is disrupting the accepted rules of discourse. No longer is a relationship solely between citizen and institution. What was once a fairly binary one to one relationship behind closed doors is now conducted within a much wider social and public context.

Engagement Versus Empowerment

Across the social sectors, practitioners and organisations play many different roles in the implementation and diffusion of the ideas and projects that they seek to promote. Some of these roles can serve to empower communities, while others can actively disempower them.

As Phil Murphy commented engagement isn’t a destination, it’s a route to empowerment. Services are sometimes a means to an end but rarely an end in themselves. There are few things that happen in communities that can’t be solved by communities themselves.

We can’t continue adopting a deficit mindset where the answer to everything is:

  • More Government intervention
  • More resources
  • More services
  • More ‘professionals’

We need to move away from focussing on what’s wrong, and seek to solve problems with communities not for communities.

If we continue to behave as a professionalised class – organising ourselves into deeper sector silos, talking to each other and forming policy on behalf of other people – we’ll bring about our own demise.

We’ll see a ‘Brexit-Effect’ – with the neglected and unheard looking for an opportunity to get back at those who had never listened to their grievances or invited them to the top-table.

People can clearly see where the power is held.

Sooner or later they’ll want to take some of it.

How To Design For Better Outcomes

Our job is to the mind the gap between the bureaucracy of our systems and the opportunities in our communities – Cormac Russell

Sometimes it’s preferable to pull the plug on a service before you see it collapse in front of your eyes.

A recent report says we are trapped in a reactive spending cycle on public services – with hospitals, schools, adult social care, and prisons all being propped up with cash bailouts ‘just to keep troubled services going’.

We instinctively know that the demand issues that are hitting the social sector are a result of complex problems. We know that billions of pounds may give some short-term relief but won’t tackle the root cause.

Are we destined to be forever reactive, or is there another way?

There’s a reason many of our organisations are waiting for the next crisis: they are designed that way.

  • Health services are designed to be reactive: only around 3% of national health sector budgets are currently spent on prevention.
  • Prisons are becoming overpopulated because the system is designed to accommodate overcrowding.
  • Housing and social care are designed to be difficult to access – with multiple providers of similar services.

Seemingly we get the outcomes we were designed to achieve. How can we design better ones?

As with so many things – the answer lies in going back to the start.

Clanmil Session (1)

At Bromford we’ve gone back to problem definition across every aspect of our organisation, dividing it into 31 unique service areas.

We started with a very simple task for each leader: define your service offer in just 150 words.

Not to describe what a service does, but to question why it even needs to exist in the first place.

 

Asking why a service needs to exist means you can pose all sorts of playful questions with the intention of shaping a better outcome.

What we found was many of our services have an imbalance between solving problems for the customer and solving problems for the business.

A good example is a reactive home repairs service, good for the customer (get stuff fixed relatively quickly), bad for the business (costly and a logistical nightmare).

That then leads you to explore new lines of inquiry – how could we coach customers to repair things themselves? How could we better balance reactive and planned services?

Across the social sector, reactive services aren’t just bad for business, they fundamentally disempower citizens.

Many well-intentioned services can replace, control or overwhelm the power of community to do things for themselves.

The social sector is a field of business that profits from past societal failure – providing episodic interventions when things go wrong rather than pre-emptive problem-solving.

Our role then to is to move beyond designing reactive outcomes and into designing for progress.

That means thinking about customer needs right at the start of the process – something that sounds obvious but just isn’t applied in practice. This lack of design thinking is exactly why people aren’t getting the sort of social outcomes they expect.

As citizens, we aren’t interested whether you’ve hit your targets or your service level standards. We don’t care about your transformation plans and your five year forward views.

We don’t care about your outcomes – only the progress your outcomes represent.

How Much Good Does Your Organisation Really Achieve?

We don’t usually think of achievements in terms of what would have happened otherwise, but we should. What matters is not who does good but whether good is done.” ― William MacAskill, Doing Good Better

We all love an uplifting story of a simple innovation that solves a tricky social problem.

Anyone who’s been to a poor country will probably have seen women pumping water for their families in searing heat from a communal well.

That was the problem the PlayPump set out to fix. By getting children to play on a merry-go-round to pump water it hoped to transform back breaking manual labour into a leisure activity.

The more a child spins the more life saving water gets pumped – with playground equipment something they had never seen before in their lives. Kids are happy, Mum’s happy.

Ingenious , right?

Wrong.

Despite numerous innovation awards, millions of dollars spent and endorsements from the likes of Bill Clinton and Jay Z , no one had really considered the practicalities of the PlayPump.

  • In order to pump water, PlayPumps needed constant force, and the kids playing on them would quickly get exhausted or even injured.
  • The women whose lives were supposed to be made easier ended up pushing the merry-go-round themselves, which they found more tiring and time consuming than using a hand-pump.
  • And unlike the hand-pump, which locals could repair themselves using their own skills , the PlayPump required expensive outside assistance.

Critically – the Merry-Go-Round required continuous use for 27 hours to generate the same amount of water as the hand-pump did in a day.

PlayPumps are a critical lesson in learning from failure.

The book by William MacAskill has a stark warning for the social sector:

When it comes to helping others being unreflective often means being ineffective.

Today we need less talk of innovation and more evidence of impact. All of us need to demonstrate how we solve problems for people, how we realise savings, and how we make the world a better place.

That means answering difficult questions.

change-001

MacAskill adds another question that is a recurring motif throughout his book:

What would have happened anyway?

It’s a question we hardly ever consider.

Suppose we did nothing.

Is it possible that similar social outcomes could be achieved without us getting involved? In the case of the PlayPump it seems so.

The social sector – in the UK alone – is worth billions so it’s only right that we get better at scrutinising the effectiveness of all the players.

If your role is to deliver social outcomes then you have a responsibility to articulate how those outcomes have been achieved. And those outcomes should demonstrate what you uniquely brought to the party – rather than what would have happened anyway.

To use a couple of examples using this thinking let’s look at the world of housing associations, the main providers of affordable housing in the UK.

  • Housing Associations will often claim social impact as they build a certain number of new homes every year. For example let’s say they claim to have built 200 annually. However had they done nothing it’s almost certain that those homes would have been built anyway – by one of the other 900+ housing non-profits that exist. The same overall number of homes would be supplied. To the people moving in it’s largely irrelevant which housing association manage them. Arguably the average landlord confers no more social benefits or quality of life to the tenant compared to anyone else.
  • Another common claim is the number of people an organisation has helped into employment. Again – what would happen if, say, you didn’t give any help to 100 unemployed people? The jobs would almost certainly still get filled regardless. The people may have gained jobs without your help. It’s even plausible that they might have gained better paying or more rewarding jobs if they’d never laid sight on you.

Just because you’re involved with a social activity does not mean you can claim causation. Just because you do good does not mean you are good at achieving social outcomes.

You can certainly see why organisations make claims of social impact without evidence or even exaggerate their role in it – it’s great for marketing.

The Fairtrade movement has altered the buying habits of thousands of us. But despite a $7billion a year industry in ‘fairer’ coffee, clothing and other goods there’s limited evidence of the impact on the actual workers involved.

In an era where there is a trust deficit – where belief in charities and non-profits is no longer implicit – it’s the responsibility of all us to go beyond traditional marketing and provide a persuasive evidence base for the impact of our work.

As MacAllister points out – how much good you achieve is the difference between what happens as a result of your actions and what would have happened anyway.

Arguably if the organisation you work for cannot demonstrate equal or better social outcomes than your peers – there’s simply no reason for it to exist.

How Do We Know Our Organisations Are Really Succeeding?

Every day, organisations promise to make the world a better place.

How do we know they are really succeeding?

The National Health Service we are told is the world’s best healthcare system.  Yet the NHS has a poor record on one fairly important indicator – actually keeping people alive.

We often hear that housing associations prevent homelessness , but in the 50 years since Cathy Come Home rough sleeping has increased from about 965 people each night to over 4000.

We have a ‘world class legal system’,  but at the end of last year 77 of the 117 prisons in England and Wales were overcrowded.  By contrast the Netherlands has a shortage of prisoners , and is turning prisons into boutique hotels and temporary homes for refugees.

Perhaps it’s time to move away from soundbites and spend a little more time at the source of the problem.

 

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Health is an interesting one – there’s a big difference between quality and availability of healthcare and actual outcomes. The UK ranks only 23rd on the Bloomberg Healthiest Countries list.  Another report by the Nuffield Trust indicates that, compared with other countries, the UK’s healthcare system is no more than ‘better than average’.

Italy , with plenty of doctors in the country and a diet full of fresh vegetables. fish and lean meats, is the place to be. Maybe it’s easier to solve problems with pasta and olive oil?

The issue of course is that problems like health, housing and offending fall into the category of what Professor Horst Rittel termed ‘wicked problems’.

Wicked problems are difficult to define. Many possible explanations may exist. Individuals perceive the issue differently. Depending on which explanation you choose, the solution takes on a different form.

Tame problems, by contrast,  can be clearly written down. The problem can be stated as a gap between what is and what ought to be. There’s usually pretty easy agreement about the problem definition.

Tame problems might still need a high degree of creativity to approach – but they are ultimately solvable – often by one organisation acting alone.

Wicked problems on the other hand aren’t amenable to a single organisation with its top down instinct to define, analyse, dissect and process.

And that’s why more money for the NHS won’t make us any healthier, and more prisons won’t stop reoffending. And if you want to solve homelessness the worst thing you could do is create more housing associations.

Simon Penny (who I’m delighted to say is soon to join Bromford Lab) writes that many of our trickiest social issues can be thought of as wicked problems because of their complex nature – and this means that finding solutions to them often isn’t easy. Especially in a world where organisations and even internal departments act in isolation.

The chance of solving wicked problems whilst acting alone is virtually zero.

The issue we face is that many of our organisations are driven by top down metrics that attempt to solve things through quite a narrow lens. Because we don’t employ a rigorous process for understanding the dimensions of the problem, we miss opportunities to address the underlying strategic issues.

This gives our organisations the illusion of solving problems – but we rarely do. In fact we often create more problems for others.

Wicked problems are forever interconnected. You can’t solve them at organisation or even sector level.  The challenge is connecting the various players and closing the gaps.

Perhaps if we stopped thinking of people as problems to be solved we’d turn our organisations upside down.

There are problems in communities but there are even more opportunities.  Even if people do need ‘help’ they are just as likely to find what they need from a friend or a neighbour as they are from a ‘professional’.

Oh, and before you pack your bags and leave for Italy, consider that it too has failed to join up problems. Youth unemployment – at a staggering 40.3% – is twice the European average. It’s saddled with one of the world’s highest debt loads and most of those doctors that have kept the country so healthy are nearing, or even past, retirement age. The country is sitting on a time bomb.

The problem you are tackling today doesn’t start with your organisation,  and neither – so it seems – does the answer.


 

Photo Credit: Anton Nikolov

Building Trust and Standing Out in the Digital Age

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In many ways the events of 2016 are less a surprise and more the logical outcome of what we already knew.

As I wrote early last year – we are in an era of ‘trust deficit’ – where more people distrust institutions than believe in them.

When belief in government, business, media and nonprofits dips below 50%, you are bound to see mavericks emerge to challenge the incumbents.

At opposing ends of the spectrum Farage, Trump and Corbyn have used digital and physical networks to leverage the untapped potential in these communities.

Question is – will this mood of anti-establishment dissent sweep across the social sector?

Let’s be challenging:

  • Housing talks to housing.
  • Care talks to care.
  • Health talks to health

I could go on. It’s not so much an echo chamber as an entire galaxy of echo chambers – each their own solar system of professional bodies, conferences and award ceremonies.

If a malcontented public has taken a swipe at the political establishment for being out of touch and bureaucratic – we surely have to consider ourselves fair game too.

The only difference being we can’t be voted out.

But what if Uber really did do health, housing and social care? It seems impossible to imagine our failure to adapt and change is not being carefully watched by leaner, smarter start-ups.

As consumers we are well-informed and volatile as never before. Through pervasive social media and connectivity we are inundated with information which magnifies any grievance – real or imagined.

At Comms Hero this week Grant Leboff pointed out that we’re now so inundated with noise even Coca Cola are marketing as one brand in an effort to stand out.

The point Grant made was clear – in an age of storytelling you need to take a position. If you have no position you won’t keep attention. And most communications fail as we don’t have the balls to take a position.

Conversely there’s huge opportunity here for organisations:

  • Mediocrity doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a choice you get to make everyday. You can take a position tomorrow.
  • Trust is built through engagement and integrity -we can consider whether every action we take is a trust builder or trust killer.
  • We can enshrine transparency as part of our values – with less talk of innovation and more demonstration of our impact.

In the US election only one voter in 50 viewed both candidates as trustworthy; nearly one in three voters said neither was.

Without trust, institutions just stop working. The incumbents get disrupted. 

Many organisations have chosen to ignore the warnings about public expectations of more openness, transparency & accountability.

Any leadership team or board who are not actively building trust right now are in peril.

 

Designing Out Problems Through Networks

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On Monday I attempted my swiftest ever return to work after a trip.

My plane from Zanzibar via Kilimanjaro and Doha landed at 6am. I was home by 8:30am, online by 9 and in work by 11.30am.

I felt like The Man Who Fell To Earth. I’d had 16 days without any problems. Now – they were back.

  • It started on the M6 – with our taxi driver talking of ‘six months of hell’ as new roadworks attempt to solve a perennially unsolvable problem.
  • It continued in work  as we talked of problems too big to take on at once – and the amount of resource needed to tackle them.
  • The media and the Twitter chat was all about big intractable social problems – health, housing and social care. The same big intractable problems we were talking about 5, 10, 15 years ago.

Here’s the interesting thing. In the 16 days previously I hadn’t encountered a problem – in circumstances where you absolutely might expect to find one.

  • My malaria meds arrived in time from an online retailer – supplied faster and more cheaply than the NHS could manage.
  • I took four flights that all took off on time and arrived ahead of schedule. The baggage, tracked digitally, arrived safely – as it always has with that carrier.
  • I stayed in four places booked online by Booking.com and Airbnb. Each one was expecting me, required no paperwork and I got exactly what I ordered.
  • I used about 10 taxi journeys and all of them arrived early – pre booked online or negotiated with local drivers who confirmed bookings through WhatsApp.

The only problem I had was that I bust my GoPro camera (human error) – but even this has been resolved and I have a new one just four days after I arrived back.

We can’t compare the problems of the UK and the social sector to a frivolous trip but there are lessons to learn.

  • New entrants are using the opportunities afforded by digital to step into the gaps and solve problems that have plagued people for years.
  • Smart organisations are reimagining their customer experience for a digital era rather than digitising existing services.
  • Platforms are replacing intermediaries – focussing on specialisms and performing the functions that organisations have traditionally found difficult.
  • Savvy entrepreneurs are spotting services ripe for disruption – introducing simple work arounds to turn distrusted services into trusted ones.
  • Communities are using technology to leapfrog the natural adoption cycle. In a village I stayed in most homes had no electricity or running water – and yet WhatsApp and mobile payments were common.
  • Additionally I observed the power of letting people solve their own problems – and shifting from the mindset of institutions as the default.

This is not a post about digital technology.  Although – everything that can be automated will be automated.

This is about networks. 

All of the things I have highlighted above have been improved by bringing in new entrants, building new relationships, forgetting the past and flexing business models.

Our organisations are not best placed to solve their own problems. They need help from a variety of sources – communities, entrepreneurs, technologists.

Any sector that has multiple players performing similar services is ripe for disruption. And right now multiple people are working on the biggest problems your organisation faces.

Organisations who fail to seize the opportunities will see someone else step into the gap and solve the problems for them.

Most of these people don’t work for you – and never want to.

The challenge is to bring these players into our  networks – reshaping our organisations with them.

Sitting around and waiting to see what they come up with is about the riskiest strategy we could adopt right now.

What if Uber did health, housing and social care?

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If you’ve been to a conference in the past 12 months – you’ll almost certainly have seen the slide above, or a version of it.

Mentioning “disruptive innovation” adds a sprinkle of sophistication to otherwise ordinary presentations. It’s a sit up and take notice slide that says: ‘Better listen, or you could be history.”

However – it doesn’t always hit its intended target. A significant portion of the audience at a couple of events I’ve been to recently have looked at each other as if to say ‘that couldn’t happen to us’.

The reason for this seems to be the comfort blanket that can come with extended working in the public and social sectors.

The thinking can go like this.

  • We are different.
  • We deal with people who are highly complex with multiple needs and vulnerabilities.
  • No tech outfit could hope to understand the extent of the personalisation involved in our services.

It’s optimistic thinking – probably the same that was held by some taxi firms pre-Uber and hotels before Airbnb.

It’s going to take radical change a lot closer to home before many managers recognise how profoundly the rules of business have changed in the digital age.

Arguably though , it’s already happening. I’ve made a slide of my own that might be more relevant to the public sector.

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Far from fantasy – we are at the beginning of the end of one size fits all health, housing and social care monopolies.

Some examples:

Mercy is a hospital with no beds, no waiting rooms and no patients.There are nurses but they work virtually, providing care across 33 hospitals. The strategy is quickly expanding beyond hospitals and into the home. By keeping tabs on patients at home, Mercy can help keep people with chronic conditions out of the hospital.

Buurtzorg is a care system without managers, even though it has 9000 employees. To kill bureaucracy and overheads there are no call centres. Nurses take the calls. In self-managing teams of ten they plan patient visits and decide how long they spend there, depending on their judgement of the need.

Honor is home care without direct employees. Like Uber , the care professionals here are self employed and use an app that helps them find and keep track of job offers. Applicants undergo background checks and in-person interviews to screen them, with only 5% allowed onto the platform so far.  More flexible than traditional care – it allows people to book packages in just one hour increments, and aims to foster long-lasting relationships between caregiver and the customer.

What these systems and technologies do is to enable existing infrastructure to be used more efficiently. They are harnessing the power of the connected citizen rather than the analogue organisation. As Alastair Parvin has written – we are no longer stuck with the choice between the public sector and the private sector. The citizen sector now needs to be recognised as a viable, industrial force.

Is it impossible to imagine a local authority as just a digital platform with its services all outsourced?

Paul Blantern, Chief Exec of Northamptonshire County Council is almost there. The Council employed 12,000 people when he took over. Today they employ 6,000 and his vision is to reduce that to just 150. He was asked in this programme “Is there anything you wouldn’t outsource?”. His response – “No – it’s all about the outcome to the end user.” Essentially the ‘Council’ could reduce to zero as long as people feel the services are still good. [UPDATE MARCH 2018: This approach was ultimately disastrous]

Is it impossible to imagine other organisations , housing associations for example, being managed entirely differently? Rather than multiple companies we may see a singular platform where users themselves directly procure the services they need from the cloud. The next generation of housing manager could be an algorithm rather than a person.

It’s not just housing. Any sector that has multiple players performing similar services is ripe for disruption.

There’s no question about whether the Uber , AirBnb, Facebook and Alibaba of the public sector will emerge.

It’s simply a matter of when.

 

[Credit to  Mike Clark and Shirley Ayres for inspiration on the slide! Thanks both]

 

We need more people solving problems – not professionals.

Everyone has a story to tell, everyone has strengths beneath the conceptions that you have of them. But if you’re curious enough, you may just find that the answers you’ve always been looking for are there, often right beside you. – William Lilley

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Everywhere you look at the beginning of 2015 you will see a crisis.

In case you missed it there is currently a crisis in Accident and Emergency Units which is part of the wider health crisis. There’s a housing crisis as well. And a crisis in social care , unemployment , education and policing. Not forgetting the welfare crisis which is wreaking havoc on millions.

There’s crisis everywhere.

The current trend in mainstream politics , and on social media , is to talk of Britain as broken.  And then we act all surprised and outraged when people turn to parties like UKIP who hark back to a golden age that never truly existed.

People are so sick of hearing about crisis they lose faith and begin searching for someone who appears to offer a more compelling vision. Who can blame them?

Except if you scratch the service on any of those things you’ll find the crisis label to be untrue, or misleading at the very least.

What we have is an excess of demand over supply and deeply dysfunctional systems.

Most of our public services were designed pre-decimal never mind pre-digital.

We really shouldn’t be surprised they aren’t fit for purpose.

The problem lies with the people who created those systems and who work within them. Us.

Over new year I had a break at one of the Red Sea resorts seeking a bit of winter sun along with scores of pasty faced Europeans.

One of the benefits of being locked into an all-inclusive euro-mashup is you have some very random conversations with people we are told are hugely different to us , but are of course not.

The best conversation I had was with an Italian guy and one of our Egyptian hosts.

We were talking about the various crises our countries are experiencing and the role of communities.

Sal was telling us of the boom in the ‘suspended coffee’ movement in Italy.  The concept is pretty simple: You walk into a coffee shop, and instead of buying just one cup of coffee you also buy one (or more) for someone in need. Your get yours and the second coffee is “suspended”. It can be claimed or given out by the barista to people they think deserving. I always believed that the movement was a modern viral phenomenon but Sal told us it was a Neapolitan tradition that originated in World War II. The principle is that in a time of hardship, Italians can lack many things, but not coffee!

Ahmad told us about the rise of the “Town Helper” in parts of Cairo and Alexandria. Because of the huge drain of young men to work in the Red Sea resorts many of the families left behind face a significant skills gap. These guys work incredibly long hours with hardly anytime off. When they do  get a few days off – every few weeks – they return to their families for precious time with loved ones. To make sure they spend the maximum time with their families they fund , largely through tips from tourists , a number of people to do tasks whilst they are away from home. Each Helper , is shared between a number of families , to plug the gaps that have been left in communities.

I talked of the growth of Food Banks in the UK which we largely view as a sign of failure but actually speak of tremendous generosity – of communities looking after their own. I don’t pretend to give lots, I just throw a few things in the collection on every visit to the supermarket – to the extent that I’ve actually stopped thinking about it. It’s just a little pay it forward gesture that millions of us are doing without prompting. I also told them of the Bromford Deal and how we are embarking on a huge cultural shift to unlock potential in people rather than seeing ourselves as professional rescuers.

I talked of how the Deal is – at its essence – a belief that people don’t exist in a state of need and can do amazing things if we empower them and step out of the way.

Due to excess brandy the conversation veered off in all sorts of directions: but the important thing is we all agreed that some of the best initiatives don’t come from Government. None of the above did.

For many years we’ve built infrastructure and services that people neither need or want. We make interventions without outcomes. We produce reports that have no readers. 

We must ask ourselves how we became so removed from the people we were set up to serve. 

Our communities are not in crisis.

There is a massive untapped reservoir of skill and talent that we chose to ignore because we thought we could do it better as professionals.

We couldn’t.

Let’s put it right.

2015: The year we put the social back into housing 

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You can have super star status online without any official status offline; you can be a powerful chief executive offline with very little impact online – Victoria Betton 

Just over two years ago I pronounced rather grandly that 2012 was the year we went social. The year the UK housing sector embraced new technologies embarking on a journey of redefinition for the era of digital transformation.

Looking back at that now it seems very naive. 

In reality only a fraction of the sector is genuinely experimenting with new forms of digital engagement. 

I haven’t the time or inclination to count how many housing CEOs maintain an active social media presence . But I’m taking a considered guesstimate it’s around 15%. 

By way of example just five of the high profile G15 Group of CEOs have a presence on Twitter and only three in a way that’s meaningful. 

But it’s not just leaders , The staple roles of the sector , housing officer , maintenance engineer , support worker are – by and large – missing in action and failing to embrace golden opportunities to connect with communities. 

Board members are pretty much invisible although there are some very notable exceptions. 

Organisations that livestream or share from board meetings?  CEOs doing Facebook chats or hangouts? You could count them on one hand – even if you’d had an unfortunate accident with a meat cleaver.

 Additionally most organisations still have the dial firmly set to Promote rather than Converse.

Do a check on any housing brand account. Check how many of their last 10 posts directly link back to their own website. There’s a prize if you can name ten that don’t reference themselves 90% of the time. 

Here’s a shot of realism: UK housing is about 10-15% operational on social media. At best. 

This speaks to me of a lack of curiosity. An insularity that has haunted the sector for the entire time I’ve been part of it. It’s not a good look. 

People often talk to me about the battles fought in their organisations to get digital adopted. It’s all too often a sad story of risk averse leaders , hierarchical control and command, power mad comms teams and rabid IT and governance departments.

Of course this isn’t true everywhere: some are setting an astonishing pace. 

Power Players 14 and Connected Housing showed there are a raft of organisations and people who are sharing ideas, connecting with others and reaching beyond sector boundaries. We could have filled the Power Players list four times over last year.

There’s also a growing movement of CEO front runners – although it’s notably stronger in northern England and Wales than elsewhere. 

This lack of leadership presence is especially puzzling given housing has an obsession about getting its message heard. (The laudable if slightly self-serving “build more homes”). 

And therein lies the problem: anyone that focuses solely on getting their message heard is guilty of the most heinous of social crimes: broadcasting. 

My big wish for 2015? That organisations and a whole sector could wake up to that fact that endlessly broadcasting your “message” just isn’t going to work. 

This is a world built on relationships and connections. It involves you listening to others, generously sharing and doing more than just following everyone else in your sector. 

I hope to be writing a different post in 12 months time.

  • I hope to write of the social leaders who are openly challenging mediocre services and championing innovation and risk.
  • I hope to see organisations using social to reconnect with communities and embracing the emerging online tenant voice. 
  • I want to see organisations experimenting with new networks and technology in inventive ways. Having a Twitter account is a minimum requirement now not a badge of honour.
  • I’d love to see more recognition of the talents of individuals and communities rather than the well intentioned but paternalistic focus on rescuing people from the latest reforms. 

Most of all I want social housing to be more social.

It’s a new year and a new start – where we can put bad habits to bed. Latecomers can join the party and we’ll welcome them with open arms.

Let’s make 2015 our Zero Year. 

We can do amazing things when we’re better connected. 

It’s our job to give customers a story to tell, not tell it for them…

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“Guinness is lovely but it will always be the same, a (delicious) black and white drink – simple and unchanging. Subway do nice sandwiches.

Lego make little bricks.

The work of housing associations, councils, the NHS and other government departments is about our lives: it’s dramatic, it makes a difference to the way we live every day and the stories are changing and fascinating.

Being important doesn’t mean being tedious. Having serious intentions doesn’t stop you from being entertaining.”Helen Reynolds

I used to dread people asking me what I do for a living.

If you work for a Housing Association you’ll know the feeling. Most people will simply look blank and confused at your explanation.  They search around for a bit, visibly straining as they try to understand. There’s almost always an awkward silence before they suggest:

“Is it a a bit like council housing?”

“Well, yes. It’s a bit like council housing.”

The conversation quickly moves on to talk about anything – anything – other than housing associations.

I gave up describing myself as working in housing about three years ago. I started to say I worked for a charity.

Charity is a great word.

It says you must be a decent sort of person.  And it travels well.

Charity works as well in Asia or Africa as it does down your local pub. It says you are interested in people. That’s always a good thing.

A couple of years ago I did a brief social experiment about how the housing sector talked about people online. The results were telling:

 Less than 8% of the stories we told were directly about the people living in our homes and communities.

On November 12th it was #HousingDay – which aims to celebrate those very people and their achievements. The first event in 2013 reached thousands and trended on Twitter.

Ade Capon , the founder of the campaign says for 2014 he’d like to inspire and engage customers to create and send their own stories – capturing their aspirations and ambitions.

Ade is a very modest guy who has used the power of social media to create something that a whole sector was previously incapable of.

Cynics have accused #HousingDay , and similar campaigns that it has inspired,  of being mere window dressing. A bit of digital fluff that gets sector people talking to each other but fails to make wider social impact.

I disagree. Anything that tries to shift the narrative away from sloganeering and messaging towards conversation and story telling has to be applauded.

As I posted recently– there are nearly 4 million people living in social housing but we hear little from them. That’s why the narrative for social housing gets so little traction. It’s largely a campaign run by social housing professionals for social housing professionals.

However things are changing – the past 12 months has seen a range of customers starting blogs , campaigns and websites. Their voice is beginning to take centre stage.

The organised customer involvement movement which consists of formalised committees and bodies has failed to adapt to the digital age. I predicted three years ago that they would be replaced by a self organised movement of individuals who use social technology to seek wider change.

This is scary to many but we should find it tremendously exciting. Our organisations are not important in themselves and we should welcome the digital freedoms being explored by customers.

People will listen to any story if it is engaging enough.

My own blog started out talking to a housing audience. Today over 80% of subscribers are not from a housing background.  I’ve learned that if you talk about the difference you make rather than what you do – people will engage.

And if you listen to them too  – and build a conversation rather than a broadcast – people will share ideas with you.

Housing , much like health , care and support has a journey to go on.

  • We have to engage hearts and minds not through obsessively pushing a “message” – but by developing a lifelong relationship with people. Relationships built upon hectoring or shouting are not sustainable.
  • We need to identify shared passions and interests and continue having social conversations – on and offline.
  • We have to stop the seemingly endless rounds of awards ceremonies too. Apple , Google and Microsoft are some of the most valuable brands in the world but I never hear them going on about the awards they have won. Assuming they even enter awards in the first place. They let the people who have bought into their story do the talking.

It’s interesting that Helen Reynolds used Lego as a comparison.

Lego make interlocking plastic bricks.

  • What they are known for is their innovation and the creativity they inspire in people.
  • They have kept themselves endlessly relevant to different generations by keeping the story alive through video games , clothing, even theme parks.
  • They have founded a lifelong relationship with people through exceptional design and a focus on , guess what , the customer.

I work for an organisation that exists to do more that put bricks together. It tries to unlock potential in people.

Let’s put that centre stage.

The Top 50 Digital #PowerPlayers14 in #ukhousing

 

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You want to get to the list don’t you? 

Hold on. It’s coming.  

Before you look at the Top 50 influencers please read this guest post from Shirley Ayres who kindly agreed to collaborate with me on #powerplayers14.

For me…it sums up perfectly what it’s all about….

When the first Power Players 50 list was published I was surprised and complimented to be included.The list was intended as light hearted fun but the interest generated in who was included and why sparked a very lively debate.

I was delighted to be invited by Paul to collaborate on the #powerplayers14 list and we agreed that we needed to widen the criteria. We accept that Klout is an imperfect algorithm so added in scores from PeerIndex. We also invited public nominations. You can read the criteria we used here.

We wanted to create a different kind of list celebrating the diversity of people with an interest in housing who are using social media to connect, inspire and challenge.

We were particularly keen to encourage nominations for people working in and around the sector and we were pleasantly surprised by the diversity. 140 different people were nominated.

Digital technology has democratised access to information and created very different ways of enabling people to connect and share resources, thoughts and opinion. We live in a digitally connected world and in the crowded social space online influence is becoming increasingly important.

Influencers select, share and create content around topics which attract diverse audiences and offer real opportunities to drive action and effect change.

At a time when the housing sector is having to redefine their core mission and purpose, online engagement can amplify voices and offer alternative views to those presented by the mainstream media. Influencers are passionate about their interests and have invested time to grow and develop trust with those following on their social networks.

We all have access to a wide range of social media tools. It’s what individuals do with the tools that is important. Shared experiences on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and  blogs are valuable in earning trust over time.

Possibly the term power players is a bit of a misnomer in this context and a more appropriate term is super connectors. The housing sector is at an early stage of recognising the potential of social media to make new connections which are not limited by sector boundaries. It’s a potential for new collaborations , with the active involvement of customers in the development of new services.

Becoming a social business often requires a cultural mindshift which goes beyond thinking that social media is just a communications channel. People increasingly expect that organisations will not just reach out but also listen to them. The nominations for power players represented a cross section of people who are building connected communities and and modelling how social technologies can creatively help housing associations build new networks.

I believe that we need more opportunities to inspire staff and people who use services from across housing, care, health, charities and social enterprises to collaborate in exploring how to embed digital innovations as an integral part of the support available within every community.

Power players are by nature engagers and connectors who understand that social media is about connecting with people.

If we are battling for hearts and minds we need ambassadors who understand the issues at every level of the housing sector and are able to contribute to debates.

This list represents the new world of housing associations

 

So that’s the list! Congratulations to everyone who was nominated.

A diverse range of people and interests.

There are substantially more CEOs present than last year – a sign of social being taken more seriously?

Notably 7 of the Top 10 are women.

We’d love to get as many of your thoughts, congratulations or disagreements as possible in the comments below.

Do you agree with the list? Any omissions? Who should get special mention at the House Party awards for significant contributions?

Over to you….

Update: If you would like to follow a Twitter List featuring all the final 50 click here. Thanks to Jarrod Williams for this.

Top 50 Power Players In #UKHousing 2014 – Your Vote Counts….

Power. Influence. Social Housing Heroes
Power. Influence. Social Housing Heroes

A year ago I published The Top 50 Power Players In Housing [Klout Edition] – featuring people working in and around the sector.

The idea came to me as I was sipping rum at a beach bar in Jamaica, checking my Klout score and wondering why I hadn’t made the main list in 24 Housing Magazine.

More seriously – it was done as an exercise in comparing online and offline influence.

Only 14 of the original Power Players remained in the online list. The democratising effect of social media was apparent. CEOs disappeared almost completely and were replaced by people with less seniority – in the traditional hierarchical sense. There was a higher number of women, more ethnic diversity and at least 3 of the top 10 influencers were under the age of 30.

There is a serious point to this. We now have a generation of people working in Housing who have no idea who David Orr and Grania Long are. But they would recognise John Popham and Dominic Campbell. It’s increasingly important that UK Housing leaders embrace digital as a relationship builder rather than a broadcast channel.

I never expected the post to be so popular , it’s the number two ranked piece on this blog and still gets views every day.

I also never planned to do a follow up list , but due to public demand I’m pleased to announce that there will be a 2014 edition published in June!

To freshen it up I’m making three changes based on feedback:

  • Although it will still use the controversial Klout score, there will be some new measures included. So , for example , I’ll be looking if a person has a frequently updated blog or website. The full criteria will be published alongside the list.
  • Politicians are being dumped. You told me you’d prefer a list without elected members – one that concentrated on real people working in and around the sector.
  • For the first time you’ll be able to nominate people you feel have made a significant contribution through their online influence. Who has really shaped things this year? Who ran the best blog? The best social media campaign? Remember this list is reserved for individual people only – you can’t nominate Housing Associations or companies. You can nominate people however you want. You can mention them on Twitter using the hashtag #powerplayers14 , you can DM me or send an email. Ideally though you will add a thread to the bottom of this post. Nominations or suggestions must be made by midnight on Sunday May 11th. 

I’m delighted to say that Shirley Ayres – co-founder of the Connected Care Network is joining me to collaborate on the list. Shirley was the Number 1 ranked influencer on last years list after politicians. So , just like me, Shirley won’t be appearing on this years list!

The list will be announced in June and published on this blog simultaneously with the print publication in 24 Housing Magazine. Thanks to Jon Land who is a great sport for suggesting this. Watch out for news also on how some of this years list could find themselves invited to a special event at House Party on 24th June. Thanks to Matt Leach , who would get my vote for innovation in housing , for this.

So – over to you. Who are the Power Players 2014? Remember – they don’t have to work in housing. Just influence it.

As I’ve said – in an online super-connected world – sectors only exist in our imagination anyway….

UPDATE TO POST

SO HERE WE GO…………………

THE 2014 SHORTLIST (although it’s quite long)

Abigail Scott Paul

@AbigailSPaul
Adrian Capon @AdeCapon
Aileen Evans @Bushbell
Ailin Martinez @ailinmartinez
Alex Blandford @blangry
Alex Marsh @shodanalexm
Alex Noonoo @Goonooa
Alison Dean @alisonhanily
Alison Inman @Alison_Inman
Alistair Somerville @Acuity_Design
Alys Cole-King @AlysColeKIng
Amy Lythgoe @AmyL_BAH
Andy Johnson @andyjatbromford
Andy Orrey @AndyOrrey
Andy Williams @andywilliamsLHT
Angela Lockwood @Angela_NSHG
Anne McCrossan @Annemcx
Asif Choudry @asifchoudry
Barry Marlow @barrymarlow
Ben Black @BenBlack
Ben Marshall @BenM_IM
Boris Worral @borisorbitgroup
Brett Sadler @brettsadler77
Carl Brown @carlbrownIH
Carl Haggarty @carlhaggarty
Caroline King @CKingatHelena
Charlotte Harrison @charlotteh_nhc
Chenoa Parr @chenoaparr
Cheryl Tracy @ctracy861
Chris Bolton @whatsthepont
Chris Goulden @Chris_Goulden
Clare Parslow @ClareParslow
Clare Tickell @claretickell
Colin Wiles @colinwiles
Dan Slee @danslee
Darren Caveney @darrencaveney
David Orr @natfeddavid
Edwina O’Hart @EdwinaOHart
Elisa Faulkner @ems_wales
Gary Orr @gary yarlington
Gavin Smart @gavinsmartCIH
Grania Long @granialongCIH
Grant LeBoff @grantleboff
Hannah Fearn @Hannahfearn
Harry MetCalf @harrym
Helen Barnard @Helen_Barnard
Helen Reynolds @helreynolds
Helena Moore @helenajmoore
Housing Grunt @housing_grunt
Immy Kaur @ImmyKaur
Inti Popat @Intipopat
Jacque Allen @jacqueallen2
Jacqui Grimes @JacquiNHC
Jake Eliot @HousingJake
James Grant @BristolJames
James Pargeter @Jamespargeter
Jamie Baker @jamieofficer
Jamie Davies-Morgan @jamiedmorgan
Jamie Ratcliff @JamatGLA
Janet Hale @pilkingtonhale
Janet Hunter @housingrightsNI
Janet Storar @JREJanet
Jarrod Williams @jarrodwilliams
Jayne Hilditch @jaynehilditch
Jen Barfoot @JASbar
Jennie Donald @Jenny_Donald
Jennie Ferrigno @justjennie45
Jeremy Porteous @HousingLIN
Joe Halewood @SpeyeJoe
John Hocking @john_hocking
John Popham @johnpopham
John Wade @JohnW_Bromford
Jon Land @JonLand24
Jon Leighton @Pokerfiend
Jules Birch @jules_birch
Julia Unwin @juliaunwin
Julie Nicholas @JulieNCIH
Kate Davies @KateDaviesNHHT
Kate Murray @kate_murray
Kate Reynolds @kate_reyn
Kathleen Kelly @JRFKathleen
Keith Edwards @keithedwardscih
Ken Perry @kenperry47
Kevin Williams @kevinw_wulvern
Lara Oyedele @laraoyedele
Lily Dart @lily_dart
Lindsay Graham @LindsayGrahamUK
Lisa Hughes @LisaHug90813883
Lisa Pickard @lyha_LisaP
Lucy Ferman @lucyferman
Martin Wheatley @wheatley_martin
Matt Leach @matt_leach
Matthew Gardiner @TeamTHT
Matthew Smart @iMattSmart
Michala Rudman @michalarudman
Michelle Reid @MichReid2014
Mick Kent @mickkent2
Nearly Legal @nearlylegal
Nick Atkin @NickAtkin_HHT
Nick Duxbury @nickduxbury
Nick Horne @knightsinwhites
Paddy Gray @Paddygray1
Patrick Butler @PatrickJButler
Paul Diggory @pauldiggoryNWH
Paul Smith @asterpaul
Peter Bond @petebond7
Peter Brown @PeterFBrown
Peter Hall @PHHSI
Polly Neate @pollyn1
Rachel Honey-Jones @RHoneyJones
Rachel Morton @RachelJMorton
Rae Watson @RaeWatson_
Richard Crossley @richardinleeds
Richard Sage @bakedidea
Rob G @Simplicity
Rob Jefferson @RobJefferson
Rob Warm @robwarm1
Ross Williams @ross_williams79
Sahil Khan @khan_sahil
Sasha Deepwell @sashadeepwell
Shaun Tymon @shauntymon
Shibley Rahman @legalaware
Steve Cook @StephenCookV2C
Steve Hilditch @SteveHilditch
Steve Meakin @smeakin60
Steve Nestor @stevenestor1
Stuart McDonald @smacdonaldSM
Sue Roberts @sueR10
Tamsin Stirling @tamsinstirling
Tessy Britton @TessyBritton
Thom Bartley @thombartley
Tim Frier @timfrier
Tim Morton @timmorton2
Tim Pinder @pindertim
Toby Lloyd @tobylloyd
Tom Murtha @TomeMurtha
Tony Stacey @TonyStacey
Tracey Wilson @traceyregenda
Vic Rayner @VicRayner
Vicky Bannister @vmbannister
Vicky Green @Vicky_Green1
Victor da Cunha @victor_dacahuna
William Shortall @MerseyNorthBM

Well done everyone – the Final Fifty will follow in a few weeks…

Thanks for voting

Shirley and Paul

Don’t Listen To Your Sector: Be More Weird

Be_different___Smile_by_screamst

Had a bit of drama over the past week. I’ll recap it for you as quickly as possible – as most readers of this blog don’t work in the same sector as I do.

Essentially Mick Kent, my CEO, wrote a challenging piece setting out why we have embarked upon a different service vision. Bromford are celebrating 50 years in business – so you wouldn’t think it particularly controversial to reflect on the past and consider the future.

Not so. The piece sparked some astonishing responses – especially on social media. Many in the sector expressed derision and even outright contempt. How could one of their own say such things?

But experience suggests this is just a natural crowd reaction to someone stepping out of line and being different.

You’ll never see a sector – be it Housing, Care, Support or Health, drive innovation. It’s simply not in the interests of the majority to reward disruptive behaviour.

It’s one of the eternal challenges for industry bodies – they have to reflect the views of their average member. And the views of the average member are, by definition, average.

You’ll never find a sector that is wholly admirable either. Be it banking, retail, travel or charitable – you will find the good, the indifferent, and the bad.

And you’ll also find a few disruptors – pacesetters who are pushing forward with a bold new vision. Often that vision will be treated with initial scepticism – sometimes by customers as well as industry peers.

In the last month the 2013 UK Customer Experience Excellence Top 20 was announced. You’ll see that it’s made up of companies who have faced criticism precisely because they challenged the accepted order of things.

Let’s glance at the Top 10 :

10 – Waitrose – Broke out of their southeast heartland despite people saying, “It’ll never work in the north”.

9 – M+S – Launched Plan A (“because there is no Plan B”)  a programme to instil innovation across 81,000 employees and lose their old fashioned image.

8 – Ocado – A High St store “without any stores “ founded by three guys with no experience of retail. “A disaster waiting to happen” said critics.

7 – Lush – Showed cosmetics can be ethical and environmentally responsible, whist also being super indulgent and pleasurable. ” We hire for values , not skills”.

6 – M+S Simply Food – Darling of the middle classes opens branches in railway stations , airports and hospitals. Critics predict failure – “People will resist the idea of carrying high cost food shopping around with them.”

5 – Virgin Atlantic – Challenging the establishment, improving service and astounding its customers: “We’ve never been afraid to upset people”.

4- Amazon – From “destroyer of Book Shops” to “destroyer of the High Street”. Adored by their customers.

3 – First Direct – The only bank people love. Launched with two ad campaigns:  a negative one showing the everyday aspects of normal banking. A positive one showing how good First Direct would be. The banking sector was appalled. Customers applauded.

2 – QVC – Almost universally derided on its UK launch in 1993. Now a global leader in video and eCommerce retail. Just launched QVC Sprouts, a crowdsourced competition to search for the best up-and-coming entrepreneurs and new products

In first place? John Lewis.

A few years ago I was talking to John Lewis employees at a conference where they had been speaking. They told me that far from being lauded by their own sector they were often criticised. People said it was arrogant and pretentious they had their own language (colleagues as “Partners” for example). Their recruitment practices and culture had been described as “a cult”.

“People just think we are a bit weird,” they told me. “But we’re not bothered by what the industry thinks. Just the customers.”

I imagine the retail sector were cynical about the fuss around The Bear and The Hare , the Christmas advert by John Lewis . As was I.

Screenshot 2013-11-22 09.01.30

Nearly 8 million YouTube views. Number 1 in overall UK Customer Experience. Profits of 415 million.

A lesson for innovators – don’t listen to your sector: Be Different. Be More Weird.

2013 – Do we need a new operating system?

Windows 95

My first post of 2013 has been slightly delayed due to holiday. I love holidays. Not because they get me away from work but because it’s where I can put work into focus.  The further away I get from Bromford and the UK the greater clarity I get on the things that need to change. It’s a great way to put things into perspective and get inspiration. And you get a January tan.

So please forgive the holiday excesses of this post, which was written on a flight back from Singapore with a wine in one hand and an eye on the remake of Total Recall. (Which is absolutely appalling by the way, save yourself the time.) I’ve also blown my usual “Keep a post to 500 words rule”. Normal service will resume shortly.

Singapore is interesting. You will probably get more inspiration from 24 hours there than from any trade publication , sector conference, or benchmarking club you spend time on this year.  Singapore (where someone actually said to me “We solved homelessness and unemployment”) seems to run on a whole new operating system. A kind of iOS 6 to the UK’s Windows 95. The normal rules don’t seem to apply.

Flicking through Twitter whilst I was away it also struck me how much innovation is going on right now. The use of digital to bring together the disconnected. New services and initiatives in housing , health , financial literacy and job creation springing up on an almost daily basis. And these are not just being developed by a few enthusiasts but becoming mainstream provision.

In Africa. And Asia. And South America.

But not the UK.

The young and the hungry seem to be achieving things faster than we can.

I love the UK and I love the sector in which I work.

But is it time for a whole new operating system?  What our businesses do , and how that business is done, surely needs upgrading?  Because at the moment – they just can’t move fast enough.

Our existing OS is often run on Board Meetings and Business Plans and Budget Approvals and Risk Assessments – all things that are 20th Century constructs and need re-imagining.

So. Let’s make a start.

  In December I posted that 2012 was the year that the housing sector went social. By that I meant it had dipped its toes in the waters of new technologies and ways of communicating – particularly social media. And , all things considered, I think it made a pretty nifty start. But no-one in the sector has gone digital. New websites , Twitter accounts and fancy infographics certainly. All are more relevant and engaging ways of communicating.  But has anyone truly redesigned their business for the connected customer?

The big accepted issues in 2013 for the housing sector are welfare reform and the lack of affordable housing supply. However I don’t think that looking back in 20 years time we will agree on that.

2013 will be remembered as the year in which customers started leaving us behind. Operating faster than we can.

We are lucky. We have never lived in a time where our communities can become truly connected with each other and everything.  There are 5 million people living in social housing in the UK  and many more receive care and support services. Everyone of them will be able to connect with one another , lobby us for change , run our services , provide support for each other and create jobs that don’t exist.

The way our business operates can stand in the way of that.  Or we can step aside and facilitate the ascension of the connected customer.

I don’t underestimate the task ahead. It requires a huge mind-shift by organisations and stakeholders. Many have not considered the impact of the connected customer/tenant/user/patient. Some , dinosaur-like , are resisting adaptation and are soon to face their own personal Ice Age.

What sort of things could we be doing?

  • How about we give up our websites and make them open source to users? See if they could do a better job than us?  (I’m guessing they can)
  • What if we let communities design their own hubs – letting them join health , housing , and care in the way they would like to see them work? (Rather than how we think it should operate)
  • Why don’t we let tenants design and run a choice based lettings and transfer system that works? (enabling actual choice ,rather than an illusion of it, could be an early goal)
  • What if people could swap providers of services (support, work programme, care) and design their own as easily as I can edit my basket on Amazon? 

None of the above are particularly innovative. Certainly none are impossible. The only barriers to any of them happening are us. You and me.

This is my first post of 2013. It’s my personal resolution that by the end of the year we will have real examples of how we have used digital not just to engage users , but to fundamentally reshape what we do.

I’d love to hear what others think. Do let me know. And Happy New Year!

What’s in a name?

How do you describe what you do?

A few months ago an incredibly wise guy by the name of Bob Battye delivered a session to our Leadership team.

He challenged us to re-write our Linkedin profiles describing what we were like as people – what we were actually about – rather than what we actually DID.

It’s challenging.

We are so used to hiding behind job titles and career achievements. We use words that provide an easily understandable code to each other but , let’s be honest, mean little to anyone living in the real world.

That’s why plenty of Bromford people now have a profile reading something like this:

Bob reminded us that we engage with people not titles.  We are interested in people who show what they care about , rather than just the function they perform.

Job titles can often lead us to talk about our purpose in the most prosaic terms imaginable.

From Assistant to Officer to Team Leader to Head of Whatever , to Director of You Know What.

It’s too often about structure rather than culture.

Starbucks knew this. It just wouldn’t have worked if they had employed Beverage Attendants. They had to have Baristas instead.

Most modern job titles only exist for two reasons: To differentiate one department from another and to provide a snapshot of the persons position in the hierarchy.

A lot of this was borne out of 20th Century management think. Before the onset of flatter structures , collaborative workspaces, crowdsourcing.

Last week I posted about how we had tried to apply new thinking to Job Descriptions. Aiming for the inspirational rather than the functional.

But we have gone a step further and begun to apply it to Job titles.

  • A Neighbourhood Investment Advisor becomes a Skills Coach.
  • An Economic Inclusion Manager (what?!) becomes an Opportunities Manager.
  • And I’m now an Innovation Coach.

You can’t tell who leads the teams and it’s not clear who line reports to whom.  But does that matter?

This isn’t about us.

It’s not even about the organisation.

It’s about not letting people be limited by their place on a structure chart. Enabling them to be they best they can be.

And to talk about why they got up this morning.

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