Housing Day 2014 – An Appreciative Inquiry

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Housing Day (12/11/14) is a time to celebrate the positives of UK social housing, but how can appreciation be used to create models of future working in the sector?

The Story

Today – which is Wednesday 12th November 2014, for when time inevitably means my today is no longer your today – is Housing Day, a day when the UK housing sector celebrates the positive impact of social housing on thousands of people across the UK, and in doing so raises the profile of the sector and the work, workers, and tenants within it.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who works in the sector that there is a lot of good work going on in UK housing, with a passion for continuous improvement. This emphasis was clear when I had the opportunity – and good pleasure – to attend a breakfast seminar by De Montfort University in Leicester recently to hear about, and later discuss, a new report from the University: Frontline Futures.

But first…a poem.

Poem on the housing officer

Poem on the housing officer

By Valerie Schneider, Nottingham City Homes tenant

 

My long term vision, to stand firm together

In all the rain, snow and hail, whatever the weather

To help each other, working as residents

Not just tenants paying our rents

We want an organisation with a very big heart

We’ll help: we all try to do our part

 

An officer we want, with ears like an elephant

Who sees and understands everything – is omnipresent

With degrees in everything, all sorts of genius

Sorts out all problems for every one of us

Superman, superwoman, we’re not fussed

Someone to stick around, someone to trust

 

Diversity, ethnicity, all are included

All the young people, no one’s precluded

With a smile and a loving, helping hand

Showing all work to our homes being planned

 

Sequin covered, leaving a trail of glitter

Immediately dissolving, not leaving litter

With wings to transport, all the better for seeing

A truly wonderful exceptional being

Frontline Futures

Commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) and Wheatley Group, Frontline Futures sets out to assess the role of frontline housing workers – what skills are being employed now, what competencies will be needed in the future, and what impact will technology have on frontline roles.

The report is freely available here, so I won’t waste your time regaling the full meat of the document. What intrigued me most – and what I want to talk about in this blog – was the methodology of appreciative inquiry employed in the creation of the report.

Four Appreciative Inquiries were held in total, two in England and two in Scotland. In each country, one session was held for housing professionals and the other held for tenants (or, tenant-customers, to coin the term adopted by Frontline Futures). To quote the report:

The appreciative inquiry method is to focus on what works now and visioning for the future– it is a positive, forward-looking style of engagement. – Frontline Futures report

It is from one of these tenant-focussed appreciative inquiries that the aforementioned poem came to be, and is an example of how, when given a more open, reflective remit (rather than simply, for example, filling in a numerical customer satisfaction form), greater insights into the needs of a sector, organisation, role, etc. can be achieved. The poem is wonderful, and you don’t need a BA in English (sorry, Princeton…) to see how important the values of trust, communication, and social integrity are to this tenant.

As one of the report’s writers, Professor Richardson, explained at the seminar I recently attended: if you had asked participants what was wrong with their housing service you would, understandably, receive a litany of doom and gloom. While this can be useful in its place, more interesting is to ask people what, if there were no impediments or restrictions, would be the ideal situation? What would the perfect frontline housing worker be; what skills and competencies would they possess.

Framing the inquiry as a positive – an exciting opportunity to be seized and vision to be achieved – rather than a negative – a problem to be endured until mitigated – allows for a deeper, more reflective, constructive and enthusiastic inquiry, and revealed surprising commonalities between professionals and tenants: both, for example, felt that tackling antisocial behaviour was the number one key function of the frontline housing worker, while both recognised the need for officers to have an awareness of effective signposting to other services to ensure that tenants receive support in a holistic manner.

This phenomenlogical approach helps to underscore and expand upon more quantitative findings and, having found this common ground, both tenant and housing organisation are now able to travel in the same direction, synchronisation of demand and supply leading to enhanced efficiencies and satisfaction for both parties.

Housing Day – An Appreciative Inquiry

Frontline Futures sums up future frontline housing roles as:

Differentiated – using data intelligence to guide how officer time is used, rather than providing a blanket service for all residents

Relational – doing things with residents, rather than doing things to or for them

Interactive – working alongside professionals from other disciplines to achieve a broader range of outcomes for residents

Varied and creative – finding solutions, even if they lie outside of ‘normal activity’

Engaged and impactful – doing things with the intention of having a positive impact on people’s lives and the organisation’s bottom line.

Novel and anticipatory – doing something now to avoid negative

Which, of course, is a rather helpful acronym: DRIVEN.

I do not think it is a coincidence that the values and competencies that are to be demanded of those who are to work on the frontline of the housing sector are the very values the sector needs in general, both now and in the future; in other words, the housing sector needs to be DRIVEN.

To employ appreciate inquiry, I would see the UK housing sector:

  • Use the vast quantity of data it collects to intelligently guide its actions for the benefit of those it serves, rather than using data simply to create ‘sound bites’ and populate press releases. We have the knowledge – let’s use it!
  • Work with tenants as well as for them, involving them in governance, business decisions, and wider events in the sector, e.g. tenants / tenant groups (better) represented at next year’s Housing 2015 conference.
  • Use its networking skill-set and business savvy to work alongside other institutions more closely, e.g. NHS, to not only reap greater benefits for tenants but, by association with those more established concerns, raise the profile of the housing sector. Further, it will embrace change, technology, and new opportunities to set the standard for innovation across all sectors.
  • Take advantage of its (social) media and political influence to shout – and, yes, SHOUT – about the positive stories and impact of UK housing, demonstrating clearly the great economic, social, and welfare advantages of investing in the sector. (Fellow blogger Neil Goodrich has already begun the rallying cry!)
  • Trust in the experience, skills, and genuine commitment of those in the sector to be confident in making choices, and have the courage to see proposals that yield results in the long-term through rather than chasing short-term, knee-jerk responses.

Is your organisation DRIVEN? Are you DRIVEN?

If not, there’s no better time to start than Housing Day; it’s something that your tenants, and the UK housing sector in general, will definitely appreciate.

References

Jo Richardson, Lisa Barker, Jacq Furness & Merron Simpson, Frontline Futures, De Montfort University, 2014 – report available here: http://www.cih.org/resources/PDF/Policy%20free%20download%20pdfs/Frontline%20futures%20report%20final.pdf

Affordable, Flourishing, Fair – A Manifesto to Save and Extend Social Rented Housing, SHOUT, June 2014, Available: https://onedrive.live.com/view.aspx?cid=D36D6C8B249EE19C&resid=D36D6C8B249EE19C%21146&app=WordPdf

Appreciative Inquiry, Wikipedia, Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appreciative_inquiry, Online: November 2014

Changing role of the Housing Officer Frontline Futures, De Montfort University, Online: http://www.dmu.ac.uk/research/research-faculties-and-institutes/business-and-law/cchr/changing-role-of-the-housing-officer-frontline-futures.aspx, Available: November 2014

Go Team!, The Housing Blog, Online: http://ngblog2013.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/go-team/, Available: November 2014

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