Breaking Out Of The Social Housing Bubble

“We have to reach outside the sector” says the article stuck behind a registration/subscription page on a social housing related website.

“The importance of working more collaboratively” says the session at a housing conference which which won’t be seen by anyone outside the conference room.

“We won an award for our excellent and innovative project” says the press release. But you won’t find any detail about why it won, how they did it or indeed what they learned.

I’m fairly confident that most people would agree that working together beats working alone. In order to work together, someone has to voluntarily share. This requires a leap of faith. An act of trust.

Sharing does happen. But it’s often amongst more senior people at the top end of organisations through formal channels. To really ramp up the potential for working with others, we need to do something a bit different.

Data, information and knowledge must be democratised to create more opportunities for collaboration.

Democratised = Available to all, regardless of job title, pay grade or where you work.

There will always be a need for industry specific conferences and publications, but not at the expense of talking to the wider world. To slightly re-jigger one of GDS’s design principles, things are made better when they are made open.

I could probably write 5000 words on the folly of locking information away in silos or presuming who needs to know what. It’s an artefact of the Industrial Age. Division of labour was needed because we didn’t have the means to disseminate information quickly enough. Thanks to the Internet, now we do.

So, what shall we do with this super human ability to connect, share & learn with almost anyone anywhere?

By working more openly we could really accelerate progress on common problems. We might spend less time reinventing the wheel and more time thinking about what comes after the wheel (zero gravity hoverboards!).

This doesn’t need to be a super formal framework or even require a central body to administer it. It could start as simply as..

  • Encouraging staff to use Twitter. Fantastic example of this found here.
  • A blog with updates of what you’re working on (personal or organisational).
  • A public Trello board of projects.
  • Publish some data on your own website. Why not make it open?

Basically, any sort of mechanism to share (and receive) in the public domain to ignite the spark of collaboration. I’ve previously expanded on this idea of an ‘Organisational API’ here.

Of course, this isn’t just useful for housing. I’m sure friends in health and local gov could draw some very useful parallels. Looking over the wall, I see familiar situations there too. Although we operate differently and the scale varies, the same broad themes tend to pop up.

Where there is commonality, there’s an opportunity to collaborate. And for most in the public sector those commonalities are the people and communities we serve.

But don’t stop looking as far as the public sector. There’s a whole wealth of interesting stuff to be discovered in the most unlikely of places. I’ve learned loads of brilliant & relevant things from people far removed from the social housing world.

It reminds me of this sublime David Bowie quote on work and creativity :

“…if you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth, and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”

There are huge opportunities waiting just outside the social housing bubble. Building networks across different sectors can be amazingly informative. And whilst not everything learned is immediately useful or applicable, you might be really surprised at the sort of dots it enables you to connect in retrospect.


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