Thoughts from #HousingFestival 2017

Yesterday I had the pleasure of being at CIH Cymru’s Housing Festival.

It was quite a refreshing change in tone (both visually and in terms of what was on the program) from the usual conference format. Kudos to the organisers for attempting to do something a bit different. Hope everyone got something out of it.

This post is an attempt to write down some thoughts and themes from my experience of the day before it starts getting fuzzy. I won’t go in-depth into specific talks or conversations — but I’ll include what I managed to capture in tweets at the end of this post so you can get a flavour of what was said.

What is your purpose?

What is my purpose?! That might seem like a bit of a deep nebulous question to ask someone. But I think it’s MASSIVELY important to have an answer for it. Why? Because once you know what your purpose really is, you can ensure that whatever you do is aligned with it.

That might translate to..

How can *I* add the most value to the lives of people that need housing?

The further you move away from front line services, the more crucial this question becomes. Amongst all the emails and meetings, don’t lose sight of what you’re here for.

On a related note, It would be remiss of me not to mention Kelly Doonan who’s previously done an ace workshop on Purposeful Leadership. I urge you to go read it.

Working In The Open / Working Out Loud

I accidentally talked quite a bit about Working Out Loud yesterday. Why is it important (…and why don’t I shut up about it?)? If your purpose has something to do with improving the lives of people who need housing then I would argue you are morally obligated to share anything that advances that cause, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.

Working more openly & transparently makes a huge difference between teams, it makes a massive difference between organisations, and x100000 if you put your work somewhere that anyone who’s interested can read it. (*whilst respecting privicy and confidentiality)

Really big systemic intractable problems like poverty, health and adverse childhood experiences don’t start and stop at the borders of social housing, health boards, local government etc. To start tackling and making sense of that complexity, we’re going to need to work like a network and start connecting the dots collectively. We’ve got little chance of that if we’re all working inside our respective silos. More brains engaged on the problems = better.

The Importance of Psychological Safety

This is related to working more openly, but also broadly about taking risks to do things a bit differently.

  • Do you feel safe enough to put yourself out there?
  • Have the people around you got your back?
  • Can you say “No” or “I don’t know..”?

There’s some great reading on this subject and a TED talk if you want to know more.

“Where is the fire in your belly? Have courage!”

I can always rely on Esko Reinikainen for a rallying call to arms. If you can see things which need fixing and you’re looking around wondering why nobody is fixing them – maybe it’s you who needs to do the fixing!? If not you, who? If not now, when?

Spotting the patterns of the future

There are many ways to accomplish work. Despite the tools of the trade changing we’re all too often stuck with mindsets rooted in the last century. There are alternatives!

Look at the way more modern workplaces function. Don’t directly parrot them. You can’t be Netflix or AirBnB overnight. Instead look at the underlying methods and behaviours that they have in common. If you want an example that’s closer to home, you can’t go far wrong with the Government Digital Service. Think how you can adapt and apply that to whatever you do.

You might be thinking.. “I don’t work with technology?!”. Increasingly, we all do to some degree, but that’s missing the broader point. It’s about the mindset and the method.

Experiment. Learn. Share! As Dyfrig Williams said (I’m paraphrasing considerably).. you might think you don’t have the time to do this, but in the context of shrinking budgets and increasing workload, you may not have the option to carry on the same way.


I have a bit of a complicated relationship with the word empowerment. It suggests that people inherently lack power which has to be bestowed upon them. That implies some interesting things about the relationship of the empower-er and the empower-ee.

BUT.. the fundamental concept of pushing authority down the hierarchy to where the information lives is very sound. I heartily recommend reading Turn The Ship Around if you’re interested in this. I’ve also written a bit about it before.

Doing things WITH people, not TO them

In one of the Fishbowl sessions, I was really fascinated to hear how The Salvation Army were including people who use their services on job interview panels. Although slightly unusual, it made sense to me. It ensured that whoever was employed met the needs of both the organisation and people that use their services.

This will resonate with anyone who’s working on Asset Based Community Development, or in the digital world.. User Centred Service Design. I think it’s fundamentally about empathy rather than lobbing solutions at people on the assumption you know best.


Collectively, what are we doing to develop and grow the next generation of leaders? Are there enough mentoring opportunities? Are there opportunities to grow and develop? Alice may write a follow up post on her soapbox subject which I would most definitely read!


This is perhaps the one thing that underpins everything else I’ve mentioned above. If we don’t have trust amongst the people we work with, we divert precious time and energy into preventing them from doing stuff rather than supporting them to do stuff.

Yes — we need checks and balances because humans are imperfect and make mistakes. But not to the extent that people are waiting to be told what to do because they’re not trusted to think for themselves.

An organisation full of people not thinking for themselves actually sounds like an infinitely more dangerous prospect than people thinking and acting with the best of intentions.

Dyfrig Williams has written a post about trust previously which is super interesting. Again, recommended reading.


(click to see the full string of tweets). Have a look at #HousingFestival on Twitter for contributions by everyone else.

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