Thoughts on Housing Camp Cymru 2016

Having got loads out of last year’s Housing Camp Cymru, I felt it was only right and proper to lend a helping hand running this years unconference.

A disclaimer before we start : This is a jog through what I can remember so apologies if I’ve missed anything out!

Small distributed teams can do things.. fast.

Quick observation about actually organising the unconference. The #hcc16 volunteers came from 8 different organisations dotted around Wales. After struggling to get everyone together in a physical place at the same time, we decided to use Trello and Google Hangouts to organise the workload. Whilst it took a bit of initial effort to get everyone up and running with the technology, I think overall it worked quite well. Proof that small distributed networks of people can achieve things quickly given the right tools and autonomy.

Session 1 — Digital Transformation

This was my own session that I pitched. I have a theory that technology is no longer the thing that’s holding us back. It’s now about how we choose to organise ourselves and approach work (culture?). Fundamentally we’re still very much stuck in the mindset of the industrial age. Many of us are digitising the past.

I threw this proposition out to others and the group touched upon the following points during the discussion.

  • The technology we use in Social Housing tends to be designed with Organisational Needs in mind rather than User Needs.
  • Housing Associations have a tendency to think about IT the same way as it thinks about Housing stock.. big long term investments.
  • Internal silos and fragmented systems are a barrier to creating proper joined up solutions. It inhibits getting a full picture of the customer.
  • Housing Associations need to actively create their own vision of the future, then they can work towards making it happen.
  • Automation is massively underutilised.. and where it is used, staff are often re-checking it’s correct. (face palm)
  • There’s potential for using personas to do user centred design for our systems & services. The methodology is mature, but knowledge of it is sparse.
  • Mixed feelings about the benefits of a Chief Technology Officer at the top of the org chart. Should it be a Chief Customer Experience Officer instead?
  • At board level the conversation about technology largely comes down to cost — not future gazing.
  • Do we skill our staff up so that they are able to take full advantage of the technology on offer?

We collectively recognised that there was a lot of work to do! As one person pointed out, they were a lone voice for change in their organisation so it would be nice to link up with others to create some momentum.

We decided to create a Slack channel for future discussion so that we could keep the ball rolling. You can join the #housing Slack channel via this link : http://bit.ly/joingovcampcymru

Session 2 —Is Co-production a con?

Before I turned up to this session, I didn’t really know much about co-production. As it turns out, I was surprised at how much it seems to share with User Centred Design.

At the heart of it, it was a discussion about whether the public and third sector create solutions with people, or consult them after the fact. The difference between doing it *with* them and doing it *to* them.

I saw huge parallels here with how we are often in danger of foisting technological solutions on people to fix a perceived problem. Have we spoken to them early enough to ensure that we’re actually fixing the right thing and not just working under our own untested assumptions? (user needs!)

Someone made the point that the private sector are actually really good at co-producing services. To me, this made absolute sense. For them, it’s all about market fit. Does the thing your expending time and energy making actually address a need for someone? If not, why are you doing it? It’s doomed to fail and waste a load of cash in the process.

I think we arrived at a broad agreement that ‘co-production’ is an overused term like ‘innovation’. It’s often applied as a catchall badge rather than an accurate description of how the work is being done.

Organisations who want to co-produce have to be comfortable with relinquishing control and engaging with others early and often to make sure the outcomes are suitable and sustainable for all concerned.

Session 3 — ‘Cool uses for maps for real people’

I was hoping Open Data might make an appearance at this session and I was not disappointed (which I may have inadvertantly prompted by mentioning I was interested in Open Data).

I think the Social Housing sector could really benefit from getting involved in Open Data. First and foremost because the quality and consistency of our data is largely.. umm.. not good (for why — see points in the earlier session on digital transformation).

By publishing our data sets and getting feedback, we can begin to improve our ability to share data meaningfully with others (I’m thinking Health + Localgov where we’re probably talking to the same people) and we might even get some funky uses out of it from people outside the sector (call back to co-production!).

I won’t go into great depth about the session because Ben Proctor has written up a far better account himself (he pitched this session). Ben went on to give a whistle stop tour of the different ways to map things and the potential uses for it.

There was some really exciting stuff in here about community mapping where you can create maps and allow people to contribute to it (think ASB, repairs, litter, free wifi, events etc.). It’s a bit like Wikipedia where the community self organise and take responsibility for maintaining it.

We even discussed how it’s now entirely possible to use drones to map areas, create virtual models and then 3D print a small scale representation. This sort of thing used to cost a fortune and now it’s (relatively) inexpensive.

My take away from this session is that there are some ridiculously powerful tools you can use to provide some very interesting insights. This used to be the domain of specialists, but the barrier for entry is lower than ever.

In summary..

The thing I really love about the unconference format is that it brings together a more diverse range of people from both inside and outside the social housing bubble. These are individuals that I would never usually cross paths with in my day to day work. However, I felt discussions really benefitted from a broader range of views.

I think this underlines the reason we need to step away from silo culture and start sharing more openly. We can collectively start doing more of this tomorrow — it just takes an extra bit of boldness and trust.

If I had to pick a singular theme out of my Housing Camp Cymru experience, it was this.

We must do better to understand the user needs of social housing, then we have to set a vision to realise them.

I think this is equally applicable to bricks & mortar or digital.

The challenge for everyone at Housing Camp Cymru is how do we take the positivity and enthusiasm from Saturday and turn it into action? Regular chats on our Slack channel? Smaller mini-meetups between camps? I’d be interested to hear your views!

Keep talking, start small, DO STUFF!


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