Ten takeaways from #Housingcamp

By Matt Leach - on 24/09/2014

HACT's Chief Executive Matt Leach reflects on the ten main thoughts he took away from this year's #Housingcamp unconference held on the 13 September in London.

September is a bit of a month for conferences at HACT.  Two #DigitalFirst’s, the NatFed‘s annual bash (excellent this year) and ridiculous amounts of preparation for our massive Housing Transformation conference with the Northern Housing Consortium in London this October.   But the one I most looked forward to (and enjoyed) so far in September has been the return of #Housingcamp – this year moving from TVHA’s offices to a fancy London venue courtesy of the Government Digital Service.

As is traditional at this sort of event, there’s a bit of an obligation on participants to provide reflections after the event as well as content on the day.  And here are my ten takeaways from #HousingCamp (there are more from others here).

Image copyright @KimberleyWadham

1.       It was good to see #Hosuingcamp back – a year or so on from the first tentative experiment somewhere out in Twickenham, #Housingcamp managed to pull it off again.  With two successful events in two years, its now approaching the point at which it can become a fixture in the housing year (if it wants to be).

2.       Housing needs this sort of space – there’s a huge amount of conferencing, networking and training going on all the time across the housing sector.  But it can be too curated, too limited in terms of agendas and opportunities to participate.  #Housingcamp provides a very different environment for people to share and learn, and one that definitely fills a gap in the current marketplace.

3.       And we’re starting to see a lot more of it about - #Housingcamp started off out as a lone and brave pioneer of ways to do the housing conference thing differently.  But since then it has been joined by HouseParty and – most recently #DigitalFirst.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see more next year.  Are we witnessing the start of a deinstitutionalised, more distributed conference scene?  And how will this influence the way existing conference players design and deliver their products?

4.       But it needs to reach further into the sector - there was a great mix of both new and familiar faces at #Housingcamp.  And the clear emergence of a housing “unconference” demographic – I recognised loads of people from last year’s #Housingcamp, this year’s HouseParty and last week’s #DigitalFirst.  But that also indicates there’s probably room to grow participation beyond existing networks and give other people an opportunity to take part.  Ade Capon’s plans for a #HousingcampNorth (once he’s sorted #housingday) are definitely worth looking out for.

5.       Loads of people still want to talk digital at #Housingcamp, but its not clear that in the “real world” digital is moving as fast as it needs to if  customer and business needs are to be met (despite the fantastic work of Anne McCrossan).   It’s clear some people are well ahead of the pack (TVHA and Halton amongst them).  But most people are still talking about systems that don’t meet needs and a real gap between.

6.       And the digital agenda really does need to move on - digital inclusion and social still seem very much at the top of peoples concerns but – increasingly – this is stuff that we need to start taking for granted as the digital agenda starts to focus on the role of new technologies in enabling much more radical business reinvention.  There weren’t a lot of housing provider IT teams or technology providers in evidence at #Housingcamp – other than the excellent DXW – hopefully that will change by next time around.

7.Lots of people also want to talk about social value  - and often they are the same people getting excited about digital (but then again, #Housingcamp was full of very excited people).  But it is not at all clear that the two conversations are being linked up.  How does digital transformation enable better social value generation by housing providers?  We didn’t have that discussion at #Houseparty (but maybe should have); again, maybe next year?

8.#Housingcamp does, nevertheless, seem to be extending into a wider range of areas than it did last year – repairs and housing market reform were on this year’s grid.  Next year, I’d hope to see more on housing management, finance and development.  Otherwise, there’s a risk that its only enabling half a conversation to take place in the sector.  But if participants at #Housingcamp are drawn from existing networks (particularly on twitter), we all clearly need to broaden who we talk to and with if that’s to happen (see 4 above). 

9.We missed Paul Taylor and his broader innovation message – looking enviously at tweets of breakfast with elephants (or whatever) just wasn’t enough.  Next time, I’m expecting him to be there – holiday plans or not.  However, we probably had the better coffee.

10.Sustainability strategies for distributed conferences are needed  - #Housingcamp was brilliant, but owed loads to the tireless work of Jayne Hilditch and Jon Foster.  Looking forward, if it is to be sustainable, we need to think about ways in which responsibility for these sort of events can be shared.  We’re looking at this for HouseParty2015 and beyond.   Is it possible to distribute ownership and responsibility and still make these things happen?

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