What works in housing?

By Jim Vine - on 25/03/2015

What works, for whom, in what circumstances and at what costs? The social housing sector as a whole has, to date, not focused enough on the creation and use of evidence that seeks to answer these questions.

What works? It is a simple question, yet it is one that the housing sector asks all too infrequently. Its more nuanced cousin, ‘what works, for whom, in what circumstances and at what costs?’ sees the light of day even less often.

The social housing sector as a whole has, to date, not focused enough on the creation and use of evidence that seeks to answer these questions. Project evaluations more commonly adopt approaches that are heavily reliant on practice examples, which might help to understand how the project was experienced by some of those it engaged with, but do not seek to provide a robust causal understanding of how a programme of activity links to the achievement of specific outcomes.

These human stories can play a part in describing the project to a variety of stakeholders. And robust, high quality qualitative research can play a valuable role in contributing to the identification of problems that need addressing, designing solutions that service users will be comfortable taking up, and understanding how services deliver their benefits (or why they do not). But these approaches will not reveal whether an intervention genuinely works, much less whether it works better (or more cost effectively) than other approaches to the same problem.

This lack of evidence of effectiveness of housing providers’ interventions limits our ability to demonstrate conclusively the benefits that they deliver, and ultimately means that we do not know whether we are maximising the impact we can have with our resources.

As part of our work to address these gaps in the sector’s knowledge, we are currently working with housing providers, Public Health England, and a broad range of experts to develop a set of standards that will guide the creation and use of evidence in housing. By building a shared understanding of what constitutes suitable evidence for assessing our activities, as a sector we will be gaining a powerful tool to help us understand more fully how to deliver the best outcomes we can for the people and communities we work with.

Most of us work in this sector because we believe that housing can generate a positive impact. We like our work because we value the opportunity it gives us to make a difference to people’s lives. It is only by really understanding what works – and what doesn’t – that we can use our efforts to best effect, improve those things that are not yet working effectively, and do more of what we know is doing good.

Jim Vine is HACT's Director of Evidence, Data and Insight.

About the project

HACT has been funded by Public Health England (PHE) and a group of leading housing associations to develop standards for producing and using evidence in the housing sector. Motivated by a shared commitment to building the evidence base of the sector, we are committed to developing this body of work to improve our ability to understand the real impacts of our activities. The project outputs will be applicable across all areas of housing providers’ activity, and will be especially relevant in relation to housing with care, support and health, due to the particularly high evidence needs in these sectors.

To be kept informed as we develop the standards, or to discuss any other ideas about developing the evidence base of the housing sector, please email Tom Allen (Thomas.Allen@hact.org.uk).

Supported by

  • Bromford
  • Look Ahead Housing and Care
  • Metropolitan
  • Sanctuary Group
  • Trafford Housing Trust
  • Public Health England
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