Exploring the evidence

By William Howard - on 27/04/2015

Bringing standards of evidence into the housing sector should not be seen as a challenge, but an opportunity. HACT's Housing Intern William Howard comments that housing providers need to look to other sectors to ensure that they don't get left behind.

In previous HACT blog posts Jim Vine has written about the infrequency with which the housing sector stops to ask ‘what works?’ and the constraints this puts on housing providers, especially when trying to deal with the much more evidence-savvy health sector.

However, housing is not unique in this. Indeed, the stringent adherence to evidence found in health is more exception than rule. Nonetheless, numerous other sectors are moving towards robust evidence usage. Given our current work in developing a set of standards for evidence it certainly seems useful to take a glance at what is going on beyond housing.

We have recently published a working paper that provides full details of evidence use in various sectors, but I wanted to use this blog post to make a few more general comments.

Firstly, it is worth noting that across other sectors it has been found in many cases that there are existing procedures of structures which can ‘piggyback’ robust evidence collection methods. For example, end of term tests have been found readily amenable to inclusion in evidence collection methods by the education sector. Similarly, in many cases the necessary data for robust evidence has been found to be already collected. Seeing that this is the case in other sectors is reassuring, showing us that trying to incorporate more evidence into housing is not a wild goose chase. Worries that robust evidence creation is too resource intensive, and cannot be generalised beyond medical settings, have generally turned out to be unfounded in other sectors, and, most likely, housing will find the same.

Secondly, bringing evidence into the housing sector should not be seen as a challenge, but an opportunity. Yes, bringing in robust standards of evidence may challenge conventional methods, but equally it can buttress them. There are many cases across other sectors where trials showed that an existing method was indeed the most effective one, allowing it to be implemented with even more confidence and rigor than before. Even in cases where a widely adopted practice is shown to be less effective than imagined, we should view this as a chance to learn, to increase our expertise, rather than worrying about it challenging what we think we know. Evidence can only make us better as a sector.

Finally, looking at the advance of evidence in other sectors tells us that housing shouldn’t be overawed or fearful of the process. However, it also tells us that this piece of work is timely. Evidence is no longer something isolated to healthcare; other sectors are taking great strides forwards. Standards or hierarchies of evidence are becoming much more prevalent, and in recent years the government has got behind evidence-based policy through the creation of a network of ‘What Works’ centres, which assess and promote evidence across various sectors.

As evidence-based policy and intervention moves towards becoming standard, housing cannot afford to be left behind. Without the greater adoption of evidence, the housing sector will be unable to prove its impact anywhere near as effectively as other sectors, and will be left looking isolated and old fashioned.




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