Evidence-based housing practice: making the most of scarce resources

By Jim Vine - on 10/07/2015

Housing associations have precious resources and great potential to deploy them in ways that can bring huge benefits to the communities they serve and the people they house. The financial constraints on the sector, including those ushered in by the July 2015 Budget, only serve to sharpen the imperative to maximise the impacts of the resources we do have. A relentless focus on definitively establishing what works most cost effectively, and then doing more of it, will be vital in meeting the needs of both the people we serve and our organisations as businesses.

We now know that the social housing sector faces a time of tightening resources over the coming years. The changes to policy announced in the July 2015 Budget will have a significant impact on housing providers’ businesses. The desire to deliver the maximum value for the money that remains will be high up the agenda of every board and executive team. Some organisations will respond with diversification, continuing to seek opportunities in new fields. Others will aim to maximise their impact in the areas they know best. Whichever way they go, the case for having a more robust evidence base about whether their activities are effective will be strong, both inside and outside the organisation.

Internally, boards and senior management teams would benefit from robust evidence of the value of projects and processes. As they seek to allocate increasingly scarce resources, knowledge of which of their activities are most effective will be a powerful tool for maximising the delivery of the social mission of the organisation. Externally, more robust evidence will be compelling to audiences that would not be convinced by less rigorous evidence, supporting bids for commissioned services and enabling closer partnership working with other sectors. External funders, particularly in health-related sectors where evidence is prized, could be convinced by suitably robust evidence, as could a wide range of potential partners where there are great overlaps in interests.

HACT’s work on developing a set of Standards of Evidence for the housing sector long precedes the recent announcements. And, indeed, the Standards themselves (currently in draft) draw upon decades of work in other fields, with hierarchies of evidence that have been well established and methods that have been documented and tested across a range of contexts. But the recent changes only serve to make the work more timely; they have increased the urgency of the sector improving its understanding of what works and increasing its use of robust evidence of effectiveness to strengthen delivery across different areas of its activity.

I have previously written about the potential of evidence to convince external audiences, especially those like health sector audiences with lots of experience of working with evidence. Now more than ever, it is housing’s turn to generate and use evidence for its own purposes: To identify what works and what doesn’t. To find new ways of achieving the same impact for lower cost. And ultimately, to ensure our scarce and precious resources are deployed as effectively as possible.

In the autumn we will be publishing the Standards of Evidence, along with a range of materials to support the sector in deploying them. And we will also be accelerating our work to support the sector in generating more robust evidence. We already have a number of ideas of areas of activity that are ripe for robust investigation, to find the best ways of doing things – maximising impact and minimising costs – and we are also eager to hear from you. Get in touch with things you want to test and studies you want to run – we will be happy to talk them through and look at options for building projects that can give you the information you need to maximise the effectiveness and the efficiency of housing businesses.

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 Jim Vine (jim.vine@hact.org.uk).

Supported by

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