During August and September, I was involved with a new initiative at HACT. Along with our partner, OSCRE, we wanted to provide social housing organisations with a learning programme that would improve data literacy across social housing organisations.
The initiative, called the OSCRE Learning Lab, had 21 delegates from nine different organisations. They included two of my colleagues from the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations. Despite not working for a social housing organisation, they both understood the importance of the course, as well as the benefits it could have across the SFHA membership. It would help them to create more data driven organisations and enable data to be implemented into the strategic decision-making process across the business of social housing.
One of the lessons I’ve learned from the way in which social housing organisations have responded to the Covid-19 pandemic is the critical and increasing importance of data. It has been fundamental to the impressive responses seen across the sector.
Clearly there have been challenges along the way. Nonetheless, core services have been maintained and new ways developed to support the emerging or increasing need within communities.
Being able to access data as soon as lockdown was imposed allowed many organisations to identify those tenants who were vulnerable, as well as refer and signpost them to partner organisations who could provide additional direct support. The breadth and depth of these responses has been highlighted in the monthly impact measures collected by Centre for Excellence in Community Investment.
Much of this data is held in traditional forms, whether in spreadsheets and databases, or in housing management and CRM software systems. This can provide us with information on a resident who is over 70 years old and living on their own, as well as the other services they might have accessed.
Where a deeper dive into data was needed, the ability to access open source data using tools like Community Insight while working remotely has made the jobs of many in social housing much easier. Being able to analyse big data sets and connect with colleagues, partner agencies, community groups, and where possible tenants to share ideas, plan, fund, and support local programmes of work has made the job of navigating through the crisis that little bit easier.
We have been inundated with requests for information about Community Insight, as well as positive feedback from the numerous users across the sector who have been using the tool on a daily basis. Highlighting existing areas of low employment, digital exclusion, and multiple vulnerability ratings, all of this comes from our ability to access and understand the data available to the social housing sector.
Yet as a sector, we still face a number of data holes. Some of these are in processes and systems. Others are related to technologies and devices. Many, though, are around capability and skills. Data and digital are often seen as two issues in which you should be competent, but typically many fear to admit when they don’t understand what they mean in practice. Maybe this sounds familiar?
The idea behind the OSCRE Learning Lab is to help organisations improve their internal data skills. We encourage organisations to have two or more delegates on the programme, so that they can learn together. And we task every delegate to produce a presentation by the end of the course about how they will use the learning within their organisation – and then commit to present it to their team or manager when they’ve completed the learning.
With the increased engagement in the UK Housing Data Standards across both England and Wales, I am keen to find ways to bring the level of data governance and practical applications of how this can be implemented, to a similar standard within the Scottish sector.
With the recommendations of the last social housing green paper and post-Grenfell Hackitt review highlighting the fundamental importance of housing associations gathering accurate and actionable data, I would encourage housing associations across Scotland to look at ways in which they can achieve this.
The OSCRE Learning Lab is one step you can take to build the foundations of a data driven organisation.
I would like to continue these discussions, so please drop me a note to Michael.McLaughlin@hact.org.uk to look at ways in which we can develop these skills across the sector, and as a partner of SFHA, we wanted to give members priority access to the course, which has limited space.
To reserve your spaces on the course on our website.