On the fringe

Like many other housing professionals, I was at the CIH conference in Manchester this week and for the first time, I was not only a delegate, but a speaker at one of the Treehouse fringe sessions.

I enjoy attending the conference and its always nice to bump into people you haven’t seen for a while and have a catch up in person. However, I do often leave with the feeling that the sessions could get down to the nitty gritty of delivering some of the issues being debated, like how do we get involved with things like the devolution and health agenda when we’re not really welcome at the table? Or how do we tackle the crisis in the counties and shires where the large scale projects that are going on in Manchester and London could never work in a neglected market town?

But I do always leave feeling inspired that despite the huge, complicated and overwhelming challenge that is solving the housing crisis, there is so much opportunity out there and so many examples of people doing some truly innovative things to get people the housing they need. And it makes me excited to be a part of this profession and want to get even more involved. In the not too distant future I’d like to move into a role where I can really do my bit to influence the local policy agenda, to influence the strategic direction of a housing organisation and to design, develop and deliver the policies and projects we need.

If you’re interested in the session I presented at, it was titled the Future of Communication and alongside Boris Worrall and Stuart Macdonald, I gave my thoughts on what comms could look like in the future and then heard pitches Dragons Den style from three Delegates of the Future / GEM students. We heard great ideas including taking comms to where people are in their neighbourhoods, equipping staff with tablets and Omni-channel comms. Boris and Stuart also gave some insightful remarks on getting the staff culture right to enable great comms and how we are perceived by external stakeholders such as the Government and how this should influence our comms with them. My comments focused on the messaging and language that we use and here are the notes from my presentation:

A lot has been said in the last couple of days about the challenges facing the sector, often to quite fundamental aspects of the work we are doing each day in our communities. But as Terrie said on Tuesday this isn’t new, and as we all know change is constant and we’ve certainly been facing a lot of it for a number of years. And the result of all these challenges is that the work we do and the way we approach it has changed and I think we’re increasingly moving away from a paternalistic approach to one of co-production, to delivering services in collaboration with our customers, not just to them.

So for me the way we communicate in the future needs to reflect this and that means having a conversation, tailoring, making it personal,

People don’t build relationships with organisations, they build them with other people. And for all the focus on big data and technology, I don’t think we’ve developed anything that can replace a knowledgeable, empathetic, friendly, front line officer. Yes we can equip them with the technology and data to help them work smarter and deliver an improved service to customers, but people value dealing with a person, and they really value dealing with the same person each time. So combine an officer powered by data and tech and you’ve got some very personal and tailored comms.

On the idea of conversation, a two communication channel, and actually a two way relationship, we can see this in action in the sector already through things like customer deals or contracts, think Bromford or Yarlington and my own organisation has one in the pipeline. Here the focus isn’t here’s what we will do for you, a one size fits all approach, take it or leave it, but here’s what we each put into this relationship so that it’s mutually beneficial.

I think some in the sector are already on this path of personal, tailored, two way conversation, if you think about social media use, the tone used is very different to what you would see in a newsletter or report for example, people can respond immediately and get a personal response very quickly. and you can also see examples of it in new approaches to tenant involvement, as highlighted by the report Family Mosaic issued last week. But I think the future of comms is that this goes much further, especially given the changing needs and expectations of younger generations such as those about to pitch to us who are used to communicating with lots of other organisations in these ways already. Their communication expectations are being set by other companies from a wide array of sectors and we need to keep up with this. We heard from Google on Tues who talked us through how Google products understand and predict your needs, providing you with the info you need at your fingertips as you need it, not only is this tailored it, it’s proactive. So as well as being tailored, personal and two way, but maybe the future of comms could also be proactive, getting the info to people as they need it before they have to ask for it?

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