Influencing Academy

The first National Housing Federation Influencing Academy took place a few days ago.

I am very pleased to have been selected to join the Academy as one of the East Midlands representatives. The Academy is part of the Fed’s Owning Our Future work and is the next step in the journey to transform how the housing association sector is perceived and build the relationships we need with policy-makers. A big part of this work is telling our story, if you haven’t seen the video telling this story, you can check it out here:

The Academy was a three day residential, with a fantastic programme to give us the tools we need to become great influencers, it included:

Citizens UK, who discussed power with us (and to remember power is a neutral word meaning the ability to do something). It’s important to understand the balance of power in any relationship, but also not to underestimate the ‘weaker’party’s power, especially their potential power; this is crucial if you are the weaker party. If you want change, you need power, and power can be built through relationships, but these need to be built on trust, connection and mutual respect. Who do housing associations need to build power with?

Conservative Home Editor, Mark Wallace, who gave us his insights of the Conservative Party, some of the key national players and Theresa’s approach to the Premiership compared to others.We discussed the impact of Brexit on the Government’s resources and how predecessors define the work of their successors. Mark highlighted some of the PM’s areas of interest and the importance of framing any influencing work in these terms, such as the Industrial Strategy, Just about Managing families, etc.

Storytelling with Weber Shandwick, who are the PR firm behind the Fed’s perception research and sector story video. This session highlighted the importance of simple, authentic messages told through stories that are based on a human connection between the storyteller and listener.
In prep for this session, we were asked to watch this video:
We then were asked to introduce ourselves via a 60 second story that grabbed attention, included interest and intrigue, and told something personal and professional. This was an incredibly inspiring exercise and reminded all of us of our passion for the work we do in housing. If you can do this with your team, I definitely recommend it.
The framework for telling a great story is this: set an objective, identify barriers to telling the story, identify the point of connection, agree the message, tell it through story in these 6 steps: grab attention, establish the setting, humanise, identify tension, identify Eureka moment, communicate outcome. We were shown videos of Richard Branson and Ronald Reagan to demonstrate the 6 steps in action: (start at 6 minutes in for Virgin Airlines story)

Alison McGovern, Labour MP for Wirrall South, gave fantastic insight into the practicalities of getting an MP’s attention and support. She talked us through 4 challenging campaigns and her view of what worked well and what didn’t: the smoking ban, foreign aid spending, assisted suicide and same sex marriage.
She reminded us that MPs work only for their constituents and they are the key to gaining their support. Also, that they have crazy diaries and cannot support every issue, looked for shared priorities, bring solutions and be action focused. The big take away message from Alison for the group was that politics is 10% ideas and 90% logistics, meaning the Academy has a lot of work ahead of us!

Alistair Campbell was our final speaker, who spoke a lot about having a strategy and remaining true to your values to guide any influencing work. He shared our frustration that despite housing affecting everyone throughout their entire lives (unlike health and education), it is still not the top voter issue.

On the last day of the Academy, we started to make our influencing plans for our regions and areas of specialism such as BME, rural, disabled, homelessness, smaller housing, etc. Myself and fellow East Midlands influencers Holly Dagnall and Emma Foody will be getting together soon to progress our plans so watch this space and get in touch if you want to be involved, have an idea or would like to build/share power with us!


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