We Need To Put Community First and Services Last

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The rule book is being rewritten one week at a time.

The Housing sector’s relationship with government — whilst not exactly ‘Best Friends Forever’ — is now in a more conciliatory, positive place.

The political landscape has changed irrevocably — empty promises and memorised soundbites no longer resonate with the public.

Distrust in business and government is the new normal. According to Ipsos Mori politicians are now trusted to tell the truth by just 15% of the public.

However it’s not just something to worry politicians. Less than 50% of people trust Chief Executives in the charity and social sector.

When Inside Housing published their annual CEO salary survey in September Jules Birch wrote that it was like Groundhog Day. The results get shared. People get outraged. Nothing changes.

Organisations and institutions have , so far, chosen to ignore the warnings about public expectations of more openness, transparency & accountability.

From opposing points of view Corbyn, Farage, Trump and Sanders have all channeled this anti-establishment dissent to engage with the communities who feel left behind.

Is it possible that frustration with out of touch leadership and bureaucratic systems could see similar dissent sweep across the social sector?

Social tenants are less likely to vote that any other tenure, and despite that a clear majority of social tenants voted to leave the EU, above the national average.

Reconnecting with communities and establishing people focused systems seems a pretty obvious priority for a leadership team or board right now. The question is how we do it.

The first step is the realisation that past approaches have largely been reactive. We wait for things to go wrong and then we try to fix the problem in ways that we — the ‘professionals’ — know best.

However, we are not the best people to ‘fix’ communities. The housing sector has profited from past societal failure — rather than the contemplation of the signals of failures that have yet to exist.

It starts at the beginning. To get a social home you are encouraged to rack up as many points as possible to show what’s wrong with you. It’s like a reverse video game where instead of gaining skills you have to prove you don’t have any.

If we reset our relationship with communities — and we truly wanted to be less reactive — wouldn’t we start believing in what people can do for themselves? Of no longer feeling our organisations have to be omnipresent in people’s lives. Of designing services and systems that promote positive civic responsibility.

At Bromford we are focussing on achieving an ‘irreducible core’ of services. Those services we currently have that replace, control or overwhelm the power of community will become obsolete.

Through various tests and pilots we have been exploring this way of working for nearly five years. The launch of our new localities approach will see Neighbourhood Coaches with patches of around 175 households replacing traditional Housing Managers who each look after 500 households. This means reconnecting with communities and moving away from policy based top down management to develop more relational approaches.

Last year we invested £1.1m in testing it, and following successful pilots we’re rolling it out at a cost of £3.5m. The focus is proactively building on what’s strong rather than reactively dealing with what’s wrong

Moving away from being reactive means moving from telling to listening and from managing to coaching.

It means thinking community first, services last.

Paternalistic and disempowering services are not the way to achieve lasting social change.

We need to move from the reactive to the preemptive — and that means challenging the whole system of housing management as we have known it.

This post was originally written for Inside Housing

Written by

Innovation Coach and Co-Founder of @BromfordLab. Follow for social innovation and customer experience.

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