At the beginning of this week, I was lucky enough to be the Chair of the Inside Housing Connected Futures Summit. It was a housing sector event that covered a broad gamut of subjects related to change, technology and what to do about it.

Rather than give a blow-by-blow account, here are a few reflections in no particular order…

Our core service is a home

The CEO of Yorkshire Housing, Nick Atkin, gave a particularly stirring speech where he put his finger on something that has been bouncing around my head in the last few months – that the core service provided by a Housing Association is a Home. Everything else is there to service that core thing.

This is particularly important when one considers how Service Design is considered when applied to the housing sector. Whilst it may be gaining traction in the design of digital channels that surround the delivery of homes as a service, how many landlords are using service design to design the actual spaces, new or old, that are provided to our tenants and home-owners?

Indeed, how many house developers think about the needs of their future customers when designing the homes in which they live?

2050 is too far away

The need for Service Design to be applied to the home itself is no more crucial than when we consider how to provide affordable, comfortable, usable low or no carbon homes in the future? Homes are complex ecosystems of stuff that are often provided by organisations or professionals with different experiences and competencies. All too often those manifest in bits of the home ecosystem that simply don’t interact well together. Retro-fitting double-glazed windows into old homes and leaving them airtight and mould-growing would be a case in point for the industry.

Add information technology into the mix and you have to contend with competing technology ecosystems in what are already complex systems.

How do we bring multiple supply chains and designers and tenants together to co-create the green homes of the future? Who needs to be in the room? What do we need to do to get them to collaborate openly and effectively? How do we retrain people in how to live in a home where you no longer turn it up when you are cold and turn it off when you are hot?

It was fascinating to hear how Welsh Housing Association Adra is advancing in their first steps on the zero-carbon agenda in the knowledge that the Welsh devolved administration is setting 2030 as its target for net-zero. 8 years is a long time away, but not nearly as long as 28 years. There was an urgency that felt lacking in England (and indeed Clive Betts MP seemed to concur that the 2050 timeline wasn’t adding a required urgency into the debate when English Local Authorities haven’t brought forward targets themselves – some have).

Let’s talk about people, not tech

It was really gratifying to find that whilst tech was mentioned every so often, the discussions that were being had throughout the two days were much more centred on the needs of people, and how to try to get people to change. The “D” word was rarely uttered, and it wasn’t until half way through day 2 that someone talked about how rubbish Housing Management Systems are in general.

Don’t create disabilities

The wonderful Simon Minty gave a really compelling talk about how to set up for inclusion by thinking as much about preventing your organisation from “disabling people” inadvertently as thinking about how to make services accessible. Simon has a wonderful way of talking about accessibility and inclusion that engages people and gets some maybe otherwise awkward or embarrassing topics for many out in the open in a supportive and witty way.

The future of work is here. It’s just not equally distributed.

Whilst not scientific, there seemed to be a rule of thumb that the bigger the geographical spread in which an organisations’ homes are spread, the higher the chance that they will have already sold off their head office, rewritten everyone’s contracts to be remote-first and committed themselves to a dispersed future.

Not all of them, but there was a definite trend going on.

This is going to do strange things particularly for specialist skills that are primarily desk-based. If many housing providers are distributed organisations, then the market for those skills will become national, not regional. Those HAs who aren’t distributed might struggle to then recruit. There again, a fixed desk in a central office might, as I’ve argued for some years through the rise of hot-desking, become seen as a perk.

The next few years will be fascinating.

Cyber risks terrify me

I think that just about sums it up. We’ve gone from Hackers in Hoodies to the digital transformation of organised crime, funded by nation-states. As Tom Standage put it to me recently, ransomware is how cybercriminals work from home. Goher Mohammed from L&Q and Rob Miller from Hackney Council gave fascinating insight on the experience of being the victim of an attack, with expert questioning from Jane Chappell.

It was a great event – thanks to all that took part both on stage and in the audience.

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