Landlords need to stop talking at their tenants and start listening to what they have to say
Time to listen up
A week before his promotion, the then housing minister Grant Shapps announced yet another initiative to stimulate tenant engagement.
The £1.3 million tenant empowerment programme aims to encourage social housing providers and commissioners to listen more to tenants. Mr Shapps sought to channel the ‘passion of the Olympic volunteers and last year’s (post-riots) broom armies’ to inspire local communities ‘by giving housing association and council tenants a voice to lead change in their area’.
This means mainstreaming the energy and commitment generated by a once in a lifetime celebration and once in a generation lawlessness. During the summer we published a series of discussion papers outlining how this might be achieved.
One paper concluded ‘that many organisations are still using the traditional methods highlighted in 2004, such as forums’. Forums have their place but can tend to inform residents rather than listen to them.
We also looked at an emerging concept called ‘living labs’, which is a broad description for wide-ranging methods of eliciting the views and needs of a large number of customers. That final word is crucial. The concept is widely used to involve customers and potential customers in developing products and services.
While still evolving, a living lab is about ongoing engagement, rather than box-ticking exercises to meet a regulatory requirement. In specialist housing, examples so far include training and paying older people to conduct research among their peers, and using a residents’ panel of ‘e-journalists’ to provide feedback.
Housing providers must recognise that this model means listening and working with consumers as well as talking at them. Achieve that and we will have real tenant empowerment.
Jeremy Porteus is director of the Housing Learning and Improvement Network