How do we get tenants invovled?
11/03/2010 6:15 pm
I work for a small housing association that needs to increase tenant participation. We've made attempts to get tenants involved in the past, but other than a few very keen individuals it's been difficult to maintain levels of involvement. How do other organisations start? And how do we make this all meaningful?
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12/03/2010 11:31 am
Try asking them.... ; )
12/03/2010 11:37 am
Sometimes people can get too obsessed with the concept of tenant involvement. If as you say you're a small association (couple of thousnad tops?) then your staff probably have a very good handle on your property and your estates and may well be shaping services that you just haven't quantified.
"Participation" when you hire a school hall and have 50 people each with their own agenda and cat aclling any speakers doesn't get you anywhere fast, equally there might be something to be said in the old adage "if it ain't broke......" Personally I'd have no interest in engaging with my landlord, private or RSL unless there was an issue directly affecting me. After a days work I just want to get home and chill out, not attend meetings or go door knocking, I'd expect many residents are the same.
12/03/2010 4:51 pm
As a tenant I want my almo to do the simple things right first time every time and I want them to offer me a range of straightforward non time consuming ways I can challenge them when their standards slip. I would also like to be able to vote occasionally to elect the Board and CEO just as I could (in principle) as a Council tenant. Although I wouldn't volunteer to 'scrutinise my landlord' (sorry TSA, I've got more interesting hobbies to attend to) my lanlord shouldn't assume that I am not bothered. I get very bothered by poor service because I can't go elsewhere and expect oppportunities to tell them so - an effective complaints procedure, staff who treat tenants with respect and importantly, effective communication, so I know what's going on and can have my say and be confident that someone is listening. To achieve this everyone in the Association / almo / Council have to take their share of the responsibility. The tenant involvement officer can only provide the tools and carry the message - they need others to act on it. The point is, you have to work both sides of the equasion to make tenant involvement effective and meaningful because people will only get involved if they think its worth it.
16/03/2010 10:42 am
I think I would start by urging you to avoid becoming fixated on formal engagement mechanisms. ‘Involvement’ is not just about tenants attending meetings or turning up at events. Whilst your ‘active’ tenants are undoubtedly important, they are only one manifestation of the many forms that meaningful ‘tenant involvement’ can take. Like ducks and icebergs, what often really matters is what’s going on beneath the ‘water line’.
Organisationally you need to know why it is that you engage with your tenants. If your abiding motive is based on regulatory compliance, then you are seriously missing the point. A clear understanding of and a strategy of responding to, the wants and needs of your tenants’ is central to running a successful business. Not convinced? Just ask Tesco how critical customer intelligence is to them. Obviously it is more difficult to change landlord than it is to change toothpaste but in reality this places an even greater obligation on landlords to place tenants at the heart of their business.
Adopt a range of engagement techniques that you design ‘with’ your tenants. Above all, don’t expect tenants to come to you. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself how you would expect to influence the services that you consume. I doubt that you would expect to have to attend a monthly meeting just to make sure your bins are emptied, but that’s often the kind of expectation we place on tenants. Fortunately some are prepared to make this commitment and they should be cherished and supported but they are very much in the minority. Remember that the most accessible and convenient form of influence is the ability to effect change simply by making an informal complaint, comment or suggestion.
Make sure that you regularly assess the impact and effectiveness of these techniques. Test that tenants are satisfied with them and their outcomes, that staff are competent in delivering them and that your internal systems are capable of sustaining them. An occasional cost benefit analysis wouldn’t hurt either.
Make sure your tenants are aware of all the formal and informal opportunities they have to influence the services they receive. Work on convincing them that taking advantage of these opportunities is worth their while. Tenant apathy is an overused expression that masks the true reasons why we struggle to get tenants to engage. I would argue that along with inaccessibility and inconvenience, the single greatest factor preventing involvement is a belief that there is really no point in doing so. Help to alleviate the effects of this by tracing and publishing the impact that tenant involvement has had on improving services and creating efficiencies.
Adopt evidence based decision making that requires you to apply the feedback that has been collected from your tenant body when making recommendations and determinations. Make this ‘tenant intelligence’ the currency of your organisation and recognise that you need the expert help of your ‘active’ tenants in interpreting and applying it to prioritise, design and improve services.
Encourage your tenants to hold you to account for your performance and behaviour and give them the tools to do so. This means agreeing service standards and providing relevant performance information that enables tenants to gauge whether you are delivering against them. Go on to offer clear channels of in
16/03/2010 10:43 am
Cont... Encourage your tenants to hold you to account for your performance and behaviour and give them the tools to do so. This means agreeing service standards and providing relevant performance information that enables tenants to gauge whether you are delivering against them. Go on to offer clear channels of individual redress and a collective ability to lobby for tenant scrutiny of services that are suffering from serious failure or deterioration.
And finally, know your tenants and crucially, know who you aren’t engaging with. Target your resources at reaching these people and make it everyone’s responsibility to do so. This will require you to profile all areas of involvement, including the source of your tenant feedback. Only in this way will you have confidence that the ‘intelligence’ on which your decisions are based are balanced and diverse. And by the way…don’t forget to explain to your tenants why you need this information or sinister motives will often be assumed when no convincing explanation is forthcoming.
16/03/2010 5:07 pm
I agree with both Jons on this! As a customer I know what my expectations are so why would I not want to deliver that same standard of service to my customers?
All too often organisations attempt formal consultation activity when actually we have all the data we need at our fingertips - just listen to what our customers contact us about on a daily basis, and interpret information to understand why those who don't contact us are not doing.
It should all be very simple but we manage to complicate it by considering how we can be seen to comply as opposed to how we can offer great services to customers which meet their needs....
17/03/2010 12:05 pm
Jon Thurlow - Ask your ALMO if the have a published set of service standards. If you have a copy of this it is easier when making a complaint to show what level of service you should have received and what you actually received. Not all ALMOs have them but it is considered good practice.