This article was first published in Inside Housing (opens new window) on 4th July 2022
With new consumer regulations on the horizon, many housing providers are rethinking how they engage with residents.
Listening to the lived experience of people and their families is essential if the sector wants to genuinely improve the quality of its services.
For years, resident engagement has consisted of surveys and focus groups, gathering comments and complaints or consulting on new services.
These are valuable tools for involvement, but housing organisations must now go further. To realign their relationship with residents, in line with the vision from the 2020 social housing white paper, the power dynamic needs to change.
Co-production is at the heart of this. It’s a buzz word that lots of people in the sector are talking about but working co-productively with residents is complex and many organisations don’t get it right.
The difference between co-production and tenant involvement is an acknowledgement that the skills and knowledge of staff is important, but it must be valued equally alongside the experience and expertise of people who use housing services.
Sharing decision-making with residents, right from the start, means that services can be co-designed around their ambitions and wants, not around what housing organisations assume their needs are.
I’ve used housing and mental health services myself and they didn’t always help. This experience made me realise that people who access services have valuable things to say about them, but their voices often go unheard.
As an artist, working from a survivor perspective, I began facilitating other people’s creativity – helping them to express in new ways what is sometimes difficult to articulate verbally.
An example of this is a project called TAPPI (Technology for our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation) where I’m co-producing relationships with older people who are shaping digital services with their housing providers.
Led by the Housing Learning and Improvement Network (Housing LIN), the TEC Services Association (TSA) and funded by the Dunhill Medical Trust, TAPPI puts older residents in the driving seat. Co-production is one of its 10 foundational principles and residents’ experiences will show us how apps, devices and other tech-enabled care and housing solutions can better support people in later life to live happily and independently in their own homes.
Effective co-production is all about group work where everyone feels safe to share their views freely. This is something we’re doing with TAPPI – it can often be unpredictable and uncomfortable but it’s always really rewarding – and I can see it helping housing providers to find the right tech solutions for their ageing residents.
I want to share some practical tips on making co-production work in your organisation too.
Co-production is all about valuing everybody’s expertise equally so it’s vital you actively involve people who are seldom heard. Reach out to individuals who are disabled, from ethnic minorities or LGBTQ+ communities. Think carefully about the residents not yet around the table.
Meetings must be designed so everyone can easily participate, including people with disabilities or impairments. Consider your venue, the format of materials and any communications before or after your meetings. Remove all barriers to boost inclusivity.
For the TAPPI project we are paying the residents we work with. Reimbursing people with fees or expenses is good practice and shows that if you put something in, you get something out. Participants feel valued and this creates an environment where everyone sees themselves as respected experts working towards a single goal.
Support tenants to feel comfortable communicating their own views. Not everyone wants to speak in front of others or write down their thoughts. Using creativity can be an alternative way for people to share their views. I often create artworks with residents, using drawing, painting, collage and video diaries.
Train participants & staff
Giving residents a role in decision making (when they haven’t had a say before) is a big change. They need to develop certain skills and understand new responsibilities. Staff also need to accept they will have to share decision-making. In the TAPPI project we are training residents and housing teams, showing them that by working together they will make better decisions for everybody.
Build local confidence
Avoid creating a culture of dependency on external consultants like me! Grow the co-production capability of residents and staff so they can drive this work in the future. In the TAPPI project each housing provider will nominate two or three people – at least one of them a resident – and this champions group will be supported through mentoring, action learning, training and facilitated group work to embed co-production in their housing provider going forward.
I hope that genuine co-production soon becomes the norm for tenant engagement. It strengthens trust between residents and providers, it empowers individuals and ultimately, it leads to better satisfaction and outcomes for the people you support.
Jolie Goodman is an artist who has worked from a survivor perspective in the mental health sector for over 20 years for both voluntary and statuary organisations, specialises in co-producing relationships with a diverse range of stakeholders. Find out more about Co-Production Works here.
If you found this blog of interest, hear from both the ‘Co-Production and Engagement’ and ‘Evaluation and Shared Learning’ partners as they share what their role entails and why they are an essential part of TAPPI team.