How do you create an industry review that will deliver real change?

By Beth Gaudin

Commissioning reviews in the aftermath of a scandal can feel like inspecting the gate after the barn’s burnt down. There is often the feeling they are a knee-jerk response, designed to make it seem like something is being done, when in reality the aim is to kick real change down the road. This is only exacerbated when the causes of the scandal are already known to be complex and wide-ranging. So, how do you create a review that has the chance of offering real impact and change?

This was the question facing the Better Social Housing Review, set up by The National Housing Federation and Charted Institute of Housing in June last year. The review was commissioned following a series of damning reports on ITV News about the squalid conditions some social housing tenants were living in, uncovered by the campaigner, Kwajo. While there was a clear emphasis on the ned for change, social housing in England has long known to be a messy, complicated issue.

Forster was brought on to act as the secretariat of the review, supporting the independent panel to undertake the review and then create a report that summed up the findings, but, more importantly also make a series of recommendations that could help radically improve social housing in England.

No small task. But the entire process provided useful insights into what can help make a review impactful:

Find the right panel

We worked with the chair, Helen Baker (also the Chair of Shelter), to find experts with direct experience of working in different aspects of the sector, including working directly with children living in social housing and as tenants.

Centre real, direct experiences

The panel were clear from the outset that the voices of those actually living in social housing were vital to understanding not just the issues but also potential solutions. These voices, alongside those of people working on the front line of the sector, proved to be invaluable in shedding light on what was really going on and some of the seemingly simple fixes that could be introduced.

Vary how you gather insights

The panel gathered views in three ways. Firstly, by one-to-one interviews with experts across the sector. Second, via two surveys, one for those working in the sector and the other for those living in social housing. Finally, the panel committed to a tour of England to visit social housing providers and meet with their tenants and front-line staff. These conversations were sometimes difficult but always hugely insightful.

Focus on what can be done, not what can’t

Any issue as complex as social housing can’t be solved overnight, or by one review. But that doesn’t mean that real change isn’t possible. Focusing the recommendations on actionable (and new) insights meant that both The National Housing Federation and Charted Institute of Housing accepted the review and its recommendations in their entirety.

Go back to basics

There shouldn’t be anything off the table in a review process, including challenging trends in the industry. The BSHR called for providers to remember their core purpose and start with an audit of all social housing in England. Basic sounding in themselves, but if done correctly they have the potential to transform how social housing is provided.

Upon publication, the review was accepted by the industry and praised in the media as being disarmingly radical. It garnered positive responses from government, stakeholders, and providers. Obviously, any review is just the beginning, but when done probably, it can provide a solid foundation of change.

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