Social landlords are looking for ways to rebuild trust with their communities. Alex Jones explains why L&Q is involving residents in decision-making to strengthen community relationships and improve staff motivation.
In the wake of Grenfell, the tragic death of Awaab Ishak and the shocking conditions uncovered by media investigations, confidence in the social housing sector is at an all-time low. The relationships with the communities we serve feel broken.
Government’s response to this is an enhanced regime of regulation, as first set out in the Social Housing white paper. While the stricter standards on things like safety, quality and transparency are welcome, the white paper was silent on another highly important topic: stigma.
In the public engagement events that followed Grenfell, social housing residents across the country consistently said that they were made to feel like ‘second class citizens’, demonised in the media as benefit scroungers and sometimes treated without the most basic respect by their landlord.
Yet, by the time the white paper was published in 2020, the issue had vanished without a trace from the government’s agenda. This leaves a policy void which social landlords have a responsibility to address themselves.
L&Q is overhauling resident involvement
At L&Q, we believe the answer to tackling this lies in our resident involvement practice. We’re on a journey to overhaul our involvement programme, bringing residents closer to the organisation than ever before. And we think it could have a transformative effect on our culture.
We began by creating a new Resident Services Board (RSB), a formal committee of our group board, that’s comprised almost entirely of L&Q residents.
The essential first step was to put residents’ views at the heart of our strategic decision-making.
The RSB’s remit goes beyond the traditional role of simply scrutinising performance. While this is a part of what they do, they’ve also been responsible for overseeing the re-shaping of our involvement offer. This was an essential first step to put residents’ views at the heart of our strategic decision-making and restore accountability at senior level.
The RSB co-produced our new approach with us, which re-frames all our involvement activity as volunteering. We want all residents who choose to get involved with us – whether on a strategically-focused committee or an ad-hoc initiative – to have a role with the same prestige and purpose as those in the voluntary sector.
A volunteer management model also allows us to plug in to well-established quality standards. For example, we aspire for all our practice to meet the principles of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ Investing in Volunteers standard. We want to provide a professional, consistent and repeatable service.
Measuring the impact of our new approach
Residents also helped L&Q establish our principles: collaboration, empowerment, inclusivity, equity and, crucially, impact.
The question of impact is not something we’re used to considering when it comes to resident involvement. While involvement is a regulatory requirement and seen as an inherent good, we haven’t always been clear on what we are trying to get out of it.
At L&Q, all of our involvement opportunities now have a clearly defined pathway to change something. And we’re clear with those who get involved about what they can and cannot influence.
In collaboration with involved residents, we’ve defined four outcomes we’re seeking from our practice:
- stronger relationships
- improved staff well-being & motivation
- improved resident experience
- and operational excellence.
These outcomes have been mapped into a framework, allowing us to hone in on the change we want to see materialise, and giving us a tool to help us measure and communicate the purpose of what we’re doing.
We can also prioritise activity according to what will deliver these outcomes, and staff have a clear rationale to say no to any proposal that doesn’t. This helps us move away from involvement that’s tokenistic or an afterthought.
Change won’t be easy
While we believe there’s huge potential in resident involvement, the change we’re seeking is not easy. It’s crucial that we take a long-term view and move things forward gradually, so we can learn as we go along. This is something that requires senior-level buy-in and a strategic focus across the organisation.
We believe that residents have a huge amount to offer the organisation, and we know that they want a better relationship with us. We’re starting to prepare for more ambitious, large-scale, participatory, decision-making events, giving involved residents a say over the big strategic decisions in the organisation.
In the coming years there will be plenty to discuss: as anyone in the sector will tell you, there are huge challenges ahead for providers. Residents are a crucial part of the solution to those challenges, not a problem to be solved. There’s never been a more vital time to re-think how we involve them in our organisations.
Alex Jones is a Strategic Research Analyst at L&Q and authored their report on resident involvement, A Partnership of Equals, which was published in May 2023. Get in touch with Alex for more information about L&Q’s new approach to resident involvement.
For more insight into co-production in the built environment sector, read Future of London’s report, Making the Case for Co-production.