Brett Sadler

The Virtues of the Housing Sector Blog

BlogI’ve been blogging now for nearly three years on a variety of Housing related subjects and with quite a good degree of success, gaining over 4000 views of my blog posts in 2014 alone.

I am a firm believer in the benefits of blogging for Housing folks – for one thing it helps to make sure that as a sector we are open to learning and sharing. Here are just a few more good reasons that spring to mind:

  1. Housing is often called a forgotten sector in the wider UK world – why not publish some of the great work we do in Housing via a blog – you’ll be amazed at what a positive response you can get;
  2. Housing has an amazing amount of sector variety – blogging is a great way to showcase this and the wide variety of job opportunities is still one of the main reasons I chose a career in Housing;
  3. There are still a relatively small number of Housing folks blogging – there is a good chance a decent blog will be picked up, retweeted and listed under 60 second news;
  4. It is still a relatively easy way to get your thoughts on the subject out to a wide ranging audience – yes there are the recognised sector industry media points, but never underestimate how widely a blog post will be distributed and read.

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I also wrote a blog titled ‘the Bloggers Guide to Blogging’ last year, which you can read here, but on reflection I would also add two more top tips:

  1. Blogging is a skill to learn and nurture – although obviously the content is important, writing a blog is a skill that needs to be learnt and nurtured – if you think you’re first blog post will be a world beater, you might well be disappointed;
  2. Blog about something interesting – something that is either a current issue facing #ukhousing or on a subject that lots of housing people will find interesting an insightful.

I am always expressing the virtues of blogging to Housing people and I can truly say that I am now able to write a half decent blog in a short amount of time. This is a skill that I have learnt by reading other peoples blogs and experimenting with the content and titles. I’ve still got a long way to improve, but I am pleased with what I have learnt so far and the response I’ve had.

If I had to give one main learning point to anyone writing a blog for the first time, it is just to have a go at it. I can’t tell you the amount of times people have mentioned to me that they have read a blog post of mine and not only read it, but understood what I was trying to say! I may not have gained a 100 ‘likes’ on each blog post, but never underestimate that visitors to your blog will remember what you have said.

So, hopefully this blog post will have helped to sell the virtues of blogging to all you amazing people working in Housing. I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject, whether you are a regular blogger, a part time blogger or a ‘maybe I will one day blog’ blogger. Leave your thoughts below!!

8 months in – is our Digital First Project a success (so far)?

digital_vortexI’ve blogged a number of times about the Digital First journey we have been on as an organisation. Posts have included ‘Bridging the Digital Divide’, ‘The Digital (and Social) Journey’, ‘Digital First Wave’ and ‘A One-page Strategy…..Impossible! Or is it?’.

In this post I’m attempting to draw some of these together by writing about where we have got to with our Digital First Project so far, some of the projects successes to date and some of the learning.

First things first, I think it’s fair to say that I am really pleased with how the Digital First Project has come along in its first 8 months. I can’t quite believe its only been 8 months that the project has been running for!

We have four tenants as part of our 12 strong Project Team and they have been key to giving the tenant point of view along the way. I can honestly say that the Project journey so far would not have been the same without the four tenants being involved. The Project Team also includes 8 staff (including me) made up of a representative from each of the main department in the association. These representatives were all staff that showed an interest in being part of the project team, meaning they had some vested interest in being involved and its overall success. We have now held several Project Team meetings and managed to build up quite a head of steam behind the project.

But we haven’t just been talking about things. We’ve been producing things, like the Digital First Strategy (below).

The Digital First Strategy

The Digital First Strategy

The Digital First Project key achievements to-date include:
  • Drafting a one-page Digital First Strategy (which has recently been agreed by our Senior Management Team);
  • Starting discussions on what new services we could offer digitally;
  • Reviewing our current tenant’s portal offer;
  • Making some key changes to further improve the tenant’s portal functionality.

We have also had lots of positive plaudits along the way about the way the project has developed.

It’s also fair to say we have learnt a few key things as well.

One thing we quickly learnt as a Project Team is that our website was key to the success of the Digital First Project and although this has held up some aspects of the project, I’m pleased to say that a new website is now a ‘work in progress’.

Our Marketing and Communications Manager is also currently looking at our approach to Social Media, which although not a key part of the Digital First Project, does have some real implications for its success.

So what next for the Digital First project?

One key area is the continued focus on offering services digitally and ensuring that as an organisation we continue to look at improving our digital offer to our tenants. At the same time we also need to ensure that our digital offer to staff is not left behind as well! Ensuring that key staff are able to use tablets where suitable will only help with this further. We’re also planning some further work to improve our approach to digital inclusion – some 30% of our tenants have told us that they do not have access to the internet currently, so if we are looking to offer more services digitally, we need to make sure our tenants are able to access the internet.

If I had to sum the first 8 months of the Digital First Project is one line, it would be:

‘ A challenging but rewarding project that is showing some real progress and results for the organisation and its tenants’

I can only hope that the next 8 months of the project are as successful!

Homes for Britain and the Right to Buy extension – a success story?

HomesforBritainlogoI’m sure you couldn’t help but have seen the Conservative announcement to extend the Right to Buy to Housing Association tenants. It was quite literally front page news overnight.

I can’t remember anything Housing related being covered quite so widely and quickly. The number of tweets, blog posts, commentary and overall news coverage was quite staggering and looks set to continue.

I would argue that what the announcement did successfully achieve was:

  • Unanimously uniting the Housing world (and beyond) in it condemnation;
  • Provided a quick, definitive test to the #homesforbritain campaign – could #ukhousing stand up to this announcement?

So how did we do? I would argue we came out fighting. I blogged recently that the real litmus test for the #homesforbritain campaign would be seen over quite a lengthy period; would the political parties actually take notice of housing and therefore it rise up the national priority list? Based on Housing being covered in the main political parties debates on television, I would say yes.

I’ve read some worrying comments though that the Right to Buy announcement by the Conversation party goes against the #homesforbritain compaign and therefore brings its success into question. Really? From where I’m sitting, its done exactly the opposite of that. It’s made it crystal clear to the british public that as a sector, we do not agree with this. This has come on the back of the #homesforbritain campaign. I for one think that without #homesforbritain, we would like have had a more tepid, less united response to the announcement.

I was truly amazed by how strong the reaction has been been. It’s made me proud to be working in the world of Housing. After being proud of the #homesforbritain campaign, that makes it twice in as many months. Let’s keep the momentum going.

The Homes for Britain Rally – a Game Changer?

HomesforBritainlogoSo it has been a few weeks now since the Homes for Britain rally in London, but here’s my (long reflected) take on the day.

I was lucky enough to attend the Homes for Britain rally in London on the 17th March 2015 along with approx. 2,300 others and also attended a Welsh MP’s reception at Westminster before the rally itself. The day certainly had an Alice in Wonderland feel to it at times, being mainly surreal, often touching and with some really heartfelt moments.

First off, along with many colleagues from across Wales, we made the long journey over to London by train or by coach to attend the Welsh MP’s reception at Westminster, jointly organised by Community Housing Cymru and the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru. I had never even been to Westminster before, so I was pretty excited (probably more than most of the schoolkids who were visiting Westminster were anyway).

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The Welsh MP’s reception at Westminster

In all 20 Welsh MP’s attend the reception, which was a pretty good turnout. I got to speak to my local MP about Housing issues and certainly felt it helped to raise the ‘Housing’ profile. After some impossibly small (but high in volume) lunchtime snacks at the MP’s reception, we then wandered over the short distance to the Methodist Central Hall where the main Homes for Britain rally took place. Outside the venue, lots of other Housing professionals were holding placards, with a general feeling of goodwill being emanated from everyone there. There weren’t many ‘suits’ in sight, apart from some of us as we had just been to Westminster!

The obligatory Homes for Britain pose in front of the venue

After meeting and talking to other Housing professionals from around the country on the green outside the Hall, it was time to go in to the venue. At the door to the venue everyone was told to leave their placards at the door – not exactly what I expected. It certainly had the effect of dampening some of the enthusiasm people were entering with. I had a ticket for Seat 40, row P, grey and on asking an attendant where the seat was, I was told that there had been a mistake and there ‘are no seat 40’s’ but I could find one over to the left of the stage in the blue seats. I really hoped this was not a sign of things to come and was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t.

I’m not going to talk in detail about all of the speakers at the event as these have been covered in much detail than I could do by other blogs, but suffice to say that opening up with a live band, then Nigel Farage of UKIP, samba drums in the middle and then closing with Grant Shapps who received ‘polite but definite heckling’ from many of the attendees (despite requests from the excellent compare for the day Jonathan Dimbleby not to) really did feel like I was in some kind of parallel universe.

Overall though the event was a credit to the National Housing Federation and everyone else who put the event together. I never would have thought that so many Housing people could get together in one venue, with what amounted to an excellent range of speakers, a really slickly produced event and an excellent platform to give a stronger united voice to the Housing sector. As an aside, I know that there were some reps from Wales at the Homes for Britain Rally, but what about Scotland and Northern Ireland reps?

Of course, on the long train journey home, I couldn’t help but reflect on whether the day’s events would actually carry on past the day. It was an undoubted success, but success longer term would be the panacea.

The political parties spoke a lot about Housing during the rally, but failed to carry this through after the rally day. I can’t help but be left with a feeling that Housing remains a side issue in the election, but the uniting of the Housing sector for the Homes for Britain rally really does show what is possible. The trick now is to turn this into a longer term, consistently high profile campaign that truly grabs the politician’s attention and puts Housing firmly on the national agenda.

People much better than me have commented that this may or may not happen in the near future, but being ever the optimist, I can really see some light at the end of the tunnel if we can keep this momentum going.

I am really glad I was able to attend the Homes for Britain rally – definitely for me a ‘were you there’ kind of moment in years to come and I for one will be looking forward to plans for any future Homes for Britain rally in the near future.

Digital Self Service in Housing – the Survey

digital_vortexWhy bother to invest in online customer accounts, if you don’t promote it?

As a sector it would be fantastic if we could identify the volumes of active online customers of housing services, and to see whether this is taking off?

Following the publication of Connected Housing 2014 many housing providers are looking closely at serving customers better online. The development and take-up of online services should be high up on every housing organisations agenda. Notwithstanding this the need to keep up with more people online, greater expectations of services and strives to improve satisfaction.

Scouring the sector for examples always throws up the likes of front runners Halton Housing and Thames Valley Housing, but who else are doing great stuff online? Who has customer testimonials of doing business with them digitally?

The purpose of creating a survey is to identify and research case studies of where housing has been successful in achieving good take up. As a good place to start we are looking at online customer accounts, as these seem to be adopted by a fair few housing organisations.

It will provide stories of take-up of online services which other housing organisations could follow. From this we can hopefully inspire, gauge momentum and understand why they have been successful, and importantly demonstrate where benefits are being realised.

Therefore, this research will seek to:

  • Understand UK Housing online self-service context;
  • Baseline housing organisations levels of performance;
  • See and clarify levels of expectation of what is or not possible;
  • Learn how organisations promote take-up;
  • See if other factors encourage take-up;
  • Identify the future potential for online customer accounts.

So what can we find out about what has been achieved? Who wants to tell us their story?

We will look to distil the findings and case studies to share with the online housing network. It will also act as a 2015 bookmark, as to what progress has been made and what more there is still to do.

Please spend a few minutes, share and collaborate with your colleagues. You can fill in the survey here.

Thanks for taking part.

@Brettsadler77, @AdeCapon, @hotpixUK

A One-page Strategy…..Impossible! Or is it?

One thing I have come to realise that I do like a challenge. Not content enough with having to draft a Digital First Strategy for our organisation, I thought I’d make it even harder by trying to make it only one-page.

Just how hard can it be to make it only one-page? I decided to ask via Twitter:

DF_1

After a few conversations with Rachel Honey-Jones (@RHoneyJones) and Boris Worrall (@BorisOrbitGroup), Executive Director of Futures at Orbit Housing Association, Boris’s response really caught my eye – how about writing a strategy in 140 characters (i.e. in one tweet)? Boris proceeded to send through a few real-life 140 character strategies:

Crisis Communication Strategy Boris_1

Digital Strategy

Boris_2

From my point of view this was brilliant! If it could be done in 140 characters, then one-page should be a piece of cake!

Of course, now that I’ve drafted the one-page strategy, I’m beginning to question my wisdom. The doubts have started to set in. Is this more novelty than useful? Can it actually be called a strategy in one page?

For sake of clarity, I’ve opted for the following headings so far (NB: it is a draft so is subject to change):

  • Background;
  • Business case;
  • Purpose;
  • Expected benefits;
  • Current position;
  • Future goals.

It really is a short strategy, but I’m interested in finding out what colleague’s think, so I’ll be sending it on to my Digital First Project Team (which includes staff and tenants), to see what they think. From past experience, I’ll get a very honest answer from them; they won’t sugar coat it just for me!

The biggest question of all is whether I will manage to keep the Strategy down to one-page, once it has been through staff discussion, Executive Team and Board. Watch this space to find out!

The Digital First Wave

328a32933396b5c0ba1e1e054b8aa30f

What would you offer digitally, if you had the choice? This is the question that faced our Digital First Project Team recently.

The aim was to come up with as many ideas as we could think of (however wacky they might sound), to help inform the draft Digital First Strategy. This might sound like an easy task, but to be honest, thinking about what is possible (without the boundary of ‘it will never work’) is actually harder than you think! That said, the Project Team did a grand job of coming up with suggestions.

In asking this question of the Project Team, I reflected just how ‘digital first’ I am as a person. I realise that if an organisation does not offer something digitally, I’m much more likely to look for one that does. For instance, if I can’t contact my car insurance company online, I’m not going to stay with them.

This leads me on to a recent report I read by Fujitsu titled ‘Digital Inside Out‘. In announcing the report, Fujitsu UK and Ireland chief executive Michael Keegan said: “We are speeding towards a digital-first Britain. From click and collect through to renewing our road tax online, the wealth of digital services available has driven great behavioural change in the UK.”

The report includes highlighting that on-line banking and on-line shopping are leading the charge towards digital first. If you think about how much banking has changed in the last several years, you realise that you no longer expect high street branches or even paper bank statements each month. This shows some of the thinking that we need to have in Housing in order to catch the Digital First wave.

So the big question is, will 2015 be the year that #ukhousing finally catches on to the digital first wave?

Social Media 2015

Future-of-social-media

In early 2013 I wrote a blog post titled ‘Has Twitter Seen its Best Days’. OK, so the title wasn’t the best I’ve ever come up with, but funnily enough I have been asking myself the same question again – is Twitter on the decline?

Now I warn anyone reading this post that I haven’t got any real statistical basis for raising this question, but I have got some evidence of sorts:

  • Over the course of this year I’ve found less and less engagement on Twitter;
  • With the introduction of Twitter adverts in anyone’s timeline, regardless of whether you want them, it’s watered down the essence of Twitter;
  • Competition from the other plethora of social media platforms out there – too many choices?
  • I often feel like I am posting to the virtual world on the hope that someone (anyone?) will comment on my tweet;
  • Often the best tweets go unanswered and, seemingly at random, some of the worst get the most traffic.

Alright, so they are hardly damning, but I can honestly say that recently has been the first time in over two years I’ve really questioned the use of Twitter in my daily work life. Before that I was a several tweets a day kind-of-guy. I was pretty active on Twitter, being recognised as a digital engager and even featuring in the top 50 Digital Power Players for 2014 (and to answer your question, yes, it has gone on my CV).

As far as forecasting goes, my track record is patchy at best. I forecast that in 2014 Google+ would rise to the top in the world of Housing and although it started out OK, the announcement that Google were going to drop it from their development programme pretty much knocked this on the head. Don’t get me wrong, Google+ still has an awful lot to offer, but I’m not sure I can stretch to saying that 2014 was the year of Google+.

That said, I for one will be watching closely in 2015 to see what happens with Twitter, along with other social media platforms.

So what are everyone else’s Social Media predictions for 2015? Twitter up or down? Facebook up or down? Another social media platform (as yet relatively unknown) to make it big in 2015? Or maybe 2015 is the year that social media slows down as a whole? Leave your thoughts below……..

Google+ – The Forgotten Social Layer?

G+Anyone who has followed my blog for some time will know that I’ve been championing the use of Google+ (or G+ for short). It has some great features that out-do some of the more limited features of other social networks.

One example is the 140 character word limit on Twitter. G+ posts have a limit of 10,000 words (apparently), although that would be a might large post!

One of the best features in G+ is the use of circles. This enables a user to group people together into like-minded people. I have used this to some degree. I’ve put a screen grab of my circles below:

G+circles

What this means is that I can target my G+ posts to the people that will be interested in seeing that content. This is a completely different feature to Twitter for example, where you just tweet out to ‘the world’ and hope for a response. Granted through Twitter you can target it by adding in some Twitter Handles (@) but you can also do the same through G+ (+).

Another great feature is G+ Comunities, where like-minded people can join with others to comment, post and debate whatever interests them. These work much like the LinkedIn Groups, although my experience has been that you get a lot more interaction and reaction on G+ Communities compared to LinkedIn Groups.

Another great feature (and arguable the best feature for Housing) is the use of G+ Hangouts. They are remarkably easy to use. You just click on the option and invite who you want to join. It is that simple. For me, the real opportunity is using this option as part of customer services, for customers to contact an organisation to query something. Or better still, organisations can hold G+ Hangouts for tenants to join and interact with staff by asking questions.

G+HangoutsOther organisations on G+ have been quick to jump on the G+ Hangout bandwagon. A popular option is to ‘broadcast’ to people through a G+ Hangout, much like a YouTube channel, but instead of this being pre-recorded, it’s a live conversation between 2 or more people. This can also be recorded for anyone to watch at a later date.

I’ve also heard of people using G+ Hangouts for talking to remote staff, for things like supervision. I know that you can use Skype for the same kind of thing, but G+ Hangouts allow you to integrate this into a much wider network of staff and customers.

But one of the best things I have heard about G+ is it being described as a ‘social layer’ rather than a ‘social network’. I hadn’t really appreciated this at first, comparing it to Twitter, Facebook and the other social networks available, but it really doesn’t quite fit into that bracket. You can do so much more with it.

So, I hope I’ve convinced some of you to join G+, have a play with it and find out what it can offer. Go on, you know you want to….

**If you are interested, I also run my own Google+ Community called ‘G+ Housing Community’ where like minded people can post, query and comment about the use of Google+. Just click on the below image.**

G+Housing

The Digital (and Social) Journey

digi_phone

As some of you will know, I have an interest in digital ‘techy’ things, but I can also clearly see the benefits to our wider customers and staff for being connected and part of the digital revolution. I’ve also seen first-hand the benefits of using social media and I’ve spent a lot of time learning about how organisations communicate both internally and externally.

By way of sharing my learning, I thought I’d put some thoughts down:

Digital Inclusion: In a recent post I bemoaned the difficulty in tackling digital inclusion. The pace of technological change makes writing a digital inclusion strategy (and actually achieving something) almost impossible. To tackle this, I decided to submit the ‘draft’ DI strategy to our Senior Management Team for some discussion, so that I could at least show some progress. It’s now been approved so I’m moving on to the heady heights of thinking about implementation.

Digital First: As an organisation we’ve also made a recent pledge to move towards being a Digital First organisation. To coincide with the DI Strategy going to our Senior Management Team for discussion, I submitted a Project Initiation Document for our Digital First Project, which was subsequently approved. We’ve now moved on to holding our first Project Team meeting. We’ve got a long way to go in this, but the project is moving from strength to strength.

Social Media: Another area that I’ve been keen to push for some time now is our use of social media. It’s not just that I’ve seen the benefit of using it for work, but I can again see the benefits of staff and our customers using it. But opening the social media gates for staff will not be without its challenges. Some see social media as good fun with little or no place during work, whilst others just don’t like the idea of opening up access for staff to tweet about their lunch (for the record, if put in place correctly, it’s unlikely this would happen).

Communications: Another area I’ve been pushing is for us to improve our communications, both internal and external and we’ve recently appointed our very first Communications and Marketing Manager. This is a massive step forwards for our organisation and although the list of things to do for our new postholder is every increasing, I’m really excited about the difference this will make.

So overall I’d say things are moving in the right direction. All of the above areas have a massive amount of overlap, so progress in all four means real progress for the organisation.

One of the interesting things I’ve found is that an awful lot of people have at least some interest in one of the areas, and some in all of them, and are more than happy to be involved in discussions and work to move these forwards. It goes back to needing to give everyone the chance to be involved in the change process, from the ones who are on board to the ones who aren’t. It’s a much stronger message to change someone’s thinking who was previously a sceptic than someone you could always rely on to get on board.

As with a lot of things I seem to get involved in nowadays, I’m under no illusion that these will be easy areas to improve and move forwards on. But I’m a glass half full kind of guy, so I’ll finish with a favourite quote: ‘progress is progress’………………

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