Brett Sadler

HouseParty14 – innovate or stagnate?


Should #ukhousing or other sectors prioritise and push innovation or risk stagnating as a sector?

This is the question that sprung to mind when thinking about HouseParty. As a first day attendee of #hseparty14, the unofficial fringe event in Manchester, I thought I’d have a go at answering this.

First things first, I obviously heard about HouseParty via Twitter. This is like a lot of things nowadays, with Twitter being my ‘finger on the pulse newsfeed’. After looking into it, I thought I’d better book on to attend as it looked like something different, which I’m always attracted to it seems. The fact that it was co-created and organised by HACT and The Social Change Agency was an added appeal – if it had been organised by an organisation I’d never heard of before, I might not have been so keen, but I really wanted to see what this would be about and to be part of it in some way.

It goes without saying that from the outset the event had a very different feel to it. You were given ticket options to purchase via Eventbright – either a full paying ticket, a donation towards a ticket or a free version; the first of many differences. Leading up to the day via the dedicated twitter account and hashtag there were regular updates and new sessions announced. It felt exciting to be attending – almost secretive and special!

On the first day of HouseParty, I got off the same train as I would to attend the main CIH Conference – Oxford Rd. Although I’d been mulling over for some weeks whether to flit between the HouseParty event and the main CIH Conference, I decided that as I was only going to be there for the first day, that I’d dedicate my attendance to just HouseParty. On arriving at the HouseParty venue there was a sign outside announcing I’d got to the right place:


I was given a HouseParty lanyard and shown where the tea and coffee was. So far, just like every other conference I’ve attended.

I made my way downstairs to the main hallway to where various social enterprises had set up to show their wares. This felt a bit different. Everyone (apart from those who jumped over from the main CIH Conference) were casually dressed and the feel of the event was very relaxed – not very Housing like. I managed to attend various sessions throughout the day including a ‘Fireside chat with Anne McCrossan’ and a session showcasing new apps developed by social enterprises. All of the sessions I attended were informative, within fairly small groups and the chance to ask questions and get involved.

On reflection, three things struck me about the event.

1)      Although some Housing Associations got involved in HouseParty by either sponsoring or attending the event, the vast majority of showcases were by organisations that would not have had the same platform or opportunities at the main CIH Conference.

2)      As the event was organised through Twitter, there was a distinct Social Media flavour to attendees. Quite a few of the Social Media #powerplayers14 attended over the few days and gave talks of some form or another – a great chance for people to meet in the flesh they’ve connected with and followed on Twitter. I’m sure some people would have paid more for the chance they had to hear from some of the speakers.

3)      The event felt quite unstructured and chaotic at times. I personally thought this was a good thing and only added to the sense that the event was meant to be different!

I had the chance to talk with one of the HouseParty organiser’s Matt Leach (CEO of HACT) about the event and the reason for organising it. In essence, it was a chance to offer something different to the usual CIH Conference. Quite how the CIH will deal with the event remains to be seen, as I’m sure a lot of the HouseParty attendees would have agreed that the more relaxed, disruptive feel to the event was a pleasant change. Whether Matt Leach, Esther and their teams will ultimately want to organise another event next year (I bet they were tired at the end of the two days) also remains to be seen.

So, overall I thought HouseParty was a fantastic event that can only get better as time goes by. The people I spoke to on the day also seemed to be enjoying attending. The chance to fine tune the agendas and timings would make it even better. There were certainly some elements that the main CIH Conference should consider taking on board (like the cost of attending and who was attending) but again that remains to be seen.

I managed to have some great conversations with lots of amazing people over the day and made some great new contacts for the future.

It seems that the rise of alternative/fringe events like #hseparty14 and #commshero are here to stay. Long may the disruption revolution continue!

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4 thoughts on “HouseParty14 – innovate or stagnate?

  1. johnpopham on said:

    Great post Brett.

    And as for next year. I know that the venue has already been re-booked!

  2. Annemcx on said:

    Great observations here Brett, I especially like your focus on what the experience was like for you . Metaphorically speaking, there was a lot of permission in the room at HACT’s House Party; the sense of ‘digital membership’ was very strong.

    Your post opens up thoughts on perceived value and options about various business models. When I was a co-writer of the book Business Model Generation in 2008 online, with 380 other people, which has now gone onto sell more than 1 million copies, I became patently aware that at the core of all successful digital business models is great leadership.

    That means looking at skills and numbers, deploying design thinking and data insight, having good listening skills and beyond profit agendas that involve connecting people to one another for collective benefit as well as for individual gain. That is how networked organisations scale.

    There is a real opportunity in here to open up how we do things and how memberships, subscriptions, retailing revenue, overheads, partnerships and other elements of business configuration can sustain the dynamic development of the Housing sector community, drawing on both established and progressive practices.

    In the Fireside Chat about Digital Transformation (thanks for the hat-tip for that by the way!) we talked about how lack of supply, affordability, unemployment and skills as being the major forces Housing organisations themselves say are most affecting the sector.

    All are a wake-up call (if ever there was one) about how housing is a pivotal force in developing sustainable, local economically prosperous communities. Rethinking fundamental assumptions around Housing management is a necessary part of creating the digital readiness needed to make the most of that.

    The ambience needs to change, and House Party reflected it, so that management becomes more responsive and iterative and it is more accessible and trusted by users.

    I’m very glad that with posts like yours we can open up the conversation around this. And congratulations to you on your #powerplayers awards! We are lucky to have you.

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