Resident-centred design: how to kick-start digital innovation in housing

Digital engagement and transformation is happening now. Our Digital Futures Club acts as a catalyst to recognise and share good practice on a range of digital solutions suited to the housing sector.

In this guest blog, Jo Oliveira from Unboxed Consulting shares their resident-centered approach to digital delivery that was featured on the December Club agenda.

In recent months, I’ve observed a real desire within many organisations across the housing sector to create better digital services for their residents. All at various stages along their transformational journeys, now seems the perfect time to reflect and check the approach they’re taking is in everyone’s best interest.

At HouseMark’s Digital Futures Club in December (a very festive occasion it was too!), we discussed hot topics from self-service portals to growing demands and customer expectations. It’s very clear that residents expect a change for the better — they want good service at their fingertips.

According to Acis’ recent Great Expectations research report, “More than four out of five social housing customers said they expect the same level of service from their social housing provider as they do from other companies”. They compare tenancy services such as organising home repairs to others in their daily lives, like online retail, banking or utilities — demanding the same easy and fast experience.

Of course, offering a choice of communication channels is important, many people still prefer face-to-face contact, hence the need to think in a resident-focused way.

Unboxed were delighted to speak at the Digital Futures Club, sharing our insights and experiences on this approach.

Dawn Turner, a user researcher, and Tom Harrison, a delivery manager, (both of whom joined Unboxed from local authority housing teams at Newham Council and Lewisham Homes respectively) spoke about our resident-centred approach to digital delivery in housing, sharing stories to illustrate how we meet both resident and organisational needs.

 

 Identifying and understanding user needs

As service design experts, we work in short cycles — continually making, testing and learning to respond to resident needs throughout a project. This starts by speaking with core users, including residents, front-line teams (e.g. customer services) and delivery teams (e.g. repairs), to hear their experiences, identify their pain points and understand their needs. The best way to design good services is to get out there, speak directly to your users, put something in front of them for feedback and iterate based on this feedback.

We do this by creating simple prototypes. These can be anything from quick sketches to clickable interfaces. It gives us something tangible to test with real users, gather their feedback, then refine and improve iteratively before developing a product or implementing changes to services. Our approach is to work collaboratively with our customers using Agile and Lean delivery methodologies, embedding a multi-disciplinary team on site to work closely with their internal team. This way, we upskill and support internal teams, “on the job”, as we’re delivering.

In housing, proactive tenancy management is key and thinking in a more resident-centred way can help to achieve this. With the Social Housing Regulator assessing on customer engagement and value for money, it’s more important than ever to design and build services that drive down failure demand to improve the resident experience to deliver long-term efficiencies.

Traditional housing management platforms seem to be struggling to meet demands in many organisations I’ve spoken with. Much of the time, they’re too rigid with a poor user experience and no longer fit for purpose. This has led to a shift towards Dynamics by some providers. Without embracing truly resident-centered approaches, we risk repeating the same mistakes of the past, just on shinier technology platforms.

Starting small

As a first step, speaking to just five residents of a service can reveal a surprising amount of insight into their experiences. To help teams take this first step, Unboxed has published a user research guide for teams new to resident-centred design, beginning with user research. This has been designed to provide insight and practical steps for teams looking to introduce this way of working into their organisation.

If you get stuck we’re on hand to help and if there’s interest we’d love to run a pilot with HouseMark members where we agree a service to work on, share findings and learn from each other. If you’d like to be involved or discuss things further please get in touch, you can drop me an email at jo.oliveira@unboxed.co, or find me on Twitter.

Our Specialist Clubs provide the perfect platform for professionals from across the housing sector to join a network that lets them access best practice, the latest thinking and unique networking opportunities. Read our new Specialist Clubs brochure and find out what’s happening across all our Clubs in 2020.

By Natalia Karska

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