Mustard director, Colin Auton, shares the key considerations for performance monitoring and resident engagement in the social housing sector
The Social Housing White Paper published in November 2020 has placed more emphasis on social landlords to monitor their performance based on ‘what matters to tenants’.
Most social landlords choose to do this in accordance with the guidelines set out by HouseMark for measuring Satisfaction amongst Tenants and Residents, often referred to as STAR.
The STAR framework went through a wholesale review in 2019/20, involving several stages of extensive consultation with key sector stakeholders and specialists, social landlords and residents (tenants and leaseholders). It now provides guidance on completing both perception and transaction surveys, including a list of 5 core, 15 recommended and 250 optional questions that social housing providers can consider when designing their questionnaires to capture views.
One of the key benefits that this approach offers is that it provides the opportunity to benchmark results versus other social landlords across the UK. Many are keen to do this to understand how they are performing relative to others in their sector. These figures can also provide useful indicators when setting targets to improve on key performance indicators.
However, any benchmark comparisons using HouseMark STAR data should be treated with a high degree of caution for the following reasons:
- The consistency of research approach – Despite the STAR framework, many social housing landlords conduct their surveys differently. Some manage these surveys in-house, whereas others use an independent third party. Then there is variance in the frequency of surveying, methodologies adopted (CATI, online, paper, etc.), types of surveys conducted (perception v transaction) and sample profiles. All of these factors will have an impact on the results, and therefore make true comparisons difficult. It’s fair to say that it would be practically impossible to develop the level of consistency in approach required across all social landlords so we could be confident that the results will be like-for-like.
- The profile of landlords – All social housing landlords are different. Their performance will be influenced by a range of factors – the number of properties they manage; the age of those properties; how geographically dispersed their portfolio is; the socio-demographics of the area or region they serve. Any true benchmarking should only be conducted versus like-for-like operations, whereas we’ve only ever seen these results shared in a league table format, which can be misleading (and unfair).
For these reasons, we always advise our housing clients to focus more on how their results compare against previous waves, and not to get too hung up on how they are performing versus other social housing landlords.
Furthermore, the real value of benchmarking is to actually engage and collaborate with the best performing companies so that you can learn and incorporate good / best practice within your own business. Having worked in this sector for a number of years, I haven’t seen any real evidence that this is happening to a significant level.
Another key focus of the Government White Paper is on urging social housing landlords to empower residents through improving and strengthening levels of engagement. They are encouraged to seek out best practice in this area so that residents feel that their voice is being heard.
One way that they are increasingly doing this is through agile research – accessing survey feedback in real time via secure online dashboards so they can monitor results on an ongoing basis, as well as follow up with less satisfied residents to better understand and address their issues. This is a service that we have offered for many years to our housing sector clients.
Others have incorporated SMS and IVR surveys into their processes to capture ‘in the moment’ views of tenants’ service experiences. This provides a ‘pulse’ measure, but is restrictive and doesn’t necessarily deliver in-depth insight to explain the reasons for views given.
There is also a lot of interest and investment in journey mapping within the sector. Typically, this involves conducting qualitative research, both internally and externally, to map out the current journey and processes, and then identify any frustrations and pain points amongst residents at each touchpoint. The insight from this research can then be used to develop a customer journey map, incorporating key brand behaviours and amplifiers to be embedded within the service experience.
As social landlords typically invest large portions of their research budgets on their HouseMark STAR survey programme, there tends to be less investment in qualitative research in the sector. This is essential to ‘deep dive’ and really get under the skin of how residents feel and what is driving their views. Aside from traditional qualitative research methods such as f2f interviews and tele-depths, online communities can certainly offer social landlords a new way of engaging with residents on an on-going basis. Should they opt to use this method, key challenges include the investment in time required to generate content and keep community members engaged, and ensuring that the community members are regularly refreshed so that social housing landlords don’t become reliant on feedback from the usual suspects.
Finally, when designing customer feedback frameworks, there is a need to ensure that everyone has the opportunity for their voice to be heard. How can the digitally excluded share their views? What about those who have physical or health conditions? Or residents where language is a barrier to engagement? It is for this reason that it is best practice to offer multiple methods and channels for residents to be able to share their views.
To conclude, the latest Government White Paper offers much food for thought for social housing landlords, and perhaps a re-think in terms of how they engage with residents to ensure that their views are listened to and acted on. Any customer feedback work undertaking needs to go beyond just ticking boxes and measuring performance. It needs to deliver insights that inform understanding and enable social landlords to take action based on the findings.
To discuss the issues raised in this blog in more detail, please feel free to get in touch with Colin, David or Richard – email us firstname.lastname@example.org.