Resident engagement in a pandemic
Delivering projects during lockdown has led housing organisations to rethink the way they engage with residents and keep them connected to services – here are some of the key lessons CT learned
INNOVATION & IMPROVEMENT
Consultant Researcher, Campbell Tickell
The pandemic set many new challenges in our ability to remain socially connected. Social housing residents and service users were among groups most vulnerable to digital disconnect, with lockdown restrictions heightening concerns around hearing resident voices.
Since the Grenfell Tower tragedy, government policy has put pressure to reduce power imbalances between landlords and residents and allow resident voices to resurface. The recent Social Housing White Paper demonstrates the greater awareness and emphasis on the importance of resident involvement and engagement. However, lockdown restrictions have threatened to derail any further progress.
Consciously creating meaningful space for residents and service users to exercise their voices is incredibly important to notify landlords and services of problems, ensure accountability and bring about change.
Rethinking resident engagment
Resident and service user engagement has been severely disrupted by lockdown restrictions as all face-to-face workshops shifted to digital platforms.
With restrictions lifted across the country, we can reflect on the lessons learned from delivering resident engagement projects during lockdown. In particular, re-thinking how best to engage with vulnerable cohorts
Using digital platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams allowed residents to visually show problems within their homes and services, such as repairs and anti-social behaviour.
This allowed authentic, first-hand insight into problems with services. Residents were able to rely less on speech to express their concerns. Being able to use cameras on their smart phones and laptops removed some language barriers between the consultant and residents.
Online workshops allowed for flexibility. More families with children were able to join without having to find alternative childcare or take time out of work to travel to a workshop location.
For older residents and others with physical disabilities, remote workshops removed concerns for travel and mobility access. Residents and service users were able to join for as little or as long as they wanted to, this ranged from just five minutes to an hour. The flexibility in joining workshops online allowed residents to voice their thoughts on matters that were relevant to them without having to make long commitments. Some social housing residents who had experienced anti-social behaviour also felt safer expressing their views online where they could talk more openly without fear of confrontation.
Resident workshops, via digital platforms, had the advantage of high engagement due to flexibility of timings, and allowed us as consultants to view the extent of problems first-hand. We managed to reach people who wouldn’t necessarily join face-to-face workshops but were happy to join online in between work or while cooking dinner for the family.
Using digital channels for workshops has clear benefits for resident engagement, however there is still a risk of leaving people out of the discussion. Not every conversation is the same and therefore designing resident engagement must be a two-way process. Things to consider going forward are:
The design of resident engagement can’t be overly prescriptive. Considering the resident’s lifestyle (i.e. work commitments, family arrangements) and needs (age, disability and confidence with technology) is important.
While remote workshops can reach many people, social housing residents may still prefer face-to-face discussions to feel a collective spirit and sharing of experiences.
A hybrid approach by offering both face-to-face workshops and online sessions provides residents with the choice and power to voice their opinions. Resident engagement should be kept simple.
A hybrid approach doesn’t always mean using advanced technology. Setting up hotlines for residents and service users to ring can be an effective method of engagement without having to rely on laptops and more complicated applications.
Engagement with residents worked best when clients showed greater involvement and support.
Clients often know their resident groups best and can activate social media networks to boost engagement and awareness.
Lending laptops to residents and offering practice sessions on how to join online workshops prior to workshop dates helped support residents use their voices using online platforms.
“Some social housing residents who had experienced anti-social behaviour also felt safer expressing their views online where they could talk more openly without fear of confrontation.”
Resident engagement is an on-going commitment and it can allow organisations to make the most of opportunities for meaningful change in services. The biggest lesson we can take forward is activating and enhancing multiple channels of communication rather than relying on one method of engagement. This can help ensure key groups that matter most are heard – even in the conditions of an ongoing pandemic.