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Blog - Defining the future: how the National Housing Federation co-created five ideas to transform housing

18 months doesn’t sound like a long time, but it feels like a lifetime ago. That’s how long it’s been since James Green, Futures Programme Director at the National Housing Federation stepped onto the stage of the National Housing Summit to launch its new housing innovation programme, 'Creating our Future'. In this Future of Housing guest blog, James talks about how Creating our Future can benefit the homes of tomorrow.

Our members, the nation’s housing associations – who provide homes for six million people across the UK – had recognised that the world was changing fast and that the sector needed to become more future-facing. Major disruptive forces, from rapid technological change to the challenge of an ageing world, were transforming their businesses and the lives of their residents. Those in the room wanted to know what the future of housing looked like? At which point I had to make a confession, live on stage to the hundreds of chief executives in the room. “I have no idea.”

In my defence, I’m not the only one. The truth is, predicting the future is all too often an absolute lottery. How many of us could have predicted so many recent events that have reverberated across the world we live in today? Trump, Corbyn, Brexit…? Green Book winning the Oscar for best film?! The future has something of a history of throwing curve-balls.

And even more broadly, who could have imagined even 15 years ago that people from almost every part of the globe would have the world’s knowledge in the palm of their hands? We live in a period of unprecedented change where the future feels ever more unpredictable, no matter how hard we try to anticipate it.

So, I made a challenge to the room that day – let’s stop trying to predict the future, let’s create it instead.

Don’t predict the future – create it

This principle underpinned Creating our Future. We challenged the sector to co-create five ideas to transform housing – innovative new solutions that would help tackle some of housing’s big systemic issues and change people’s lives. To support this we designed an 18-month process that would take associations all the way from collectively identifying their shared strategic challenges to coming up with new ideas together, and finally to developing the best of those into credible commercial solutions that would get adopted across the sector.

Creating our Future had the potential to be ground-breaking – it marked the first-time housing innovation had ever been attempted at a sector-wide scale.

The success of the programme relied on the response from housing associations. Their engagement turned out to be incredible, with more than 500 people from over 400 housing associations getting involved. This included committing staff full-time to the most ambitious part of the process, The Greenhouse.

The Greenhouse brought together five teams of five people, all from different associations, who worked full-time for 16 weeks to develop a new product, service or approach to tackle the big issues the sector had collectively identified.

Our teams were based in different UK cities – our Leeds team looked at how homes could adapt as people age, our Liverpool team at poverty, our Birmingham team at homelessness prevention, and our London teams at how to build more high-quality homes, and housing affordability.

The process culminated in each team presenting their final idea to our sector’s chief executives at the National Housing Summit. Exactly one year since I had stood on that stage to launch the programme, this was the moment we would learn, as a sector, if we really could create the future and, in doing so, improve lives.

The Greenhouse participants all did an incredible job and each pitch was met by huge enthusiasm from the industry. More than 200 senior leaders pledged then and there to support the ideas to become a reality, and six months later all five ideas continue to develop. They have collectively secured hundreds of thousands of pounds to take them forward, as well as strong backing from senior leaders across the industry.

There’s still work to do, but it’s clear that we’ve created something special that could have real impact on people’s lives and the future of housing. What is the future of housing? I still don’t know. But what I have learnt over the past 18 months is that, while we might be not so good at predicting the future, by collaborating we are brilliant at creating it.

James Green is Futures Programme Director at the National Housing Federation. You can follow the NHF on Twitter here @natfednews .

This guest blog is one in a series and is part of our new Future of Housing programme. Find out more about our work in this area by visiting our new Future of Housing knowledge hub.

Are you interested in sharing your insights in this area? If you’d like to let us know about some of the projects you’re working on in this space, please email futureofhousing@cp.catapult.org.uk.

Our Future of Housing blog series is intended as a platform for open debate. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the Connected Places Catapult.

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