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HACT, the ideas and innovation charity for the social housing sector, started the research in November and its staff are currently in the next phase of the project, interviewing influential partners about the effects of the changes to Thirteen's neighbourhoods model.
Dr Frances Harkin and Dr Rob Wray are leading on the project for HACT, and Frances has provided a really positive assessment of the way the research has gone so far.
She said: “As we travelled back to London last week, Rob and I reflected on how enthusiastic, welcoming and open everyone we’d met at Thirteen had been. With numerous years of working with colleagues in the social housing sector, we ruminated on how this isn’t always the case, but it was incredibly refreshing to witness and makes our work that bit easier.”
HACT has been commissioned to write a report about the impact of the new operating model that Thirteen has been using since 2018 and to examine what might need to happen next.
Frances continued: “The first stage of our work involves meeting with you, the staff and management of Thirteen. So over the last month, we’ve spent seven days at Thirteen’s offices, interviewing, listening and observing.
“We met people in the neighbourhoods team, including specialists and managers. It’s fascinating finding out about how Thirteen is using nudge techniques to support customers as they reduce their rent arrears. As with many others in the sector, this is part of the challenge we all face in balancing our social purpose with the realities of running a business. This use of behavioural science should enable the business to meet both of those objectives.”
“Those neighbourhood co-ordinators we met tended to be enthusiastic and positive about their new roles. The new business model gave them greater opportunities to understand their patches, and to feed any issues or challenges back into the business.
“We also met with those involved in wrap-around services, including customer support managers wholook after ASB, employment support, supported housing and financial capability. We picked up some issues about understanding what communities and neighbourhoods means, and what communications processes look like.
“We spoke with members of the customer contact team and listened to some of their calls. We also spoke with frontline specialists and service directors, and across the board people were thinking about how to integrate and improve their particular service.”
The HACT team said that everyone at Thirteen was very enthusiastic and happy to talk with them. Because staff recognised that this process is a learning exercise for the business, the researchers said that colleagues were open and willing to share, not keeping anything back.
Frances continued: “As we like to say, it’s about pulling back the curtain, and everyone was very happy to do that.
“In January, we’ll continue to work on our findings and follow up with some further in-depth interviews. We’ll also be reviewing existing research and reflecting on the findings of the residents’ perception survey.
“In the meantime, we’d like to thank everyone who was involved and gave up their time for us – and for those of you who provided the support so that people could get involved. It makes our work as researchers so much easier when we have such enthusiastic and engaged interviewees.
“Of course, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t challenges with the new way of working. As with any restructure and change to service processes, there will always be issues. Generally though, it was notable how happy people were to be working at Thirteen.
“A lot of staff have been working at Thirteen for a long time and turnover is relatively low. After looking through the curtain, it’s clear that Thirteen has a lot of happy, keen and committed people working there.“
The findings of the research will be delivered in February and we’ll be updating partners with findings after that.