About bricks and ‘going beyond’

Last week I had the great pleasure of a road trip, firstly to Manchester where the HACT HSE Party and CIH Housing 2015 Events were running, then to Devon where it was my privilege to be one of the speakers at the inaugural Beyond The Smart City event put on at The Met Office by Devon ODI.

Here are the slides from both those events.

Looking back on the week, a shared theme emerged about the value of smart data and what can be done with it.

There’s an opportunity ahead to use data to reframe challenges, whether they be challenges with how to meet the needs of residents or how to sustain industries, and it involves thinking differently.

As Nick Atkin put it during the Housing Question Time session, this is about ‘thinking beyond the brick’.

It’s always a pleasure to speak at HACT because of the innovators who attend it.

Over the road in Manchester, on a panel organised by Mitie at CIH Housing 2015, with Nick Atkin, Boris Worrall, and Shaun Mooney, superbly chaired by Nick Duxbury, I discussed data from the Connected Housing 2014 study that illustrates how the Housing sector is at risk of disconnection from its stakeholders on social networks.

Here, engagement performance and levels of social media connectivity are routinely less than 5% of those of other business. These figures are from October 2014 and this is at a time when Housing’s main focus has been working hard at getting its message across yet somehow, for all its communications skills, it is falling short at securing the interest and attention of its own users.

Why is that?

Connected Housing Chart

The work Visceral Business did with Macmillan Cancer Support between 2010 and 2012 taught me exactly how crucial it is to think about the way any challenge is framed in order to achieve the right results.

Macmillan Cancer Support’s reframing of a problem of how to do more with less was crucial in powering transformation of the organisation from within. Its network strategy has enabled the charity to go from a £90m fundraising income in 2011 with a target of achieving £140m by 2017, to an actual £190m revenue in 2014 according to the Charities Commission, some £50m over target, 3 years ahead of schedule. More information on that is in these presentations.

And this is the power of networked thinking. It’s what Housing, for example, as well as specific local areas such as Devon, can use to develop their aggregated socio-economic potential and engage with partnering businesses and residents collaboratively to develop better outcomes.

Housing providers have the challenge of securing their future in an austere economic environment in which grant funding is cut. They, too, have the task of providing extended services and dealing with issues of affordability.

In the last few years, cancer has been redefined as a living disease, thanks to breakthroughs in research. This changes the nature of the organisation and how it needs to operate as it flexes to meet new needs that emerge as part of the experience of cancer sufferers. The challenge of providing continuing support forced the charity to act innovatively.

It’s arguable whether similar real progress being made in furthering innovation within Housing is at the same level. Bricks and mortar may be hard, long-term assets, but flexibility of thinking is increasingly a valuable operational resource. Housing can encompass new models of living and rethinking the management of space and resources in similarly successful ways if it thinks ‘beyond the brick’ and works on developing digital connections with its users.

At the Beyond the Smart City event, we spent time thinking about reframing local challenges and how data can help identify untapped potential in mixed-use environments as well as considering how spaces and environments hold value at a personal level. The event was designed to showcase a breadth of perspective beyond the smart city, looking at ecologies in the round, which it achieved, admirably. Human-centered design was at the core of thinking about the quality of life and how open data can help to secure it for the future.

It’s easy sometimes to believe that the digital job is done when, in fact, it’s only just beginning. To achieve the digital potential we are capable of, it seems very much the case that going beyond conventional ways of framing challenges, finding ‘the data within the data’, and questioning closed business practices and brick-hard assumptions in open space, are going to be crucial ingredients in securing the full value of digital business thinking for the future.