Black’s Blog: Count things, draw pictures and do stuff
SHN Podcast co-host Jimmy Black shares how intelligent data presented in a user-friendly way can have benefits for housing associations and their board members.
The Dundee Courier has an excellent journalist called Lesley-Anne Kelly, and her specialism is counting things and drawing graphs. One of her current stories concerns empty properties in town centres, and her diagrams make it stunningly simple to see where the empty shops are and which streets are still successful.
We didn’t interview Lesley-Anne for our latest podcast, which is all about gathering and using data, but we did talk to Daz Chauhan of Housemark and Dan Blake from Berwickshire Housing Association (BHA). Dan is also Chair of Housemark’s Scottish Advisory Board.
Daz and Dan both count things, draw graphs and then do stuff. For example, BHA wanted to target help with fuel costs on the people who needed it most, so they combined customer profile information with the data they held on fuel efficiency in their homes. Dan describes how well that worked in the podcast.
They saw that their void losses were high and tenancy sustainment was low, so they delved into the reasons for that and found that tenants’ mental health was a contributory factor. A mental well-being and tenancy support partnership with the mental health support charity Penumbra has helped some tenants turn their lives around, engage with services and… keep their tenancies.
Data showed that after COVID BHA was doing more reactive repairs. BHA wanted to know if this was because less planned maintenance was done during the pandemic, or if there were other issues with shortages of contractors or materials.
It turned out that one of the reasons was a big change in the way they handled customer contact. A high percentage of customer calls had been going unanswered and being abandoned, so BHA brought in a new customer experience team to improve the service. One of the reasons that more repairs were requested was that more customers were actually getting through.
As for repairs and maintenance in general, it’s much easier to plan work programmes and budgets if you know what needs done. As Daz Chouhan tells us in the podcast, we need to ensure that every housing officer or maintenance officer who visits a house records what they see and ensures that the information is properly stored and easily retrievable. In other words, don’t bury information in a huge spreadsheet.
Sampling or cloning house types isn’t enough, because the type of tenants we have will dictate how the components in every individual house weather over the years. BHA aims to record individual data for every property, and that in turn informs decisions about when and what to replace.
Tenants are, of course, a very valuable source of information about how well a landlord is doing, but a big exercise every three years will gather data which ages swiftly. Dan Blake says BHA gathers information from tenants continuously through a customer panel which means tenant feedback is always current.
I’ve mentioned counting things, or at least gathering data. We’ve looked at doing stuff, for example looking at void rates and identifying the need for a mental health partnership. What about the pictures?
The members of BHA’s customer panel have the opportunity to make videos highlighting issues or making suggestions which can be shown to the Board of Management. So that’s one way of getting the point across to lay members like me who need pictures to understand complex data sets.
The other way is through really careful presentation of data through graphs, like Lesley-Anne Kelly’s, helping Board Members to see clearly what the data is trying to tell them. Believe me, that really helps!
For a better understanding of Housemark’s work and Berwickshire Housing Association’s imaginative initiatives, listen to the Scottish Housing News Podcast.
Lesley-Anne Kelly is on Twitter … @L_A_Kelly
The Scottish Housing News Podcast is co-hosted by Kieran Findlay and Jimmy Black. All episodes are available here as well as on the following platforms: