Taking co-production seriously: establishing the ESRC UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE)
In this blog post Ken Gibb, Principal Investigator of the ESRC-funded UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, provides an overview of the project’s work to date and its planned activities on the horizon.
Housing was established as an ESRC investment priority, initially (in the wake of the global financial crash) with a focus on housing and the economy, but was subsequently tied to a strong focus on evidence and what works, as well as both a multi-disciplinary and all-UK emphasis. By the spring of 2016, when the call for the new centre was announced, both AHRC and Joseph Rowntree Foundation had added resources to ESRC funding. Bidders were expected to take a consortium approach requiring multiple partners, both because of the broadened approach suggested by the funders but also because the call now also outlined six diverse academic themes.
Working with colleagues at the University of Sheffield, we chose to take the call literally and therefore constructed a 13 member consortium involving ultimately ten universities and three non-academic bodies. The bid involved 30 co-investigators as well as researchers, knowledge exchange staff, technical staff and three dedicated administrative staff. We started work on 1 August 2017.
Purpose, mission and objectives
Funded for five years, our core purpose is to promote the use of evidence in housing policy and practice. Our objectives include carrying out research and evidence reviews that will support policy development and evaluation, working to our academic themes, building future scholarly capacity in housing and developing our agenda along with our partners and the wider housing system. A significant part of our work is to provide the best possible knowledge exchange developing our priorities and communicating the outcomes of our work.
Consortium and collaborative culture
CaCHE is grounded in a collaborative working culture. We are investing considerable energies developing networks across the UK, led by five knowledge exchange hubs. Each hub will represent the key stakeholders of the local housing system, and they and resident focus groups will directly shape our research and evidence priorities in the coming years. Throughout CaCHE, we are also organising ourselves on a collaborative basis with co-investigators signing up to a simple workload model, investment in internal communications and regular meetings across the UK facilitated by our knowledge exchange staff. We are also keen to develop additional research partnerships and have developed strategic relationships with the Housing Studies Association and the new Centre for Homelessness Impact. More partnerships are in the pipeline.
First year programme
CaCHE has been busy recruiting and setting up the required systems to make a distributed centre work. We have added a seventh theme (homelessness) to our other six academic themes: economy, understanding the housing market, choice & aspirations, housing and other complex systems (e.g. health, education, poverty, etc.), place (including neighbourhoods, design and planning) and multi-level governance. We have resources for 10 PHDs and so far have started four.
We have set up a data navigator hub located at Cardiff University. We are also designing a series of secondment programmes both from external partners into CaCHE and outward-facing too. We have established an international advisory board chaired by Lord Kerslake. CaCHE is involved work to do with the anticipated social housing green paper in England and similar initiatives are underway including with the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland. We have already both run events and we are planning specific conferences and knowledge exchange events associated with our initial dozen exemplar projects set out in our original bid. These range across our six themes involving international evidence reviews, data methods projects and primary research.
There are three lessons we hope to learn from this set-up year. First, the experience of producing a large volume of evidence reviews across a range of disciplines and methods necessitates we take a methodologically plural approach and this encourages a pragmatic way of working where we make differences in approach transparent rather than artificially constrict evidence reviews. Second, we are committed to learning as we go, encouraging novelty and different ideas but sharing and learning from mistakes so that we don’t repeat. Third, we are attempting to manage a large group of academics spread over ten universities and we are learning quickly about what does and does not work in this space. So far so good.
The team is now gearing up to running our knowledge exchange hubs and resident voice focus groups in the Spring and through that to develop our co-created priorities for following years. Several of our initial projects are now underway and set-up work continues across a range of activities – our bespoke website will launch in March, secondments are being set in motion, conferences are being organised and networking is continuing across the housing system in each part of the UK.
 Universities of Glasgow, Sheffield, Adelaide, Bristol, Cardiff, Heriot-Watt, Reading, Sheffield Hallam, St Andrews, and Ulster, as well as the Chartered Institute of Housing, Royal Town Planning Institute and the Royal Chartered Institution of Surveyors.