New Research Priorities for the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence

In this blog Ken Gibb, Director of the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE), outlines some of the key priorities for the Centre’s work in 2019. This piece was originally posted on the CaCHE website

Following an exhaustive and intensive process involving stakeholder meetings based on a common facilitative workshop process, the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) has identified ten new research priorities. To outline how we arrived at these, we are producing a series of blogs. The first, by Dr Gareth James, explains the methods used. This one presents an overview of the aggregate findings and CaCHE priorities. These will be followed by a blog from each of our five Knowledge Exchange Hubs from across the UK.

The history of this process is as follows. When we were designing the centre’s proposal to the ESRC we were confronted with a challenge. How do we address the breadth of the demand for research in the call specification, but at the same time deal with the fact that that call proposed we carry out projects on more than 40 identified priorities? We needed a credible rationing mechanism.

One of our putative co-investigators, Angus Armstrong, had recently returned from a meeting in Harvard where he had undergone a Tobin project process where he had spent two days in a group working out a precise and specific research question which addressed the meeting’s topic of interest. While two days sounds a touch intense, Angus persuaded us of the merits of this approach (suitably scaled back to what was feasible to be carried out in what became our five Knowledge Exchange Hubs). Convinced by this approach, we started designing a deliberative workshop to help us ascertain our research priorities after our initial exemplar projects were complete.

Our version of Tobin involved building stakeholder hubs in five parts of the UK (North England and Midlands, South and South West England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales). Each hub has a wide membership, and we trust, a professional, practice and policy base. We then used a common, planned deliberative workshop model, including pre-questioning, to generate genuinely co-produced priorities. Alongside this core process, we carried out resident voice focus groups, where we asked the same questions, and also a scaled down version prioritisation workshops with the CaCHE International Advisory Board which includes senior academics, policy-makers and practitioners. The intention was that we would then have a coherently developed set of co-created priorities with which to address the rationing of the priorities identified in the original call specification. The approach was both a pragmatic one and also an intensive consistent process. The meetings were without exception energetic, creative and benefited from the vast and diverse expertise in the room. We learned a lot from the process and the insightful inputs of the participants. The participants put their sectoral or sectional interests to one side and threw themselves into the challenge.

With our stakeholders, we have now identified ten priority areas. These are discussed in turn below (in no order of importance).

Housing affordability: We have already undertaken a specific project on affordability, but our stakeholders wanted specificity around what is meant by the term, what causes high housing costs and who is most affected. Also, they asked what should be done about it and sought (international) evidence about what works to improve affordability?

Increasing housing supply in all tenures, including affordable supply was also a strong priority, as it is for governments across the UK (and indeed was stressed in the original call specification). We are already undertaking an exemplar project on house-building and we are starting new empirical work on the price elasticity of housing supply in Northern Ireland. There was a recognition that the supply challenge differed between regions and we will go back to our regional hubs to firm up specific projects.

Private renting was identified as an important location for research to better understand the sector, its underlying dynamics and drivers and to develop policies that would improve outcomes and sector quality. We have carried out two projects on the PRS in the first year and have further plans for a three-year programme work on dispute resolution, redress and other socio-legal and economic research (with the Dispute Service and Safe Deposits Scotland). We also plan to work on research of mutual interest with the Residential Landlords Association on e.g. ageing and the private rented sector, and to undertake an international evidence review of rent controls.

Homelessness in different aspects. Rough sleeping, prevention, homelessness reduction, joint working and efficacy of interventions all emerged as matters of concern. We plan to work closely with our strategic partners the Centre for Homelessness Impact and build on our evidence review on rough sleeping and another review that is already underway on UK cross country practice on homelessness prevention (due for completion in Spring 2018). We are also exploring further intervention effectiveness projects with a range of partner organisations.

Needs and demand are a body of methods, tools and techniques to assist housing planners at different spatial scales. These models generate critical quanta of required affordable and market housing. Our stakeholders recognised the importance of credible de-politicised models that can not only support housing markets but also quantify those in different forms of housing need. These models are also essential to developing local affordable housing policies for S106 style agreements and delivering on national government supply targets. CaCHE has a housing needs and demand project underway (details soon to be announced) and we anticipate further work at this interface of technique, data and policy.

Policy evaluation methods are essential for the rigorous analysis of what works in housing policy, for whom and in what circumstances? Thus far we have focused more on data methods and working out how we should tailor rigorous evidence review methods to our requirements, but we now will develop a number of conceptual strands related to policy processes (e.g. critical analysis of housing policy movement between countries) and their evaluation and this will include plans to look closely at cost benefit analysis and the use of synthetic controls in housing policy evaluation.

What does a fixed housing system look like? Several stakeholder groups raised the question of what housing policy is for? What are we trying to achieve and what consensus is there around that set of ultimate goals? Recognising that not all housing outcomes are actually shaped or steered by housing policy, CaCHE plans to carry out a cross-theme multi-disciplinary critical piece of work on how different values give form to these higher level goals and how these might be translated into concrete policy and practice. As part of the wider cross theme work, we also intend to develop a project looking at different perspectives for a contemporary historical analysis of housing in the UK before, during and after the global financial crisis. We also plan to do further work developing the nature and application of housing systems-thinking on a similar cross theme basis.

Customer voice and engagement was a recurring theme for our stakeholders. On the one hand, this arose in relation to how providers engage with their customers and tenants. It also emerged as a theme in discussions about the nature of participation and the continuum of engagement. Of course, some forms of housing provision are traditionally geared to and are defined by processes of democratic co-deliberation and wider participation. How do these dimensions of housing, neighbourhoods and communities play out in different parts of the housing system and across the UK against a frequently often austere backdrop? We expect to do new work on tenant participation as part of our governance theme.

Planning and place-making are critical to the success of new supply and to the resilient sustainability of communities. It cuts across many of our themes and, along with good urban design, is surely an essential part of addressing the policy problems that the UK faces. However, built environment professionals face challenges of marginalisation in terms of design value and many of our town centres require radical rethinking (often including a major residential injection). We need to recognise the long-term impacts of major demographic change such as ageing and housing asset inequality for affordable place-making and better housing design. New work will include design guidance in local government and a project on the future of high-rise housing.

Health, care and housing: Several of our stakeholders prioritised the interactions between health, including mental health, and good housing. There was also a repeated focus in social care, remaining at home, isolation and loneliness, assessing how to make progress with the comprehensive funding of social care and the challenge of integrating services across health, care and housing. To date, we have done little in this area and a critical next stage is to work with our partners to specify a series of projects that address this challenge. To this end, we welcome ideas and proposals under this heading from our partners and network.

We will continue to explore different ways of pursuing these questions with the stakeholders involved in our Knowledge Exchange Hubs. We are also open to talking to partners, old and new, who might be interested in developing feasible projects with us across these ten priorities.