Friday, 11 October 2013

Innovate, collaborate or die

The Young Foundation have been in Llandrindod Wells at Community Housing Cymru's One Big Housing UnConference. Whilst we are only part way through the 2 day event, there are already some interesting, exciting and rather worrying topics being debated (or not). Tony Colville, Senior Associate at the Young Foundation and our current lead in Wales, presents his thoughts so far.

It’s fair to say that the last 6 months of the Young Foundation’s exploration of the work carried out by housing associations in Wales has only filled us with hope, excitement and a desire to show our English partners how innovative you can be if you just think differently!

Yesterday was the first opportunity we had to speak with, hear from and engage with a broader range of housing associations and issues from across the sector. Along with my two colleagues, I’ve held some great conversations around the challenges of affordable and accessible community credit, the scaling up of time-credit schemes (see Spice for more information), and how you make best use of an umbrella organisation like Community Housing Cymru to collectively challenge the policies of Westminster that simply don’t work for rural communities here in Wales. I’ve had 7 organisations instantly book in follow up meetings to turn these conversations into ideas we can act on. But for every great conversation, I’ve had either an equally bad conversation or a conversation where the desire to challenge or push for innovation was simply non-existent. This is something we should all be concerned about.

The most frustrating parts of the day for me have been occasions in the discussion rooms where statements made or questions asked have received either flat responses or no response at all. I know there are innovative people at this event with ideas, expertise and passion. I have heard and seen first-hand some of the great ideas being developed. So why so little push for innovation, collaboration or challenge throughout today? Are we just being over-polite and not wanting to talk about the elephant in the room or is there a much bigger problem on the horizon?

Here are three big issues and my thoughts on how we ALL address them:

Challenge: How many statements have you heard today that you don’t agree with? How many questions have been asked that you think are just totally missing the point? Speak up, put your ideas and challenges out there. Through challenge we can start to innovate and build stronger alliances on issues we are passionate about. Use your umbrella body!

Personality: I’ve come across some fantastic personalities in my time here in Wales and the majority of them in the housing sector! If we are going to face a tough ride in the next few years then bring those personalities to the forefront of what you do and how you present it. Bring some energy to what you are doing and provoke, invite and engage us to agree, disagree and collaborate on the answers. I personally want to see more of the great private 1 to 1 conversations I’ve been having with you all shared in a bigger audience (you know who you are!)

Collaborate: The time of big building programmes is over. The time of large funds for social programmes is over. The time of not collaborating and working in silos is over. Start talking about your passions, your shared visions, your resource gaps, the things you have done that have worked, common geographies etc. and turn that talking into genuine collaboration. It shouldn’t be about competing for funding – it should be about maximising the resources, connections and expertise for the benefit of all your residents and communities.

The housing sector is in for a big fight over the next few years and it is inevitable that the landscape in 5 years’ time will be very different. Some of us won’t be here. Now is the opportunity to raise your voice, challenge yourself and challenge others. Innovate, collaborate or start getting ready to fail.

Tony Colville
Senior Associate, The Young Foundation

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