Consulting residents, service users and communities is second nature to us, we do it daily in our work. Yet increasingly the landlord organisations, architects and developers we come across seem to be reticent in engaging with the recipients of housing and regeneration services. It’s not rocket science, people are much more able to accept and support decisions (however difficult) if they have been party to the discussions leading to them.
Recent proposed landlord mergers appeared to have been led by the business case or a corporate vision with very little regard for the impact upon residents who ultimately pay for the service. As Carl Brown observes in Inside Housing, the National Housing Federation’s voluntary merger code failed to refer to a role for tenants. Following the collapse of the high profile mergers, twelve landlords are exploring an alternative code which we await with interest.
Statutory ballots always carry the risk that residents will reject a strong and coherent proposal, however with this as a true test of opinion landlords were diligent about involving residents in the details of the decision and providing reassurances. How else were so many voluntary stock transfers and regeneration schemes achieved in relatively short timescales? Residents have much to offer when developing options for saving money or improving service delivery.
On a smaller scale, several times over the past year we have been asked to mediate where a resident has raised a serious and formal complaint with their landlord regarding a decision that has been taken which affects their home. Without exception, these complaints have arisen because residents have felt dis-empowered by a seemingly high-handed attitude from their landlord. In each case, consultation has been one-way; telling and not listening, imposing a solution without a discussion regarding the alternatives. Housing staff were well-meaning and professional but had failed to take the residents along as they developed proposals. Once a meaningful discussion was imperative, compromise and consensus was achieved – a successful outcome.
Sadly, consultation techniques are not taught to project managers, housing officers, architects and employers agents when clearly the people demonstrating excellence have these skills in spades. The traditional consultation meeting is now only one tool in the kit to engage people, when people are time poor, less formal events, capturing views through conversation and social media provide an opportunity to hear what residents say. three things:
- Resident consultation is not a new thing and it works.
- Listen as well as talk.
- Top-down approaches or imposed solutions are fraught with difficulty and often fail.