We’re all too familiar with sector news headlines where providers’ boards’ assurance was based on poor or incomplete data, resulting in something crucial slipping through the net. In the worst case scenario, this can have catastrophic results. Sitting in periodical board meetings, usually, all that board members have to aid their decisions (aside from the ability to raise questions with executive board members or other staff members) is the data provided to them.
With the social housing sector facing numerous challenges, ensuring robust discussion and debate at board level remains vital to ensure good governance and this can all hinge on the data presented. However, in these unprecedented times, there’s a whole load of data to get through – at the moment, if a board pack is fewer than 400 pages, I’m happy! As such, challenging what data is on the agenda and how that data is presented to you is more important than ever. Board assurance cannot always be taken for granted based solely on how data has previously been considered at board level.
Challenges facing housing associations
When it comes to data, boards need to take a robust approach to effectively carry out their role and agree on how to tackle the significant challenges facing housing providers. This includes:
- Using complaints data as a constructive learning tool – The Housing Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code (the code) requires boards to reframe complaints to enable “continuous learning and improvement”. The code encourages providers to use complaints data as a source of intelligence to identify issues and introduce positive changes in service delivery. Traditional ways of presenting complaints data should be re-assessed. For example, instead of simply stating performance against KPIs or actions taken, any recurring themes and/or learning points emerging from complaints data (which may be indicative of wider issues) should be extracted and presented to the board.
- Putting meat on the bones of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) data – We all recognise that maintaining the momentum behind the EDI agenda is of vital importance. How is your organisation using internal and external data on this topic to create objectives and meaningfully monitor progress? The National Housing Federation created an EDI data tool and asked member housing associations in England to submit their workforce data in order to review the current state of the sector and to ensure that the overall housing workforce is representative of the communities members serve, and track progress going forwards. Creating a national picture is vital to forming the sector’s approach to driving change and creating more diverse and inclusive environments. Re-framing the data in this way will allow organisations to objectively assess their performance and will add real weight to the debates at board level on this crucial topic.
- Having a clear understanding of stock condition and its implications – Decarbonisation, fire safety, building safety and the potential new Decent Homes Standard will all be high on the list of strategic priorities for housing providers. Existing data on stock condition should be reviewed - is it providing the necessary information and context to equip the board to effectively set organisational priorities when it comes to tackling these areas of vital importance?
Given the significant challenges facing housing providers, board members shouldn’t feel afraid to try new approaches to how data is used and presented.
You should feel empowered to give feedback to your organisation if data isn’t being presented in a way that allows for a more detailed examination of a topic. With the demand on board packs to contain more information than ever before, the importance of taking a robust approach to data shouldn’t be underestimated.