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In social Housing what you can prove is more important than what you know

By Chris Proctor

A Hollywood film about two LAPD narcotics officers isn’t the most obvious place to find lessons for the social housing sector. But 2001’s Training Day starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke has a line in it which has always struck me as critical to my line of work (which is admittedly quite far removed from LA drug gangs).

“It’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove,” says Washington’s character Alonzo Harris in one of the film’s most powerful scenes. Truth, as someone from LA might say.

It’s a bit of a leap from a Hollywood cop thriller to the world of social housing. But I think Alonzo hit on something which had relevance for anyone whose work relies on data for effective decision making. Bear with me.

Social housing providers have what can only be described as high-level responsibilities. And when they fail to live up to those responsibilities – as the Grenfell tragedy and the recent case of Awaab Ishak proved – the consequences can be devastating.

Providers often fall short because they may think they know something – whether a tenant or property is at risk in some way. But because of the poor quality of their data, they are unable to prove it. Data is often inaccurate, incomplete, inconsistent or it’s duplicated and unstructured. Outdated systems mean data either doesn’t exist, or if it does it is wrong or can’t easily be accessed. It either proves nothing, or it leads you to the wrong conclusion or inaction. And this can ultimately lead to bad decisions being made; decisions which can in the worst instances cost lives.

As the UK social housing landscape continues to evolve in the wake of the tragedies at Grenfell and Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, the need for good data is becoming mission critical for the sector. The regulatory environment will not stand still and nothing can be taken for granted.

The good news is it’s not too late to remedy this situation. Good data is within your grasp: with the right partner and the right system. The starting point must be a provider which has a firm grasp of the housing sector’s unique challenges and the regulatory landscape in which providers operate. They must also have a grounding in both housing theory and practice. Put simply: they must have the track record.

Modern, cloud-based data management systems like Oneserve, have all the elements needed to overcome the problems of bad data. They offer social housing providers the opportunity not simply to know the facts – but to prove them. Data integrity, data accessibility and data transportability (between systems) is hard wired into the system. It is accurate, complete, reliable, relevant and current. And it is the foundation upon which good decisions are made.

Good data gives landlords the meaningful insights they need. Without it, even the most basic functioning is difficult. Effectiveness is constantly a challenge, and compliance becomes all but impossible.

The sector ultimately stands or falls on the quality of its data. And in the most recent headline-grabbing examples the decisions we make can mean the difference between life and death. The examples I’ve cited above are preventable tragedies. They should not be happening; and they need not happen.

Over the next few years these challenges will remain for all those in social housing, and the regulatory environment will be constantly evolving. In this challenging environment, providers would do well to heed Alonzo’s advice … focus on what you can prove, not just what you think you know. 

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