Foundation begins project to uncover how change happens in housing

On Thursday 22 June, the Nationwide Foundation kicked off an ambitious new two-year project to uncover the mechanisms of change in the housing system. The event, titled ‘Our Journey: What Are We Learning About How Change Happens?’, brought around 30 grant-holders together to share knowledge and expertise and ask: what is systems change? How far along the path to achieving it are we? And where and how can we better work together?

Established by Nationwide Building Society in 1997, the Foundation is a fully independent charity with a strategic focus on effecting long-term positive change to the housing system. Its ambition is for everyone in the UK to have access to a decent, affordable home. And it’s known as a significant funder of community-led housing in the UK, as well as being the funder and a key member of the Renters’ Reform Coalition and a champion of new ideas that have the potential to bring about change for social good in housing.

Last week’s event, hosted by the Curiosity Society, was the first step in a long-term project designed to develop a deeper knowledge of the housing system – a project that, in the words of one attendee, ‘makes sense as the next step in the Foundation’s strategy’. Convening dozens of its grant-holders at Nationwide’s London offices, the charity gathered pioneers and thought leaders as well as housing experts from organisations working across the spectrum: tenants unions, activist groups, national homelessness charities, and community-led housing networks.

During the session, attendees networked and engaged with systems change concepts through various activities and workshops. They talked about how their aims related to the wider goal of changing the housing system to ensure that it provides decent, affordable homes for everyone. As one grant-holder commented, ‘It was great to be able to connect in person with people I’ve spent months Zooming with’.

Samantha Stewart, acting Chief Executive of the Nationwide Foundation, said, ‘Since 2016, the Nationwide Foundation has been funding projects that have the potential to contribute to a long-term increase in the availability of decent, affordable homes for people who need them.

‘Through this work, we’ve gathered an impressive body of evidence on ways that the UK’s housing system could better support people in need. In the current phase of our strategy, we’re focusing on one key objective: using this evidence and research to understand how we can all best influence the housing system.

‘There’s a tendency to think “social housing” when you hear the words “housing system”. We’re talking much wider than that. The housing system is all the interacting elements of policy, need, demand, supply, information, infrastructure, and more which affect the homes people live in. By identifying the gaps and levers in the system, you can uncover ways to improve it. And that’s what we aim to achieve through this learning journey: to find out how change occurs in the housing system. No one organisation can bring about the change we want to see alone, so this journey will be about working together and sharing expertise.’

Over the coming months, the Nationwide Foundation will continue working with grant-holders to develop shared knowledge of how to define the housing system, how it works, and what the levers for change are, as well as to more carefully examine the insights uncovered by their projects.

A day of systems thinking

The day began with a group introduction to systems thinking and an introduction to the three streams that will shape the learning journey over the coming two years: a community of practice to share knowledge and expertise, an academy to help the Foundation and grant-holders learn more about systems change, and a studio to help capture and embed the knowledge generated.

During the communities-of-practice discussion, grant-holders connected with each other by sharing questions about something they’re working on or wanted to know. And it became clear that many grant-holders are dealing with the same problems and facing similar challenges. One attendee commented, “As organisations, we’re all very different and often have different perspectives on how change happens, but the event brought home how much we have in common and how much we all share the same motivations”.

Later in the day, a panel discussion allowed attendees to exchange stories, personal or professional, about the puzzling nature of the housing system. Then, splitting into smaller groups, they shared real-world problems they’d come up against in their housing work and talked about how a greater understanding of the system might help alleviate them.

Join the journey

The Nationwide Foundation’s learning journey will continue over the coming two years. Updates and insights will be shared regularly. If you’re interested in how change happens – or the housing system and its many complexities – stay up to date by following the Foundation on Twitter @NationwideFdtn.

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