‘We should not be afraid of being involved in or carrying out our own research’
Can research make a difference to the way housing professionals do their job? CIH policy and practice officer Yoric Irving-Clarke explores the issue.
There is loads of research out there on any given topic, but how much of it makes any real difference? Two recent blogs – one by Professor Glen Bramley exploring which policies would substantially reduce poverty and the other by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Brian Robson making the case for a ‘Housing First’ approach to solving homelessness – clearly show what research (and evidence) says will work. But there are few examples of actual practice.
Practitioners can be sidelined in the research process – we’re usually either consumers of purely academic research or endorsing or commissioning research to help us in our roles, rather than being researchers ourselves.
But there are several ways we can use research to inform our practice. Firstly it could be your responsibility as an individual to keep abreast of research and use it to inform your day-to-day practice. This of course assumes that practitioners have a high degree of autonomy to tailor their practice according to their interpretation of research findings.
Organisations can embed research in its systems and processes via standards, regulation, policies, procedures and tools; and can also use it to inform service design and delivery by fostering a research-minded culture. For this model to work, relationships between practitioners and universities can be incredibly useful. A great example of this is the Extra-Care Charitable Trust. When it won the UK Housing Award 2016 innovation category, the things that impressed the judges most was the organisation’s strong understanding of the qualitative impact of its work, the strength of its research approach and its partnering with universities.
The role of practitioners in research is often limited and although partnerships with academics are growing they are still relatively rare. There are several reasons why academics can be wary of working with practitioners. Working for the government or housing providers gives academic researchers valuable access to new data but writing commissioned reports is far removed from producing articles for journals – upon which academics are ultimately judged. They are already busy with their own research and teaching duties, so fitting in practitioner-based research can be problematic. Finally, and most fundamentally, research may become politicised; pressure for timely results may compromise academic rigour or most seriously pressure may be applied to tone down politically awkward findings.
As a sector we should not be afraid of being involved in or carrying out our own research. CIH has always been clear that housing policy should be based on the evidence of its impact on the ground. As our chief executive Terrie Alafat has said, policy proposals must be properly informed by the evidence of their outcomes and impacts, both positive and negative. And of course housing professionals have an unparalleled understanding of what the real problems are and how policies actually work on the ground. While it’s not always straightforward to influence government policy, organisations can certainly make sure their own projects, systems and processes are based on robust evidence of what works and what doesn’t.
Research is part of many roles, whether that means doing a project as part of an academic qualification or working in a policy role that requires research skills on a daily basis. And like many other things doing good research is a skill and one that must be practiced in order to master. Different types of research are meant for different purposes depending on what information is needed and what you want to use it for. There are lots people working in housing who we know are required to do research, but may be lacking in experience.
So, whether you are researching as part of a qualification or as part of your job, we’ve put together a free guide for CIH members on what you need to know in order to plan, deliver and present your research so everyone gets the most from it.