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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

'If you don’t explore, you'll never find.'


Being willing to try out ideas is a key part of discovering the best housing innovations, says John Wade, director of strategy at Bromford.

John Wade“Don’t come to me with problems, bring me solutions.”

That used to be the mantra for many a leader and, I suppose, it still is for some. But at Bromford we’re taking a different approach. We’re focusing on problems and want our colleagues and customers to let us know exactly what they are. Because how can you ever start to put something right, if you haven’t a clue what is wrong in the first place.

It’s fair to say that not being clear about the problem we were trying to fix resulted in some past initiatives petering out. Jumping straight into ‘solution mode’ without questioning, researching, collecting and analysing relevant data on the supposed problem has often ended in a lot of wasted hours.

But the introduction of more structured methods to problem definition using an evidence based approach has enabled us to take a step back and question a few things before we jump straight in. Things like, ‘is there really a problem here?’ If there is, ‘is it a problem our customers care about?’ and ‘does it really need solving?’ Can we justify using the resources it would take to fix the problem? Would the outcome justify the cost? There’s also the question of whether it’s even our problem to solve. Are there other agencies or organisations better placed to deal with it – could we share the problem? After all, a problem shared, is a problem halved.

We’ve realised that the best way to try and solve a problem is to innovate against it. To get as many ideas as possible together and set up a number of tests to quickly explore the potential solutions in front of us. We’re increasingly comfortable in the knowledge that many of these tests will fail; but if you don’t explore, you will never find. By taking all ideas as equals to begin with, we are allowing other ideas to flow from them.

By building this way of working into our practice we’ve become better at deciding what the baselines are we’re testing against, what our measures are, and ensuring that we test in different settings, with the correct controls to ensure we can draw meaningful and justifiable conclusions.

By ‘failing fast’ with our testing we can see which solutions seem to be most promising at solving the problem we are addressing and therefore which ones we might want to take into a more substantial pilot stage before a potential roll-out.

A great example of how the process works was our success in the ‘Outstanding innovation of the year’ category at the UK Housing Awards 2017. This award recognised our bold approach to testing and developing new services, and in particular the service offer pilots where robust evidence-based piloting led to the rollout of our localities programme and the creation of the neighbourhood coach role.

By defining the problem, researching, testing multiple ideas, collecting relevant data and using detailed analysis we have developed an award winning evidence-based problem solving formula that now shapes the way we work throughout our business.

John Wade is director of strategy at Bromford, the winner of the outstanding approach to innovation category of the 2017 UK Housing Awards.

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