The Housing Studies Association is launching an innovation next month in Sheffield. On October 25, Lord Kerslake and I will both be speaking at the first HSA Autumn Lecture (you can book your place here). This is not a coincidence – Lord Kerslake is the chair of the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence’s (CaCHE) international advisory board. I direct the new evidence centre, which is funded by ESRC, AHRC and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
It is great to be invited by HSA to speak at this prestigious inaugural event and I am delighted to have the chance to talk about CaCHE and to be able to highlight a number of themes that I find personally interesting from an academic perspective, but also highly relevant in terms of evidencing housing policy and practice.
What is CaCHE and why might it be of interest? The new centre (which started officially on August 1 2017) is a major five year investment in the independent promotion and use of evidence about all aspects of housing to influence policy and practice. In a sense, CaCHE performs three functions: it is a kind of ‘What Works’ institute, it will work with other organisations across the housing system to be a ‘network of networks’ and it will carry out primary research (in addition to reviewing evidence).
CaCHE covers six broad themes relating to: housing and the economy; understanding the housing market; a focus on housing choices, aspirations and pathways; the relationship between housing and other complex systems such as health, education, work, poverty, etc.; housing and place encompassing neighbourhoods, design and place-making; and, multi-level governance. We will also have a cross-cutting focus on homelessness which speaks to many of the above themes.
In parallel to these multiple themes, we will organise ourselves sub-nationally into five knowledge exchange hubs, each involving a representative group of stakeholders spanning what we consider to be the essential elements of the housing system. These hubs will be serviced by both academic co-ordinators and our knowledge exchange staff. There will be hubs for Wales & the South West, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the North of England and for London & the South. We recognise that housing also operates at a genuinely UK level (e.g. the mortgage market and in relation to a sub-set of important economic questions) and will use our advisory board to play that level of knowledge exchange function.
A key characteristic of the centre is that it is fundamentally multi-disciplinary and will embrace the range of particularly social sciences and humanities approaches to housing studies. We are convinced this is the right thing to do, but it is not without its challenges, not least attempting to synthesise research and evidence across different disciplines and research methods. However, we are absolutely committed to methodological pluralism and to a dialogical respect and tolerance for different ways of examining key housing problems. Allied to this open engagement with the different strands of housing studies is the underlying goal of seeking to contribute to the development of reasoned, inclusive and fair housing policies for the benefit for all in society.
Such a broad canvas implies a large team and that is what we are. We have already hired 8 academic staff and two key administrative appointments and have 30 co-investigators in the team. In due course we will also have 10 PhD students. The core functions of the Centre are led from the University of Glasgow and the largest personnel contributions come from the Universities of Glasgow and Sheffield. Also involved in the consortium are the Universities of Adelaide, Bristol, Cardiff, Heriot-Watt, Reading, Sheffield Hallam, St Andrews and Ulster. Three non-academic organisations are also key partners in the consortium: the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Chartered Institute of Housing. There are also more than 20 partners signed up to work with us and more than 200 individual collaborators. We don’t underestimate the management co-ordination function.
A distinctive aspect of our planning approach is how we intend to co-produce our priorities. While we start with an initial dozen exemplar projects generated during the proposal process, we plan to hold a series of intensive deliberative workshops at our knowledge exchange hubs in order to build consensus around our evidencing and then later our research priorities. These will be the priorities of the stakeholders of the housing system, not the CaCHE academics.
In my talk on the 25th of October I will say a bit about CaCHE, but want to use that as a stepping off point for five themes that I am particularly interested in. These are academic (first three) and cultural or strategic (last two):
- The opportunities that arise from different perspectives within a given discipline – my example will be the role, opportunities and limits of behavioural economics in housing analysis as well as policy design
- The use of predictive analytics – the opportunities and threats for housing
- Housing dimensions of international policy mobilities, including within the UK policy transfer, lesson learning and policy-sharing infrastructures
- CaCHE has genuine commitment to Early Career Researchers, capacity-building and supporting the next housing researcher cohort
- Finally, CaCHE is located in the Olympia building, in Bridgeton, in the east end of Glasgow. Why have we done this and what can it achieve?
The format and opportunity afforded by HSA’s Autumn lecture in Sheffield is welcome. I am sure it will be an interesting and thought-provoking event and look forward to sharing the platform with Lord Kerslake.
More information and tickets for the HSA Autumn lecture are available here.