The Application Of Behavioural Science In Social Housing

Even before the pandemic, social landlords were looking at ways to be more efficient, cost-effective and client-focused. But how can you ensure that any resources spent on transformation yield the best results? Only by taking a scientific, evidence-based approach can you make informed decisions for the future.

This is where behavioural science comes in. Built on decades’ worth of academic and scientific studies, behavioural science seeks to understand the interplay between our decision-making, our behaviour and the environment. In doing so, it provides an evidence-based toolkit for understanding our behavioural biases – giving us insight into why we behave in certain ways and make the decisions we make. In short, it allows us to recognise which activities are most likely to help – or hinder – organisations in achieving their objectives, and how they can be influenced in a more scientific, systematic way.

But with social housing being a people-based industry, why should you care about science?

Behavioural science: the basics

Many hear the word ‘science’ and switch off. How could these findings be relevant to their housing association? However, if you want to create more sustainable tenancies, this literature will be key.

Our very own behavioural insights team have been working with the wider research and applying it to the social housing sector. Their approach covers five key stages:

  1. It begins with data analysis. Let’s take income collection as an example. Using operational data from your customers – demographics, length of tenancy, payment behaviours – as well as any data regarding your arrears actions, we can start to build a detailed picture of both customer and organisation behaviour as well as how these behaviours interact over time.
  2. Using this information, we can see how you and they are responding, understanding the interplay between the two. Here, we can start to determine what course of action is more effective for specific customers.
  3. Typically, this is where we start to see similarities within certain groups and can begin to predict future behaviour. An example of a common behavioural segment in the context of rent payment is Dippers – those with young families and busy lifestyles who are constantly in and out of low level arrears. If you know that typically Dippers respond well to X then when a future tenant shows signs of being a Dipper, you can start to proactively engage with them in a tailored manner.
  4. Next, we undertake qualitative research and engage with customers to understand the drivers that sit behind these patterns of behaviour. Are they simply forgetting to pay? Or is the tenant living beyond their means? Only with this insight can you determine which intervention or approach is best suited to specific customer needs.
  5. Based on this quantitative and qualitative data, our behavioural insights team is able to increase the likelihood that a customer engages with your team and improve the outcomes that are gained from that engagement.
  6. Arguably the most important element of this work relates to evaluation: building a robust understanding of what actually works when it comes to engaging customers and influencing behaviours. This is why our recommendations – be it messaging, platform or enforcement action – are rigorously tested using randomised controlled trials. This ensures that our suggestions are based on statistically sound evidence and reveal what actually works best for your customers and your organisation.

Add real value to your housing association

“The solutions we provide don’t just add great business value, but are designed to make a positive difference to people’s lives.” Chris Walker, Behavioural Insights Lead at Voicescape.

With behavioural science underpinning all of your decisions, both you and your tenants stand to benefit. Think about it this way: these insights are allowing you to target which groups need interventions and then tailoring these interventions to them. The result? It’s more likely these actions will work and you can build a framework for future tenants.

Even before the Coronavirus Act 2020 forced the sector to re-evaluate their approaches, industry leaders were searching for ways to be more innovative. Behavioural science gives providers that opportunity – allowing them to be more targeted and tailored in their approach.

Combat key challenges within the sector

“We are seeing people and organisations start to acknowledge the benefits of combining data science and behavioural insights, but by being able to include technology into this mix Voicescape are working at the intersection of all three of these areas. This is hugely exciting and has the potential to drive really positive change within the sector.” Chris Walker, Behavioural Insights Lead at Voicescape.

Most organisational challenges boil down to human behaviour. But behavioural science offers a different way of framing your organisational problems. When applied, it can offer new solutions to common problems. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that many countries and governments are now employing it – particularly given the cost-effectiveness of some behavioural science approaches.

When we think about social housing, behavioural science can be applied to a wide range of customer engagement challenges including:

  • Rent arrears/income collection [Link: Arrears Arrangements Guide]
  • Digital self-service – moving customers online
  • Property access – repairs and maintenance
  • Anti-social behaviour

And it’s not just here. Behavioural science literature can also be used on in-house processes including internal compliance, team morale and productivity.

How do I apply this in my social housing association?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to behavioural science. Each organisation is unique and while you may be experiencing the same challenges as your peers, before we apply any of the above strategies, we need to really get to know your needs. Only then can we determine what approaches will work best for you and your tenants. At every stage of this process, we’ll learn as we go, designing strategies based on how your customers respond and continually evolving your engagement.

Our rigorous approach ensures that you make better decisions, significantly increase revenue collection, utilise resources more effectively, improve customer satisfaction and engender sustainable tenancies.

How Voicescape can help

Our Behavioural Insights Lead, Chris Walker, has been working with social landlords across the UK to create and maintain sustainable tenancies using behavioural science, data insights and technology. This has allowed us to build a suite of products designed to support this.

If you want to trigger behavioural change with a simple message, in turn fostering positive payment behaviour, get in touch with Chris Walker at chris.walker@voicescape.co.uk or call us on 0161 259 1122.