Over the first half of 2015, HACT has been pooling data from across nine housing associations to explore the relationship between community investment and bottom line performance. HACT’s Data Scientist Phil Goddard reports on the progress made with this innovative project so far.
Welcome to the first of our Community Investment and the Bottom Line status update blogs, and possibly the final call for participation in the project.
The Community Investment and the Bottom Line project commenced in early 2015 with the intention to assess the bottom line impact of community investment, measuring ‘effectiveness’ in terms of financial costs to housing associations.
This investigation has been developed to provide housing associations with critical information regarding their community investment programmes; by building our understanding of the impacts of these programmes on business performance, we will be equipping housing providers with the information they need to better understand the true costs of these programmes. Using advanced data analytic techniques, HACT will be analysing data from a number of participating housing associations to understand where achieving community investment outcomes results in measurable impacts on the bottom line: if community investment results in lower rent arrears or decreased use of the repairs service then the savings from those services can be offset against the cost of community investment.
The confirmed participants in the project to date are Bolton at Home, Bracknell Forest, Gentoo, Helena, Hyde, Knightstone, L&Q, Liverpool Mutual Homes, and Your Housing Group. HACT aims to provide insight to each organisation of the bottom line impact of its community investment projects. The project participants have helped us to select a focus on digital inclusion, financial inclusion and employment.
Whilst the aim of the project is deceptively simple, in practice, successfully executing such a project is far from straightforward. During the past few months, our team at HACT has been carefully designing the project; it cannot be overstated how important it has been considering what data is relevant and how is best to collect it. One of the most important – and challenging – areas of work has been developing a schema that can be universally completed by all of our participants; the difficulty of a data project increases dramatically as data is drawn in from multiple sources, each of which has its own unique ways of storing and interpreting information, so it has been a worthwhile investment of time and energy to ensure we all start from a common point.
The anecdotal saying in data science is that 80% of the work in project is in obtaining and cleaning the data. The project has additional barriers of difficulty as it is the first of its kind attempted in the sector, so we are pioneering this type of investigation. Our carefully planned data acquisition will ensure that the actual analysis will be able to move forward with considerable speed.
Upon completion of a final set of telephone interviews, aimed to gain an insight of how community investment activities compare across the participating organisations, our data schema will be distributed for completion by the project participants.
HACT is working in collaboration with QA Housing Consulting, which is bringing considerable experience working with housing providers’ finance systems to the table. Work to collect cost data from our participants began in early July.
The real challenge in this project has been to plan how the data from different participants can be pooled together; in absence of a universal data standard in housing, HACT has had to carefully determine what the relevant information is, how it is stored, and how it can be meaningfully compared across organisations. HACT has, and continues to gain, extensive experience working with the data held in the sector, and we anticipate that a range of projects, including this one on Community Investment and the Bottom Line, will feed off each other, as we are increasingly able to support the sector it its consistent use of data.
We at HACT are excited to see the efforts of our preparation and planning paying off as data starts rolling in, and we look forward to reporting our progress and results in due course. Now that considerable progress has been made and we are moving forward to collecting data and begin our analysis, regular updates can be expected as the project moves ahead. Any organisations wanting to join the project can still do so over the next few weeks, if we are able to schedule in the necessary interviews and meetings, and if you will be able to provide the data promptly when requested. Please contact Mary-Kathryn Rallings if you are interested in joining or for further information.
About the project
The Community Investment and Bottom Line project will run for 12 months, using data science to generate its insights. It will comprise a series of 3 investigations looking at the impact on the bottom line of community investment activity and outcomes around employment, digital inclusion, and financial inclusion.