Randomised controlled trials start: launching housing RCT research

By Jim Vine - on 28/01/2016

As housing associations demand more and better evidence on which to base their decisions, HACT's randomised controlled trials of tenancy sustainment initiatives are getting underway.

In his recent blog post, Professor Shaun Treweek provided an excellent introduction to the principles of RCTs – randomised controlled trials. (If you've not read it yet, go and do so now – any blog post that seamlessly links lethal naval scurvy in the 1700s, Donald Rumsfeld, overweight Scottish football fans and innovations in housing has to be worth a read.)

As everyone working in housing knows, there are few guaranteed quick wins. Whether we are working to improve the lives of our tenants, lift the prospects of deprived communities or 'simply' trying to improve rent collection, we have to work hard at getting the results we want.

If the wins were huge – as they were when citrus fruit could slash a death rate that approached 70% on long missions – then we could (perhaps) get away with simply looking at the outcomes of different groups of people. We could consider just comparing what happens to people we are delivering some service to and those who are not receiving it.

Sadly, we all know in our heart of hearts that we are unlikely to stumble upon the housing equivalent of the orange a day that kept the undertaker away. In the real world, where we have to cope with eking out a series of small gains amongst the messy realities of human lives, RCTs are the best way of knowing that any differences we measure are really down to the work we are doing.

It is against that background that HACT is launching its first RCTs in housing associations. I am delighted that we are supporting this important step-change in the ability of the social housing sector to produce robust evidence of the effectiveness of its activities.

We are also particularly excited that we are able to do this in relation to some critically important areas of housing providers' businesses: we are working with community investment teams to establish the extent to which some of their activities support tenancy sustainment outcomes. For a part of the business that is sometimes viewed as a nice-to-have, delivering more in the way of warm fuzzy feelings than hard business outcomes, the potential to evaluate this impact so directly has immense potential.

As of this week, two of the trials have launched and a third is currently piloting recruitment methods with some tenants of the housing association (unrandomised, and outside of the trial), to allow us to put the finishing touches to the intervention and trial design.

We will be sharing more details of the trials we are running over the coming weeks. In the meantime, if you are interested in the potential of community investment activity to deliver tenancy sustainment outcomes, the potential of RCTs to assess the effectiveness of services offered by housing associations, or both, please get in touch.

This is just the start of our use of RCTs to produce robust evidence of 'what works' in housing. If you have ideas for services, projects or activities that you would like to produce robust evidence for, please contact us to see whether there's the potential for us to support you.


To be kept informed about these projects or to arrange a time to discuss new ideas for RCTs, please contact Frances Harkin (Frances.Harkin@hact.org.uk).

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