To mark the launch of HACT's second White Paper with Hyperoptic which explores how connected technologies can deliver greater digital inclusivity and value for the future of social housing, we discuss key learnings from the report and its implications.
Leading with social value
Action # 1 of the World Economic Forums 2020 State of the Connected World report was to “Increase public education and understanding of connected devices and help empower individuals and organizations to make informed decisions regarding the adoption and use of these devices.”
Our work with Hyperoptic echoes this recommendation for the social housing sector. Social housing residents should have access to the same opportunities and be able to benefit from connected technology, regardless of their tenure. And that means informed and targeted deployment of technology, where it is needed. It means supporting rather than replacing good quality homes and services.
Being informed means responding to demonstrable need. Housing associations and local authorities with a clear understanding of residents needs and the specific local context can make informed procurement decisions rather than being reliant on off-the-shelf solutions.
It also means considering social value at all the way from planning to implementation of the technology itself. Our research highlights some of the areas in which health and wellbeing can be improved using connected technology, including through tackling damp and mould with smart thermostats, supporting independent living with assisted living devices or improving building safety through monitoring systems.
As pilots continue alongside wider implementation, more data and insight is needed into the relationship between technology, lived experience and social value. This way, decision making and informed procurement can only improve.
The paper explores how many of our everyday services and amenities now make use of connected technology. It is being enmeshed in homes, streets and across public space and new low-carbon energy systems. However, as with other public infrastructure and new technology, the adoption of connected technology often mirrors socio-economic inequalities. Prohibited by high initial price, and unequal distribution of the necessary infrastructure (in this case connectivity), those on lower incomes must wait longer for technology that can lead to health and wellbeing benefits.
We need to be careful about their public and private deployment, because low income neighbourhoods might not get the same support [as high-income neighbourhoods]. For example, a luxury high rise might have air-quality sensors, leak detectors and security sensors, whereas none of these features would be found in a low-income housing project.
Swarun Kumar, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University
Collaborating on shared challenges
Connected technology can play a role in addressing some of the critical issues social housing faces; including meeting net-zero targets, The social housing organisations and local authorities we spoke to saw this as a key use-case for connected technology, including smart meters, batteries, heat networks and smart thermostats.
The low-carbon energy system of the future will likely have to be smarter, to increase efficiency through demand balancing and to manage cycles in renewable generation. Decentralised generation of energy and integrated heat networks benefit from connected technology, whilst smart monitors in the home can be used to monitor energy performance of buildings.
The most ambitious and innovative examples of connected technology we came across were the result of collaboration, shared learning and continuous improvement. Because connected technology continues to develop at pace, we have to get better at learning from experience. Collaborations between housing, local government, academics, technology providers and other stakeholders are a way to expedite this process.
For HACT, that means continuing to work closely with the social housing sector and key suppliers like Hyperoptic, centring resident outcomes through our social value approach. We would encourage organisations planning for, or in the midst of pilots and full implementation to work with us on projecting and measuring the social value of connected technology.