Testing innovative ideas to solve social problems

by Jessie Wilde, on 16 Dec 2019 2 min read

Jessie Wilde

Jessie Wilde is Deputy Project Director at Bristol Housing Festival. Here Jessie shares what she’s learnt from leading the country’s first real life testing ground for housing innovation.

I have a passion for solving social problems, and that’s where Bristol Housing Festival came from.

The housing crisis is much bigger than we expect. It’s not just about the cost of housing, or the lack of it - it’s about whether the housing we’re developing is suitable. 

Could housing help with social issues, for example an ageing population or the environment? Could we design and build communities through housing that start to cut NHS costs by tackling well-being, isolation, and mental health?

To find the answer to these big questions you need to think about the housing crisis holistically, and you need to innovate. Bristol Housing Festival is aiding this innovation process. We’re bringing together experts from across the housing industry to get the conversation going. 

Finding out what actually works

Essentially we’re the brokers, breaking down the barriers that exist within the sector and giving experts in business, construction, and politics – for example – the opportunities to come together to re-think and re-imagine the status quo.

In an ideal world we shouldn’t exist – we shouldn’t need someone to stand in the middle and try to get people to innovate. The fact we do exist shows that the current system doesn’t work. 

Our ambition is to create real life scenarios that allow us to test innovative ideas to find out what does work. We will develop a pepper pot of developments that could trial different approaches to construction, governance, intergenerational living, cohousing - for example.

One idea we’re trialling is working with charities to address the needs of beneficiaries. For example, working with the YMCA to provide housing to young people who have experienced some sort of housing emergency. 

The idea is that we will create a community where the young people live alongside those who are there to support and help build the community. All the 11 homes in this project will be low cost rents affordable for these young people. This approach is different to the usual structure in supported housing and could be more empowering for the young people – we will find out!

Blockers to innovation: making ideas a reality

The possibilities with this approach are huge, but there’s the rub. We have five years and only a certain level of resources. We need to ensure we work in partnership, remain focused, and leave a legacy.

This is the challenge when innovating. How do you take ideas, test them and then give people confidence to move them into reality? People are usually up for trying something new, and there is a grace period when you’re piloting something. But actually changing the way we work on a day to day basis – changing culture and practice – this is tough.

How is Bristol Housing Festival stepping up to this challenge? 

We’re working with experts to evaluate all our pilot projects, and the lessons we learn will be open source so that anyone can look at the learning from the pilots, access it and use it in their own developments. 

What would help me #InnovateBetter

Communication is key to getting this right. We may convince the experts, but we need to bring everyone on board so that they understand the vision and buy into what Bristol Housing Festival is doing. 

Giving people a space where they can feedback and where ideas can be stored, shared and used again and again would be extremely useful in this process. My absolute dream would be a collaboration tool that integrates with everything, so everyone can use their platforms of choice and it’s all stored and accessible!

Topics:Idea Management