25 April 2018

We can all think back to events or speakers that have inspired us. The ones where we have come back to the office with a nugget of information or keen to try a new approach or idea that we have just heard about.

At their best, conferences and speakers challenge us and make us see things in a different way, to question what we thought we knew and provide new information and perspectives that we might never have come up with ourselves.

So in putting together the National Housing Summit – our new fresh take on our annual conference – how do we make sure it challenges, inspires and enlightens us in this way? The answer is to co-create it.

Across the Federation, ‘co-creation’ has become a new mantra. We want to make sure that policy positions, events and approaches are developed in consultation with members, and that they are involved as early as possible in the process so they can shape them. Using the experience, expertise and perspectives of members throughout our work will make it better. But it also means we jointly own our work with our members so that we all become responsible as advocates for it.

In order to make the National Housing Summit the best event it could possibly be, it therefore made complete sense to create it in this way. After all, who is better placed to know what they want to see at a conference than the people that go to it? What did they want to see at the Summit? What would make it new and exciting for them?

We pulled together a crack team of 17 representatives from across the sector, and at external partners such as Shelter, Savills and Housemark. We then plied them with tea and coffee, and tapped into the big topics that were keeping them awake at night, asked them which speakers would interest and excite them and how they wanted to network with their peers.

Above all, they said they wanted to be challenged – to get thought leadership that they couldn’t get anywhere else and which addressed the key issues affecting the whole sector that we need to think about collectively. But also that we needed to explore how the rapidly changing external environment would affect housing associations in future and how we get ‘ahead of the curve’ and plan for an increasing uncertain and turbulent world.

They also gave us some great speaker recommendations, hot topics to start debates and advice on how they wanted to interact with other delegates. And together, we developed ideas for some exciting new features: debates in the Question Time format, Futures Expo where we will discuss and dissect solutions to the challenges the sector faces, and speakers’ corner, where delegates will have the chance to share their opinions around a series of set themes. All will be revealed when the programme is launched in two weeks’ time.

The co-creation approach to designing this new event has been so successful that we will be using it in all of our major events to make sure they are tailor-made for the audience and so that we keep them fresh and relevant. The proof of the pudding will, of course, be in the eating, but with this valuable input from our members and partners we feel we are on track to deliver a fantastic event this September.

Henry Gregg

Henry Gregg is Member Relations Director at the National Housing Federation

What makes a conference great?