Data for Housing Justice

Introduction

“...we wanted to build a more comprehensive picture of what the challenges in the information environment might be...”

It has never been more important to organise as movements working to build a better world. From local community action to national and global coordination, shifts are needed at every scale. Amongst a crowd of crucial movements in the UK, the housing justice movement is seeking safe, secure and affordable housing for a depressingly large proportion of our population. Building on a rich history of organising, people from streets and estates, neighbourhoods and whole cities and rural areas are coming together to fight the essential fight.

As with many movements, data has proven a useful tool for organising and demanding change for housing justice. There are examples within and outside of the UK, of researchers and organisers finding creative ways to use data and digital approaches to build campaigning and bargaining power. But the UK’s housing system is extremely complex, and the information environment around it is difficult to infiltrate and make sense of. 

Digital Commons Cooperative set out to try and understand how the current state of the housing information environment might be frustrating organising efforts within the UK’s housing justice movement. We’re a community tech organisation, so the ultimate goal was to identify whether there are opportunities for digital or data approaches that might improve the information environment so those organising in the movement could build even greater campaigning and bargaining power. 

We recognise that digital and data approaches are not always the right answer, so this research was undertaken as an explicit step back. As a starting point, we wanted to build a more comprehensive picture of what the challenges in the information environment might be and how they are experienced within and across different parts of the housing justice movement. As well as understanding demand and potential, we wanted to map what already exists to make sure we weren’t duplicating efforts.

To do this work, we brought together 42 people from across 10 places in the UK, working on a broad range of housing challenges for a broad base of people (see Annex A  for more on our research methods). We invited organisers, activists and allies to think of “information” expansively, recognising that information at different scales, in different forms and from different sources is valuable to the movement. They were generous in their responses, and we’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of those that contributed to the research.

In this publication, you’ll find a summary of our findings from the research. In the first section, we share what we know about the information environment today, drawing on findings from a landscape review of housing data, and what we heard through qualitative primary research. We then share five briefs, which detail the opportunities for improving the information environment for the housing movement. We share findings of what organisers said would be helpful to understand, and identify existing digital and data approaches or resources that could be useful.

This research was made possible with thanks to the support of Oak Foundation. We hope that this publication will act as a record of what the common challenges and barriers to organising is today, and is read by organisers and allies of the housing justice movement in the UK. That includes people and organisations already working with data and digital approaches, who might want to come together to respond to some of the briefs that the research has identified. 

Some of the findings point to things that Digital Commons Cooperative can directly address given the skills and resources we have - for example, building more transparency around land ownership. However, many things are outside our areas of expertise, and we are hoping to spark conversations and catalyse partnerships with this work. If you would like to get in touch with Digital Commons about the briefs, please email hello@digitalcommons.coop.


Acknowledgements

We’d like to extend thanks to all those who contributed to the thinking and approach in this work, and a special thanks to all of the organisers and activists that took part in the research workshops. We’d also like to thank all of those that gave their time to share research, evidence, and experiences, in particular those sitting on the project’s steering group, and colleagues from Digital Commons, Shared Assets and Code-Operative. This research was possible thanks to the support of Oak Foundation.

Section One The Information
Environment
Today

Who’s Who in the Housing Justice Movement

Throughout this report, we’ll be referring to ‘organisers’ and ‘power holders’. By organisers, we are talking about the different people working within the housing justice movement who are helping to create and sustain movements and organisations for safe, secure and affordable housing in the UK.

When we say power holders, we’re referring to actors who hold and exercise more power in the housing system, to benefit themselves (most often financially). This includes private accommodation and social housing landlords, housing associations, corporate businesses and some politicians and policymakers.

How Poor Information
Is Frustrating
Organising Efforts

We asked organisers to consider the challenges that arise from poor information or poor access to information, that are preventing them from making progress in their organising efforts. They shared that:

  1. There is poor access to information on what other organisers are or have done in the past. This leaves organisers spending their energy on reinventing the wheel, making mistakes they could avoid or missing opportunities to connect with other organisers for support.;
  2. Organisers struggle to access information that could help them to hold power holders to account. This is because those power holders are often protected and anonymized by information systems that favour their security and obscure valuable information to their benefit, even when it is supposed to be in the public domain.;
  3. Organisers who are working at a local level don’t always have information about who might need support to access safe and secure housing, and what kind of support they could use. This can be because data is not collected and shared about who lives in an area, or what their housing conditions are like. While organisers often make efforts to go out and meet local tenants face-to-face and collect that information, where the housing market forces people to move often, this can be difficult. In some cases, those in the most precarious housing, particularly those living in houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) and temporary accommodation, might not want to identify themselves for their own safety and wellbeing.
  4. Information is available but not accessible. This can be because there are significant barriers to accessing information, for example the requirement to pay to access records on the Land Registry. Sometimes, it requires too much resource or specific expertise to make sense of. For example, information might be presented in technical or difficult to understand language. Or there may be access to very large datasets, but to make sense of them in an efficient way requires data expertise and / or specific software.
  5. It can be hard to piece together information that sits across different places or is presented in different ways. In particular, this prevents organisers from building a bigger picture of some of the injustices in the housing system. For example, it is difficult to bring together data about corporate landowners, with data about who owns a company. Organisers described how they themselves have lots of information in their heads, but don’t have the infrastructure in place to systematically capture information e.g. a tenants’ union tracking evictions by landlords.;
  6. There isn’t a place that brings together information and data about housing injustices and conditions, for organisers to draw on for campaigning purposes. This can make it difficult to build public support and consciousness of the right to safe and secure housing, because they do not have the information to hand to counter mainstream narratives or support their argument.;

The Hard Truths
about the Information
Environment Today

This poor information environment creates a number of challenges. Organisers and activists raised a number of considerations for any attempts to improve access to information. They shared that: 

  1. Power holders have much more resource than organisers and the information system around housing and land today has been built in their favour. There are also examples of power holders actively making information more complex or inaccessible. For example, many organisers reported poor record keeping by some housing associations despite having lots of resources. The government also recently refused to extend the Freedom of Information Act to social housing providers.
  2. At the same time, the onus is always on tenants and people in precarious housing situations to collect information and evidence if they want to organise against a landlord, rather than on the landlord to provide information. Increasing organisers’ access to information should not ease pressure on power holders to be more accountable and transparent. 
  3. People face risks when they organise, and using information as a means to organise is no different. People in most precarious conditions face additional challenges from sharing, accessing and being represented by information. For example, forcing transparency around overcrowded or informally rented housing poses a risk to those living in those homes, if they are then evicted from those homes when information comes to light. 
  4. While power holders are able to hide information that might also benefit organisers, for example behind paywalls, organisers cannot always do the same, as they don’t have the same resources. If information is more accessible, it’s important to consider if and how power holders might access that information for their own benefit. For example, sharing too openly about organising tactics that have been used successfully in the past might make that tactic less effective, if power holders can access information about it. 
  5. Information is not enough on its own. We heard lots of examples of people still needing guidance, technical support and organising power in order to turn data into useful - and usable - information. At the same time, the housing movement is underresourced. Where organisers can access and make use of data and information, they often have to dedicate unpaid hours towards doing so, or look to allies with particular knowledge or expertise who could volunteer some time. 
  6. The housing system is so complicated and layered that often there isn’t one solution for one problem. For example, within the private rented sector, you can access information about the landlords of properties that are rented through registered businesses and companies, as they are subject to certain reporting requirements. However, private or individual landlords are not required to publish personal information or correspondence addresses in a freely accessible database. 
  7. Gaining access to information can sometimes reveal how precarious a position so many of us are in and how little power we actually have. Organisers described getting access to information, and discovering how little bargaining power it could actually leverage. This can be demotivating or shocking to those trying to organise.

What We’ve Seen from
Our Own Review of the
Data Landscape

As well as speaking to organisers and activists from across the housing movement, Digital Commons did a landscape review of existing data and digital approaches used within the housing movement. We found that:

  • Housing data is often presented as high-level, longitudinal data. Counterintuitively, it is often not geomapped, i.e. not connected to location-based data. Longitudinal data is valuable for understanding housing-related trends, such as the rate of homelessness in regions over time. However, it limits our capacity to connect data to places or power holders that might otherwise help to build a systematic view of housing injustices.
  • There is unequal availability of and access to data across the UK, with less data available in Wales and notably less data available in Northern Ireland. At a regional level, some geographies have more mature databases, such as the London Datastore.
  • While there are a number of publicly available datasets, there are also a number of closed datasets that could be of use. Profit-making companies hold several potentially useful datasets, for example rental prices and fluctuations that could be accessed through property rental websites. However, their terms of services prohibit scraping or otherwise taking data from the site. Datasets might also be collected by organisations for the purpose of their work to support people in precarious housing circumstances, which they might not be willing or able to contribute. 
  • Oftentimes, it is not possible to see anything of value from just one dataset. Instead, you might need to combine and link several datasets to provide useful information. 

Methods and Tactics
Used to Get Around the
Challenging Information
Environment Today

"Getting to know the information is a really important part of what we're doing as well…feeling you’re growing your sense of your own power and the power of your group."

Those engaged for the research shared various efforts and tactics being used to identify and piece together information to support organising efforts. In some cases, organisers are making use of existing databases and infrastructure. In other cases, they are developing new ones. Examples included:

  • Using Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to gather information on landlords, landowners and land uses. However some noted that is done in a piecemeal and uncoordinated way across the housing movement, which significantly reduces the power of that information. Certain power holders such as housing associations are also not required to respond to FOIs.
  • Extracting data from the Land Registry to gather information on land and property owners. There were mixed feelings towards the Land Registry, with some noting it as an empowering tool. Others found it unhelpful as there was often little route for action with the information available on the Land Registry, and also raised that the requirement to pay for title deeds (which often contain valuable information about the way a piece of land is owned) was a barrier. 
  • Manually extracting information from databases such as local landlord licensing databases, or brownfield land datasets, often on a case-by-case basis. These databases are not consistently available across different geographies. 
  • Using existing online consumer complaints platforms such as Resolver, particularly where making formal complaints directly with a housing association or landlord was proving unsuccessful. 
  • Creating tracking spreadsheets using tools such as Excel to track land availability and viability for the purpose of identifying sites for community-led housing. The data gathered and sorted into spreadsheets consolidated data from different sources, into one.
  • Self-organising a ‘permission planning watch’ where a group of organisers would take it in turns to keep track of planning permission changes and updates happening in their local area. 
  • Building new datasets through information about demographics, rent levels and landlords. Data for these new datasets were being collected through door knocking activity, and in the case of larger tenants unions and organising bodies, through data submitted by members. 

Digital and Data Tools
That Already Exist

There are some examples of more advanced digital tools and platforms being developed for the explicit purpose of helping organisers and activists, or to support more people to participate in actions. Some of these were raised by activists and organisers during the research workshops, and others were found through desk research during the scoping phase. Examples include: 

  • Land Explorer by Digital Commons Cooperative (us!) draws on Land Registry and other data to help communities learn more about land availability and distribution in the UK. It is hoped that the tool could be used for diversifying land use across several spheres of life including housing, by enabling alternative structures and systems such as community-led housing or self-build by identifying potential sites.
  • Side with Renters by Common Knowledge helped London Renters Union (LRU) to set up, configure, redesign and extend a stack of tools to improve their approach to petitioning campaigns. This included a petitioning tool that made it easier for individuals to send petition letters to local stakeholders by automatically matching petition signatures to members. This also introduced a feedback loop that allowed LRU to monitor the campaign throughout London and adjust their phone-banking to be more effective and strategic.
  • Wikihouse by Open Labs System is a digital platform that shares an open source building system that can be written and shared as code, for rapid and low-carbon housebuilding by self-builders, community organisations, local authorities and social housing providers. The intention of this digital platform is to democratise tools and knowledges for construction to create more affordable, low-carbon housing stock. 
  • Inside Airbnb scrapes public listings from Airbnb’s website to map short term rentals and the associated owners across a number of cities globally, including four in the UK. It is hoped that aggregating data and information in this way can help to empower communities to understand, decide and control the role of renting residential homes to tourists in their city. Linked to Inside Airbnb is also the organising group, Resist Airbnb.
  • Marks out of Tenancy is a website that allows tenants in the private rented sector to rate and review their landlord, letting agent, the property and the neighbourhood. It seeks to improve conditions in the private rented sector by making transparent information that tenants don’t frequently have access to before signing a tenancy agreement. 

Summary

Poor access to information is actively frustrating organising efforts. This is true at the scale of holding land and property owners to account on an individual basis. It is also true that organisers are limited in their ability to use information to look wider, and build a view of the scale and interconnectedness of injustices within the housing system.

People organising across multiple different housing injustices face similar challenges. This means addressing one challenge has the potential to support organisers from across the housing movement.

We cannot work on the assumption that a more transparent information environment around housing and land automatically leads to more organising power. As one organiser put it “information alone is not enough”, if organisers don’t have the skills or resources to use it. There are also various risks to organisers, and those living in more precarious housing situations, that need to be carefully considered when trying to create greater access to better information. 

Information systems around housing are actively set up to protect power holders and housing and land data does not exist in the most useful forms to organising. Considerable resource and technical skill is likely required to manipulate it into a form that is. Different organisers and groups are already making attempts (some digital, some not) to address this, and care should be taken to not duplicate efforts. 

Section Two Opportunities to
Support the Housing
Justice Movement

Through the research, we collected knowledge, experiences and aspirations from organisers and activists, which we have shaped into five briefs (below) that share the cross-movement challenges, what organisers said was useful to understand, and the data opportunities. So it’s likely that if you are organising within the UK’s housing movement, at least some of what is shared across the briefs will be familiar to you.

There are real opportunities to use information and data to build a better understanding of who owns what, rent extraction, patterns of eviction, disrepair and hazards, and to help organisers and tenants more easily understand complex policies and documents. These have been translated into five individual briefs. We see that most opportunities would either be answered through scraping or accessing existing data and mapping, or crowdsourcing and mapping - depending on where data is or isn’t actually available. 

Not everything demands a data or digital approach. An emerging, cross-brief need is for organisers to connect and come together, to share wins, frustrations, skills and tactics. Many digital tools and platforms have been tried in the past, with little success. Here we see opportunity for a non-digital approach, such as a housing justice conference, similar to the Oxford Real Farming Conference that brings together grassroots food and farming movements.

There was also an ask from organisers to have resources to help them manage data more safely and effectively. Complex but necessary laws such as GDPR create challenges to sharing data internally and between groups or organisations. When working with external datasets, it can also be challenging to navigate terms of services without legal advice. We see an opportunity for us and others to resource organisers with guidance and templates for privacy and sharing, data governance practices, and guides for creating data commons.

As a community tech organisation, Digital Commons is looking to respond to some of these briefs given our existing platforms, datasets, and capabilities. However, we recognise that we aren’t the right people to respond to all of the opportunities laid out below, and there are many talented folk who might be able to inject their skills and experience into some of these ideas. 

Following the publication of this report in autumn of 2023, Digital Commons will host a series of workspaces and engagements to bring together different people who might be interested in responding to findings and briefs shared within the report.  If you would like to get in touch with Digital Commons about the briefs, please email hello@digitalcommons.coop.

Brief One Building a Better
Understanding of Who
Owns What

Organisers want to better understand who owns what. This was very commonly raised, by organisers working across multiple housing issues, and they saw potential for such information to help with building campaigning power and support them to take more effective direct action.

Organisers want to better understand who owns what. This was very commonly raised, by organisers working across multiple housing issues, and they saw potential for such information to help with building campaigning power and support them to take more effective direct action.

They want to access data that supports action at the individual level (e.g. identifying property owners) and at a systematic level (e.g. how much land/property an individual owns and where). There is a growing need to be able to identify corporate landlords who manage temporary accommodation. On the flip side, there is also interest in using such information to find landowners who might be sympathetic to people wanting to pursue alternative housing models. 


What Might Be Useful
to Understand?

  • Who both the freehold and any leasehold owners of land or property are, and on what terms leaseholders hold their leases. 
  • How much land or property is owned by a single private or corporate landlord, across different places
  • Ownership structures for corporate landlords, and where there are common parent companies
  • Where there is viable land or property with the potential to be better used by housing cooperatives or community-led housing

What Data or Digital
Approaches Exist Today?

  • Land ownership data is available from the Land Registry where large datasets can be downloaded with specific terms of use. Digital Commons’ Land Explorer makes use of the freely available “UK Companies (and Overseas Companies) that own property in England and Wales” datasets.
  • Data about private individuals who own land or property is also held at the Land Registry but users are required to pay £3 to access these title deeds.
  • Most leases over 7 years will be registered at the Land Registry and included in the datasets above.
  • Other land ownership data (particularly the 20% of land that is not registered with the Land Registry) has previously been collected through FOIs, and is being made available through the Who Owns England map.
  • While data about overseas-registered companies that own property in the UK is available through the Land Registry, it can be hard to trace who the “beneficial owners” of the companies are. Private Eye’s map goes into some detail on this but has not been updated since 2015.

Viable Opportunities given
Existing Data and Resource/
Skill Requirement

  • To build on Digital Commons’ Land Explorer tool, ensuring it is regularly updated with a live link to the Land Registry and to further improve its functionality in consultation with users. 
  • To build the ability to search for all properties a particular landowner owns, on Land Explorer to better understand the scale and distribution of land ownership in England and Wales.

Potential Future Viable
Opportunities with
Further Resources

  • Mapping ownership structures and chains using company data to identify common parent companies and beneficial owners, to build transparency around landlords where information is already publicly accessible.

Brief Two Understanding
Patterns of Rent
Extraction

Organisers want to develop a more sophisticated understanding of how value is being extracted through land and property, i.e. how much money is being made by power holders through housing and land. This was very commonly raised, by organisers working across multiple housing issues, and they saw potential for such information to help with building campaigning and bargaining power.

In particular, organisers want to know how landlords are setting rents and service fees. They want to identify where housing is being converted into HMOs or temporary accommodation as means to increase profits. They are also interested in what information about planning permission, allocations for new builds, land sale chains and viability assessment could tell us about future plans to extract rents from land/properties. 


What Might Be Useful
to Understand?

  • How rent levels are changing over a period of time, in a specific place, and how that might be affecting rent levels in other places
  • Patterns of unreasonable rent extraction by private and social landlords across places, e.g. patterns of housing associations increasing service fees in different cities
  • Where landlords are changing the tenure of housing to increase profits, e.g. landlords renting private accommodation to councils as temporary accommodation
  • Identifying where policymakers and decision makers might have a stake in rent extraction via new developments or rental properties.

What Data or Digital
Approaches Exist Today?

  • Anecdotal data exists on rent and service fees exist, but would need to be crowdsourced and manually inputted into a tool or platform
  • In some cities, landlord and/or HMO licensing databases exist. HMOs are also more at risk of illegal subletting or overcrowding
  • Data on rent levels is available on websites like Zoopla, Spareroom or student letting websites, but would need to be scraped, which is usually prohibited by the terms of service of such websites.
  • Previous sale price data is available through the Land Registry and will be included in the Land Explorer work referred to in brief 1.
  • Planning data including information on use classes exists across local planning portals, but often in pdfs which are hard to systematically aggregate. 
  • Data on properties being converted into short-term lets is available on websites like Airbnb, and platforms such as Inside Airbnb are already scraping that data

Viable Opportunities given
Existing Data and Resource/
Skill Requirement

  • Developing a platform to crowdsource and map rent levels and services fees 
  • If the planning system is digitised (e.g. as PlanX by Open Systems Labs is attempting), enabling greater access to planning information or enabling a planning notification function 

Potential Future Viable
Opportunities with
Further Resources

  • Data scraping rent levels from websites such as Zoopla, Spareroom or other lettings websites
  • Mapping ownership structures using company data to identify where individuals have a stake in rent extraction

Brief Three Making
Information Easier
to Understand

Organisers want to have tools to translate the complex language used in guidance, policies and laws into plain English and other languages. They would find this particularly useful in the context of translating technical legal terminology, and helping to understand planning permission notes and guidance, and title deeds.

This would help to increase the accessibility of the many existing resources and materials that are otherwise out of reach when organisers don’t have the technical knowledge to make sense of them. This could also create more information parity, as power holders are more likely to have additional resources to finance things such as legal support, than tenants.


What Might Be Useful
to Understand?

  • Jargon and technical terminology, translated into plain or easier-to-understand English and other languages, for example in planning permission documents or title deeds
  • When key pieces of information such as laws, policies or guidance are formally updated or changed
  • What key pieces of information such as laws, policies or guidance are most relevant to organising efforts

What Data or Digital
Approaches Exist Today?

  • Existing resources shared online such as those by FixMyBlock and Shelter, which provides resources, advice and action packs for different types of housing challenges
  • Language model-based chatbots such as ChatGPT
  • Platforms such as PlanX, in development by Open Systems Lab, which is seeking to develop fully online planning services

Viable Opportunities given
Existing Data and Resource/
Skill Requirement

  • Developing a tool using an AI large language model to offer guidance on terminology, polices and laws, and to point towards further existing resources
  • If the planning system is digitised (e.g. as PlanX by Open Systems Labs is attempting), enabling a policies and laws notification function

Brief Four Identifying
Patterns of
Evictions

Organisers want a means to piece together information about evictions, to explore whether they point to what they suspect to be patterns of behaviour by individual corporate and private landlords, based on their experience and on-the-ground knowledge. They see this as having potential to build bargaining power and evidence of the need for action.

Organisers want to find ways to bring together information that could tell them more about evictions, serial evictions and evictions due to immigration status. It could be helpful to know what other actors are involved in evictions, for example understanding the rate of police-facilitated evictions happening.


What Might Be Useful
to Understand?

  • Patterns of evictions in a place, including informal evictions carried out by private, social or corporate landlords, with record of the nature of eviction
  • Serial evictions by individual private, social or corporate landlords, with record of the nature of eviction
  • Where landlords are undertaking harassment tactics or using rent increases as a means to informally evict tenants
  • Who is initiating and facilitating evictions (e.g. the council, private landlords, developers, the police)

What Data or Digital
Approaches Exist Today?

  • Anecdotal data exists on evictions exist amongst tenants and organisers, but would need to be crowdsourced and manually inputted into a tool or platform
  • The Housing Ombudsman publishes information about decisions, however they are selective about which data they publish, and this would require scraping
  • Data on repossession claims made by landlords if a tenant is in rent arrears exists, but only goes down to local authority level and cannot be more precisely mapped

Viable Opportunities given
Existing Data and Resource/
Skill Requirement

  • Developing a platform to crowdsource and geomap anecdotal data on evictions

Brief Five Systematically
Collecting Information
on Safety and Hazard

Organisers want the tools to build a more systematic view of poor housing conditions and practices, given they have witnessed an uptick in the extent of poor housing conditions and unacceptable landlord practices. They note the potential to build more bargaining power amongst tenants and more public consciousness around the challenge, and to help tenants make informed decisions or take coordinated actions.

Organisers want more and better information to identify patterns of landlords failing to provide basic and safe standards of living. They are interested in data to understand the extent of overcrowded housing, complaints and actions, fire risk assessment, service charge accounts, and suitability of adapted housing. However, this needs to be done with consideration of how those living in such homes might be impacted. 


What Might Be Useful
to Understand?

  • Existing and historical accounts of inspections and of complaints raised against landlords and actions taken including the timeframe action was taken in, to identify where landlords are not responding to complaints sufficiently 
  • Whether a landlord or housing provider has ever faced legal action for malpractice or failure to comply with enforcement
  • Known risks to buildings including risks of damp and mould, fire risk, recent works, structural risk, and any actions taken
  • Understanding where landlords are allowing properties to become overcrowded, as means of increasing profit
  • Where there are homes that are adapted and with what adaptations (beyond adaptations for wheelchair users), to explore the possibility of home swaps to better suit need, and helping those in temporary accommodation to identify suitable housing

What Data or Digital
Approaches Exist Today?

  • Property risk assessments exist in various formats and inconsistently, and would be difficult to locate on a useful scale
  • The Housing Ombudsman publishes information about decisions, however they are selective about which data they publish, and this would require scraping
  • FOI requests have been carried out by various organisers and researchers, but are piecemeal and not coordinated across the housing movement

Viable Opportunities given
Existing Data and Resource/
Skill Requirement

  • Developing a platform to search and coordinate FOI requests and responses that have already been carried out

Annex One Our
Approach

For this research, Digital Commons Cooperative engaged in primary and secondary research, guided by a steering group made up of people holding housing and data expertise. In doing the research, we centred principles of fair and meaningful participation. Below we share more detail about our experience of doing the research, for transparency and to demonstrate how those principles of participation were exercised in practice.


Recruiting People
to Contribute to
the Research

We gave ourselves a long lead in time to the research, so we could reach as many folks as possible from across the UK. We did an extensive mapping of actors in the movement and directly contacted them. We also relied on social media, networks and word-of-mouth. We put time into creating engaging and accessible recruitment materials, clearly communicating with people what would be expected of them and what they can expect to get out of taking part. 88 people signed up to take part in the research. 42 people took part in the research from across 10 places in the UK (Norfolk, Brighton, Liverpool, Manchester, London, Edinburgh, Cumbria, Gwynedd, Bristol, Newcastle).


Doing the Research

We carried out a scoping exercise including a landscape review of existing digital approaches and available data relevant to the housing movement, stakeholder mapping of different actors in the movement, and working with a steering group to define the scope of work. The steering group was made up of a range of folks doing work around housing, including those working on data for housing, those supporting organisers in the movement and those carrying out academic research on housing.

We then used qualitative research methods, drawing on participatory approaches, to design group workshops that put participant experience on equal footing with data collection. We asked people who signed up about their preferences for format, location and time, resulting in six 2.5-hour workshops, hosted online and taking into account a wide range of accessibility needs. Following feedback from early workshops, we shared the broad questions we’d be covering during the workshops in advance, and facilitated multiple opportunities to give informed consent.

We recognise that the housing movement is already very under resourced, and organisers often give significant amounts of their own time in volunteer hours to the movement. Anyone who took part in the research received £150 for their participation, and we tried to ensure that that was well spread over a large number of groups and organisations. Every research activity in the workshop was preceded by small, unfacilitated break-out groups for organisers to warm into the research activity and meet other organisers.


Doing the Analysis

Audio recordings of workshops were transcribed and analysed using an online transcription tool and an online visualisation tool. We took a grounded approach to carrying out thematic analysis, identifying emerging themes from the workshops, grouping them, and noting details such as what housing challenges they were most relevant to, and how many people raised the challenge. The initial analysis was carried out by one researcher, and then brought to a group workshop with others from Digital Commons for further sensemaking.


What Comes Next

Some of the findings point to things that Digital Commons Cooperative can directly address given the skills and resources we have - for example, building more transparency around land ownership. However, many things are outside our areas of expertise, and we are hoping to spark conversations and catalyse partnerships with this work. We hope to reach organisers and allies of the housing justice movement in the UK. That includes people and organisations already working with data and digital approaches, who might want to come together to respond to some of the briefs that the research has identified. 

Following the publication of this report in autumn of 2023, Digital Commons will host a series of workspaces and engagements to bring together different people who might be interested in responding to findings and briefs shared within the report.  If you would like to get in touch with Digital Commons about the briefs, please email hello@digitalcommons.coop.


Our Reflections
on the Research
Process

We were happy with the reach of the research opportunity, but we would have liked to reach more folks organising in rural settings. We were initially hoping to do at least two workshops with a specific place-focus; while people from xxx places signed up, other than in London, we could not reach a large enough concentration of people in any other places to hold a second place-based workshop. We’d like to note this as a limitation, but would also love to hear from others whether they feel this is somehow reflective of who is organising where.

We found group research workshops to be really generative, working well even in workshops with much fewer participants. Unfacilitated small break-out groups and curating workshops so participants were organising on similar housing challenges helped people to bounce off of each other’s experiences, get creative and think a bit bigger. Having ten minute breaks every hour was important to maintaining stamina over the 2.5 hours. We also saw some really satisfying connections between organisers being made!