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14 February 2020

Good innovation is about falling in love with the problem

Good innovation is about falling in love with the problem
In 2018, Katie Teasdale took part in the National Housing Federation’s innovation programme - then called Creating Our Future. After a three-day ‘hackathon’ event, learning how to solve problems and generate ideas, she was selected to join a 16 week secondment, where 25 people from across the housing sector were tasked with creating and developing ideas to change the world. Katie, Head of Member Services at the National Housing Federation, tells us what happened next:

“We were divided into teams and taught the skills to innovate by doing – in order to tackle a particular problem within the housing sector. We would then go on to present our concepts in a Dragons’ Den-style format at the National Housing Summit, and pitch for investors to take forward our idea.

I was part of the People Powered team, which was tasked with finding a solution to end the poverty premium. The challenge was given to us by the housing sector, including tenants – who were key voices in shaping the programme.

We immediately started to dig down into the problem and gather insights. In the first two weeks we spoke to over one hundred experts about the poverty premium, what it was and how it affected people.

However, it was when we began to talk to tenants that our path became clear. We witnessed an explosion in holiday hunger during that summer. We met with members of the community, who described how the food poverty premium affected their lives and we were shocked to discover that 49% of all high-cost credit was spent on food.

Accessing affordable, quality, fresh food had become impossible for many people. We decided that was what we’d try to change and that’s how we’d try to change the world.

Our insight had identified a niche: we spoke to low income tenants who described how much they enjoyed cooking, how they had the skills and equipment, but they couldn’t cook for their families because of the cost of food.

Using innovation toolkits, seeking advice from our mentors, and asking for help from just about everyone in the food and housing industries, we developed The Good Food Bag.

The Good Food Bag is a social enterprise dedicated to disrupting the food economy by helping those affected by the poverty premium. By providing affordable recipe kits, low-income families would be able to access good, convenient ingredients to cook nutritious meals at home. It’s a simple idea and one that our experiments showed could work.

After a successful pitch to the Summit, we were delighted receive even more support from our founder housing associations: One Manchester, Irwell Valley, Magenta Living and Golding who freed up their staff to develop the concept for almost another year.

And then – after a lot of work - in January 2019, One Manchester and Irwell Valley appointed an Operations Manager, the brilliant Jenni Poscai, to take forward a year-long pilot which will see The Good Food Bag begin to trade in Manchester in 2020.

Through this programme, I’ve learnt that innovation isn’t about so-called light bulb moments. It’s about gathering insight, developing ideas and incubating them in a structured way. We need to experiment, ask questions and fall in love with the problem rather than the idea.

It’s something we can all do and The Good Food Bag taught me that when we do fall in love with the problem, we can make good things happen.”

Get involved with the Housing Futures programme in Wales here.