Perry Walker writes:

If you’ve been to any of our Win Win Workouts, or watched our video, you’ll know that we’ve been concentrating on identifying the aims – the interests, needs, values and principles – that underly the policies around which so much political argument takes place. We do this because it is at this deeper level that common ground is to be found.

This event was different. Given aims for housing policy, how did we get from them to policies?

We did this by creating a spreadsheet model linking aims to policies. These were its elements:

  • Four aims
    1. Affordable homes
    2. Enough homes
    3. Decent homes
    4. Low carbon homes
  • Measures (i.e. policies). Each aim had a measure to achieve it:
    1. Affordable homes >> Build social homes
    2. Enough homes >> Loosen planning controls to stimulate private housebuilding
    3. Decent homes >> Apply Decent Homes Standard
    4. Low carbon homes >> Retrofit

People who used the model had to decide how many homes to tackle in each category (by building/stimulating/applying the standard/retrofitting) while taking account of three objectives:

  1. Staying within budget
  2. Achieving a carbon reduction target
  3. Achieving a popularity target.

(There was a recommendation for the number of homes to tackle in each category, and popularity fell if the chosen number was less than this.)

Each measure had a different impact on these three objectives. For example, getting more homes built to satisfy the ‘Enough homes’ aim didn’t cost anything, because the policy was to loosen planning controls. But it had a carbon cost, so a negative effect on the carbon reduction target.

In our short online event, on the evening of June 5th, six teams – mainly pairs – competed against each other. At the end, everyone had to vote for one of the other team’s solutions. The winning pair – Andrew and Ben – hit all three targets. Having taken part myself, I know this to be quite a feat. If you followed all the recommendations, for instance, your popularity was high – but you failed on the other two targets.

What did people think of the exercise?

  • “I think the concept does have some traction to illustrate practical trade-offs and is worthy of development.   15 minutes is not enough for most people to master the multi-variate interactions enough though I feel.”
  • “I did think that your game found a good balance between simplicity and complexity, even if the object of the game wasn’t clear enough.”
  • “The inclusion of popularity as a variable requires a lot more thought.”

There were three main pieces of specific feedback:

  • Make the popularity rating more sophisticated. Ian G said, “you could link the popularity impact figures to the prioritisation of the four aims”.
  • “A clearer objective for those playing the game would help to motivate teams” – Ian G again. For example, get your popularity rating as high as possible, while living within your budget and carbon targets.
  • Acknowledge the interdependencies between aims. For instance, creating ‘Enough homes’ should reduce prices and so help towards ‘Affordable homes’. It may be too complicated to build these into the model, but people can at least be invited to think about them.

In the world of tech start-ups, a wasted activity is one you’d don’t learn from. So, not a wasted evening.