Future-proofing social housing allocation

"Housing is a place for you to call home"
a still from the video we made to illustrate a young person's journey seeking housing in Glasgow

Sensitive research design

Wheatley Group provides homes and services to over 200,000 people in 17 local authority areas across Central Scotland. Their five-year strategy committed to increasing sustained tenancies and customer satisfaction levels rising to above 90%. To help achieve these commitments, it’s important to understand how their users are likely to change in the near and long-term future. 

We analysed future demographic patterns and customer segmentation to identify emergent customer groups. We undertook informal interviews and group sessions with 85 people from a variety of backgrounds over an 8-week research sprint period.

Contextual interviews and workshops were carefully designed to be safe spaces for sharing insights. Our youngest participant was 13 and our most senior one was 85. 



“We need empathy to understand complex needs!”

We identified patterns based on the customer groups to create user journeys and customer personas. In detailed visual documents, these journeys captured a person’s interactions with housing services over time, including their motivations, challenges and feelings.

detail from a user journey showing Betty's experience of housing

From personal stories to future needs

Participants offered unfiltered facts which helped us understand the physical, emotional, and social contexts of housing which informed and enriched the user journeys we developed. 

For example, Betty, a 74-year old single woman, recently moved into a first floor property. The new location was perfect to be around friends but has stairs. The lack of clarification of flat specifications during the allocation process meant that Betty is likely to be applying for a new home in a couple of years because her flat will be unsuitable for her if and when she has difficulties with the stairs. 

From these personal stories, opportunities emerged on ways to improve sustained tenancy through the allocation process. In cases like Betty’s, this included clear guidance and language standards across housing associations on what’s considered accessible housing.

From there, we started to identify patterns based on the customer groups. During the synthesis period, we created 6 full user journeys and 9 customer personas. The journeys captured a person’s interactions with housing services over time, including their motivations, challenges and feelings.

Evolving the project brief

We always make sure that project outputs are not delivered just because they are outlined in the initial brief. We believe in providing deliverables that clients can actually use. We find that while personas are lively and easy to relate to, user journeys can be quite technical and not shared as widely as they could be within organisations. We wanted to break this barrier and explore ways to make user journeys more accessible. We suggested bringing one of these journeys to life through film and Wheatley Group played a key role as an innovator within the social housing sector.

Bringing stories to life – Reggie’s story

We made a film of ‘Reggie’s story’ which represents the experiences of single male refugees frustrated with being homeless and the lack of representation.

We hired an actor, developed a script, made a detailed storyboard – then, went out and about filming at different locations.

Like any prototype, design or artefact, this short film is a way of asking questions. What would Reggie do if he had to use our service? How can we develop a better service for him? 

Next steps

Research findings are informing changes to the allocation process. For example the workshop at Glasgow Disability Alliance revealed that the word mobility is used very differently between various housing associations and needed to be clearly defined so users and the organisation understand each other better. We also met people who were uncertain about the time applications for properties open and worried they’d miss an opportunity if they weren’t the first off the blocks, so they stayed up late or set alarms to get up very early to apply. 

Simplifying the application process and providing a new information service for bidders and unsuccessful candidates improved customer satisfaction rates and contributed to sustained tenancies.

Wheatley Group has now developed journeys and personas for factoring customers, and for their support services, and plan to carry out a similar process for repairs. They use the user journeys internally when talking about their services and products making sure the users are ‘in the room’ even when not physically present. But also, for their existing customers, involvement in the process was beneficial. Research participants reported it was important for them to engage in the sessions and share their experiences. Some said it’s the first time they felt listened to. It was crucial to provide the space for these conversations to happen and will be continued by the Wheatley Group.


We’d like to thank the Scottish Refugee Council, Glasgow Housing Association, Castlemilk youth club, Dunedin Canmore Housing Association and Glasgow Disability Alliance for hosting us and providing safe spaces for conversations to take place.