The work of the Institute is underpinned by our own theory of change. This is configured around three pillars: high-quality, evidence-based research; engagement with decision makers, opinion formers and stakeholders; and promotion of work through all forms of media.
- Research: the Institute has a strong track record of undertaking high-quality research. We believe that to develop and shape public policy and achieve lasting change requires independent observation, evidence-based analysis and professional evaluation. As a think tank we not only provide knowledge and expertise and appreciate the importance of financial and administrative feasibility, but also offer a thorough understanding of the broader political and policy dynamic.
- Engagement: For policy ideas to be successful they usually need traction and wider endorsement and support. The Institute’s research therefore seeks to actively engage decision-makers, policymakers and practitioners. We have experience with stakeholder mapping and community engagement, often using interviews, opinion polling and focus groups. Through events, meetings and our networks the Institute seeks to ‘influence the influencers’ and forge coalitions for change.
- Promotion: The Institute is well-known to the mainstream media and our work regularly features in the national and specialist media. We also use social media, innovative communication tools, like animations, and direct mailouts. Most of our project work includes a media strategy, usually comprising proposals on public profiling, clear messaging and development of a narrative, background briefings and engaging stakeholders and opinion formers. We have experience of working with media and PR agencies and campaigning organisations.
Examples of impact
Affordable Housing Commission
The Smith Institute established and ran the Affordable Housing Commission. The Commission, chaired by Lord Best, included expert voices from across the housing world. The Commission produced a number of high profile reports, including the final report ‘Making housing affordable again’ (2020).Research for the Commission included quantitative analysis, economic assessments, literature reviews, national polling, focus groups, deliberative workshops, roundtable discussions, workshops, semi-structure interviews, party conference fringe events and a programme of seminars. The Institute helped to build consensus and develop policy ideas for the Commission.
During the lifetime of the Commission, we engaged with ministers, senior civil servants, parliamentarians, metro mayors and practitioners and experts from across the housing world. The work of the Commission was covered by amongst others the BBC, Guardian, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Independent as well as the housing press. It has featured in parliamentary briefings, a BBC housing briefing and research and briefing documents produced by campaigners and housing groups.
The AHC helped to shape the debate about definitions of affordability, the need to rebalance the housing system and the case for increased investment in social housing. The Commission has influenced the thinking of national politicians, local authorities and metro mayors and some of the recommendations have been implemented by government, combined authorities and local councils.
The Commission’s work over two years has been widely praised and described as “required reading for ministers both in terms of the questions it asks and the recommendations it makes”.
Changes to Universal Credit and rent arrears
The Institute worked with Southwark Council to analyse the impact of Universal Credit on rent payment behaviour of social housing tenants. The first wave of research included focus groups and interviews with tenants to understand their journey onto Universal Credit – what worked well, what didn’t and what were the main impacts and consequences? The research also included rent account analysis to understand quantitively how rent payment changed over time.
The work was followed up in two subsequent report looking at how payments changed months after people moved onto Universal Credit and how reforms had affected the system.
The work – which involved social landlords and tenants – was seen as trailblazing, providing a unique and important insight into how the new system was evolving. Southwark council based changes in the way it dealt with rent arrears on the report’s finding. The work also helped make the case for wider reforms, including promotinga government review ofthe guidance.
The research was quoted in national and specialist media, used in parliamentary debates and featured in briefings, including by the House of Commons Library. The work was followed up ground-breaking research covering 12 London boroughs.