Opinion: Evidence vs instinct | News

Opinion: Evidence vs instinct

This article first appeared in the May edition of the Housing Quality Magazine.

By Emma Lindley, HQN Associate

I've been a strong advocate of evidence-based decision making throughout my career - I have two degrees, I commission research, I study research and summarise it for fellow professionals, I was on the Housing Studies Association committee, you get the idea.

However, it wasn't until recently that I was doing research to inform some of the most important decisions I needed to make in my own life. And I found myself going against research and guidelines, arguing why I should be treated differently, why the research didn't apply to me and my circumstances. Of course it made me think about how many residents/tenants/customers might feel that way about the research our strategies, policies and procedures are based on.

Research and evidence of course has done so much to advance and improve many aspects of life, so this isn't a call to ignore it. However, I have learned a valuable lesson from my personal research experience, to consider the gaps in the evidence; to understand that some things can never be fully understood or tested because human beings and the world we live in are complex and evolving; that whilst we know more than we ever have about everything, we still know so little. And that it's OK to consider all the evidence and instead go with your instinct.

In our love of research, evidence, science and statistics, we've potentially made "instincts" a dirty word, and trusting them a high risk strategy. But of course, we are all operating on instincts and gut reactions, whether we acknowledge it or not. I'm sure we've all downplayed some evidence that goes against our preferred decision, and gravitated towards research that supports our case, no matter how obscure, outdated or tenuous. And of course often the evidence can cause more confusion than it solves as findings are inconclusive, as more research is needed, or because no one solution works equally for every situation.

This is where I found myself when understanding the evidence around pregnancy, birth and nurturing a newborn. How I navigated my way through this was to listen to my instincts and my values.

Now of course I was making a decision affecting me and my family so I also have to deal with the consequences. The same cannot be said in my working life; if the wrong strategy or policy is implemented, it doesn't really affect my life.

So just as I want the professionals supporting me to respect my choices and to listen to my instincts, we must recognise that those we housing professionals serve most likely want the same thing.

In my work to reduce rough sleeping, we have increasingly talked of "personalised housing offers" - not Housing First for everyone, not a hostel for everyone, not a room in the PRS for everyone. People often jump to solutions rather than spending time fully understanding a problem. What might our strategies, policies and procedures look like if they focused on individual professionals listening to individual residents to create individual solutions, of course informed by evidence and research, but not beholden to it?