Community Development Social

Policy innovation in the housing sector: Lessons from Canada’s National Housing Strategy (NHS)

Elmond Bandauko

By Elmond Bandauko

Between 29 June and 02 July 2018, I had the opportunity to attend the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, the convergence of over 70 scholarly associations, each holding their annual conference under one umbrella. Congress 2018 was held at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, one of Canada’s ten provinces. Congress brings together academics, researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners to share findings, refine ideas, and build partnerships. During Congress 2018, I attended a seminar on ‘Research Opportunities in Canada’s National Housing Strategy. This seminar offered me critical insights on policy innovation in Canada’s housing sector, some of which might be useful for housing policy development in the Zimbabwean context.

What is policy innovation?

The Brookfield Institute at Ryerson University in Toronto defines Policy Innovation as improving policy design, the policy development process, and policy implementation in order to achieve a specific goal around the needs of citizens and communities. Policy innovation encompasses both the “what” (the policy instruments) and the “how” (the processes and tools by which policy is created and developed). Policy innovation is about creating new policies or regulations and programs and services that could lead to a very significant improvement in outcomes or experiences for the public. These may include innovative methods of engaging the public in policy, program and service development.

Doing things differently: NHS and policy innovation

Canada’s First Ever National Housing Strategy sets ambitious targets to ensure that unprecedented investments and new programming deliver results. This will include a 50% reduction in chronic homelessness, and as many as 530,000 households being taken out of housing need. The strategy is built on three fundamental principles namely people, communities and partnerships. The NHS highlights that housing policy should be grounded in the principles of inclusion, participation, accountability, and non-discrimination. The Canadian Government also believes that communities should be empowered to develop and implement local solutions to housing challenges. Good housing policy requires transparent and accountable partnership between the federal government, provinces, territories, municipalities, the social and private sectors, and people with lived experience of housing need. The NHS challenges the conventional approaches to housing policy development and implementation in various ways. The following initiatives are examples of emerging policy innovations in Canada’s housing sector:

Solutions Labs Initiative

Solutions Labs bring experts and housing stakeholders together to rapidly incubate and scale potential solutions to housing pressures. Housing Sector teams with diverse experience and knowledge will be invited to identify housing challenges in key NHS priority areas. The objective is to co-develop solutions to challenges in housing like: affordability; social inclusion; northern and remote supports; Indigenous housing and environmental sustainability. Diverse housing stakeholders including those with lived experiences will work together to examine and reframe current housing issues, use new problem-solving processes and co-develop innovative solutions that are practical, replicable and implementable.

Demonstration Initiative

The Demonstrations showcase innovative technologies, practices, programs, policies and strategies improving the performance, viability and effectiveness of affordable housing projects. Ultimately, fostering a culture of innovation in the affordable housing sector that will better meet the housing needs of Canadians. Lessons learned, and knowledge gained from the Demonstrations will be shared to help strengthen, better equip and innovate the affordable housing sector. This initiative will also include developing knowledge products that are targeted to specific stakeholders. These may include best-practices guides, case studies, factsheets, website content, user experience videos, surveys and innovation profiles.

The Collaborative Housing Research Network:

The Collaborative Housing Research Network (CHRN) is an independent, Canada-wide collaboration of academics and community partners. The Network focuses on researching housing conditions, needs and outcomes. This will provide objective, recognized, and high-quality research that supports housing policy decision-making and inform future program development. The Network’s objectives are to: generate new knowledge by conducting research across a nationally-linked network of researchers and housing related stakeholders across all disciplines; bridge gaps between research outcomes and impact on housing by: accelerating the translation of research discoveries into decision-making, best practices and/or the marketplace, developing, validating and evaluating interventions that change significant aspects of practice and evaluating outcomes of implementation of interventions to demonstrate impact. The CHRN is composed of knowledge mobilization hubs and thematic research nodes that are responsible for knowledge creation, knowledge dissemination and capacity building.

NHS Research and Planning Fund

The National Housing Strategy Research and Planning Fund provides support to not-for-profit organizations and registered charities undertaking housing research.  The research goals must be aligned to the National Housing Strategy’s vision. The objectives of the Fund are to: build collaboration, engagement and alignment with stakeholders working to achieve common goals, support the housing community’s research capacity development. This stakeholder-focused funding opportunity helps promote interest and involvement in housing research outside of government: it supports data development; it cultivates and supports highly focused expertise to rapidly overcome challenges and it develops solutions to improving affordable housing for communities across Canada.

Housing data needs

Canada is addressing housing data gaps by collecting comprehensive data and developing new tools to analyze market conditions. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) works with a wide range of partners to identify, communicate and fill data gaps to better understand housing conditions. This focuses on the housing needs of Canada’s most vulnerable populations.

These diverse sources of housing data are used to develop indicators to measure progress toward NHS outcomes. CMHC is also developing new indicators to measure these outcomes, including housing affordability, housing hardship, building condition and extended useful life of community and affordable housing, social and economic inclusion. This data will serve as the basis for research. It will track and follow the implementation progress of the strategy. Ultimately, it will help stakeholders better understand the impacts of the policies of the National Housing Strategy over its 10 years.


Canada’s National Housing Strategy has various elements of policy innovation imbedded in it. The Government recognises the significance of adopting an evidence-based approach to policy development. Any successful public policy must be based on research and evidence rather than opinions and assumptions. The collaborative research network will play a significant role in generating and disseminating knowledge that can inform housing policy and programming across Canada. It is my hope that these insights or policy ideas can be diffused to other jurisdictions including Zimbabwe if policy development in the housing sector is to be innovative and sustainable.

About the author

Elmond Bandauko holds a Master of Public Administration (MPA) with specialization in Local government from the University of Western Ontario (Canada) where he studied as an African Leaders of Tomorrow Scholar. He did his BSc. (Hons) in Rural and Urban Planning from the University of Zimbabwe. His interests include participatory policy making, policy innovation and policy diffusion, public management, program and policy evaluation, collaborative governance and the politics of urban development in cities of the global south.

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende