The Oxford Sprint process: Solving the UK’s housing crisis

The challenge

participants collaborating

Reimagining affordable housing in the UK

The UK is in the midst of a national housing crisis. Housing supply is low. Mortgage deposits are high. Rentals are unaffordable. Social housing is unavailable. And homelessness is on the rise.

At the same time, public officials face obstacles to tackling this issue - ranging from tightening budgets to entrenched interests, party politics, restrictive regulations, and conflicting interests across all segments of British society.

We all need a home to go to, whether we are of school age or of pensionable age, in good health or poor, not paid, badly paid or well paid. When our housing feels insecure, we feel insecure.

Danny Dorling

Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography, School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford University

Convening the experts

A small cohort of industry leaders made a public commitment to bring new thinking on the housing crisis to the UK government. Recognising that traditional approaches to policymaking and innovation were moving too slow, they turned to Said Business School for help in generating new ideas and fresh thinking from a range of perspectives.

participants engaged and collaborating at a table

The programme

paricipant pinning post-its to wall

After a series of sessions with the group, Professor Andrew Baum realised it needed much more than new research to tackle the issue. He proposed a sprint approach to overcome the challenges that have dogged the housing sector for years.

In partnership with experts in housing, Saïd Business School designed a three-day custom programme that focussed on five priorities:

  • Reframing the challenge
  • Convening the right experts
  • Using research to inform action
  • Exploring provocative angles
  • Expertly guiding the process end-to-end

1. Reframing the challenge

From ‘solving the affordable housing crisis’ to a more specific, measurable and meaningful objective. Namely, ‘how can we produce an extra 100,000 homes a year in ways that generate wider community benefits and sustainable economic growth?'

2. Convening the right experts

Including more than 50 academics, government officials and practitioners from all sides of the issue. This included property developers, housing association members, urban planners, architects, economists, real estate professionals, investors, journalists and community advocates.

3. Using research to inform action

By commissioning three new papers on the housing crisis from leading academics at Oxford University, the London School of Economics and University College London. Each paper was shared with attendees as a pre-read and then presented live on day 1 of the sprint.

4. Exploring provocative angles

Using four top Oxford Saïd professors to deliver lectures on relevant topics, including systems change, poverty mapping, scenario planning and economics.

5. Expertly guiding the process end-to-end

Using a skilled facilitator with 30-plus years of experience, including a role at the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

illustrator capturing discussions visually in real time

Illustrators captured the sprint workshop discussions visually, and in real time.

The outcomes and impact

The Sprint generated 13 ‘big ideas’ to boost housing supply, plus a broad range of ‘quick wins’. The ideas included:

  • better use of data to pinpoint housing need
  • new sources of finance
  • ways to reinvigorate the public sector provision
  • flexible home types and tenures
  • initiatives to mobilise local support for homebuilding
  • ways to release more land


Building on this meeting, industry leaders planned to share their ideas at upcoming conferences and publish their findings on both a dedicated incubator website and in an official Oxford Said publication.

The objective was to provide actionable recommendations that can be directly adopted by government policy makers.

Traditional policymaking and innovation are often slowed and hampered by organisational inertia or entrenched perspectives. Our method effectively breaks through those barriers in a matter of days.

Andrew Baum

Professor of Practice, Future of Real Estate Initiative, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford