Making Progress in Housing: A framework for collaborative research

This book presents a new approach to housing research, one that is relevant to all the social sciences.

Housing research is diverse and operates across many disciplines, approaches and methods making collaboration difficult. This book outlines a methodological framework that enables researchers from many different fields to collaborate in solving complex and seemingly intractable housing problems. It shows how we can make progress in housing research and deliver better housing outcomes through an integrated approach.

Drawing on the work of renowned Canadian methodologist, philosopher, theologian and economist, Bernard Lonergan (1904–1984), the book outlines a framework for collaborative research: Functional Collaboration. This new form of collaboration divides up the work of housing research into functional specialties.

These functional specialties distinguish eight inter-related questions that arise in the process of moving from the current housing situation through to providing practical advice to decision-makers. To answer each question a different method is required. Making progress in housing is the result of finding new answers to this complete set of eight inter-related questions.

This approach to collaboration opens up a new discourse on method in housing and social research as well as new debates on progress and the nature of science.

Making Progress in Housing: A framework for collaborative research by Sean McNelis, Routledge, London and New York (2014) 288 pages – available in hardback, paperback and ebook:

  • a new approach to housing research relevant to all the social sciences
  • a methodological framework that facilitates interdisciplinary research
  • science as a complete set of eight inter-related questions

This book presents a new approach to housing research, one that is relevant to all the social sciences.

Extracts from Making Progress in Housing: A framework for collaborative research


Routledge preview (includes Preface and Introduction)

Michael Oxley (2015) Book Review: Making Progress in Housing: A Framework for Collaborative Research, Housing Studies, 30(6), p.990-992

This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking book about fundamental methods in housing research. Sean McNelis argues that current housing research is flawed and requires radical transformation if it is to provide practical and innovative advice to decision-makers.

Given that it is very rare to set out comprehensive methodological critiques in housing studies, the book will interest all housing researchers who take methodology seriously. It will be of value to researchers engaged in national, and particularly international, comparative housing research projects, where research questions demand that new forms of collaboration are an essential prerequisite to meaningful policy analysis and prescription.

Michael Shute (2015) Review of Sean McNelis, “Making Progress in Housing”, Journal of Macrodynamic Analysis, Volume 8, pp.117-20

by asking two simple questions McNelis unveils both the confusion and fragmentation around the study of the provision of housing as well as the honest efforts of housing researchers and policy-makers to figure it out. What he adds to the discussion is a carefully rendered programmatic sketch of how the method of functional collaboration can order the quest to understand and develop better housing.

There are many highlights in this book: the treatment of each specialty, the subtlety with which each specialty is linked to the others, the clear appreciation of the shortcoming of our common sense and the need for a systematic approach, the integration of the structure of the good and the scale of values into the account of functional collaboration, the pervasive appreciation by the author of the dynamic and historical nature of both housing and human collaboration in housing, and a full-bore, level-headed acceptance of the obstacles of the biases and the need for recovery. For students of Lonergan’s method, it is a terrific exploration of how Lonergan’s achievement can be implemented in social science research. What I really hope, however, is that housing researchers take this book seriously. It is a foundational document in housing research that has the potential to establish a significantly better culture of housing research. Then we can truly dream of better and affordable shelter for everyone.

Chris S Friel (2020) Review of Sean McNelis, Making Progress in Housing: A Framework for Collaborative Research, The Heythrop Journal, Volume 61, Issue 5, pp.885-886 (see also


Making Progress in Housing is a surprising response to an important challenge. The challenge concerns the state of housing research, and the response is inspired by Bernard Lonergan’s methodology devised initially to promote ongoing collaboration in theology. Sean McNelis does an excellent job in showing that Lonergan’s method can “contribute to the building of a new home for housing research.”

I would encourage those interested in this area (or the implementation of Lonergan’s work in other areas) to persevere with Making Progress. I found this slightly dense and busy book quite difficult at first, but I was ultimately rewarded by receiving a glimpse of the visionary future that functional collaboration can build