“It’s not working for a lot of people”

At this month’s National Advisory Panel, people with lived experience of disadvantage discussed the limitations of current data collection in the homelessness sector, and how people’s voices are critical to improving outcomes.

The recent Kerslake Commission into homelessness and rough sleeping made the following recommendation relating to data collection within homelessness services:

There should be a national review of how an individual’s needs, strengths and aspirations are assessed and what data is collected. This should use an outcomes-based approach, and work with people with experience of homelessness, providers, and commissioners. This will ensure assessments and data collection have a clear purpose. This will be crucial in helping identify what action, support and resources are required to end rough sleeping, and enable successful outcomes to be measured by genuinely useful data.

The National Advisory Panel are passionate about the need for the system to adopt a trauma-informed and holistic approach to working alongside people experiencing homelessness. This requires organisations involved evaluating what they are doing; identifying what they are doing well and what needs to improve. Honest reflection can help all parts of the system improve and be the best it can be.

With Government and homelessness services having to consider the recommendation from the Kerslake Commission, here’s five things the Panel felt everyone involved will need to consider:

1. Remember why you are collecting data. Is it to blame people, tick boxes, or to help improve outcomes?

“It's nice to get good feedback. But actually, you need that constructive criticism, you know, like a pat on the back. But actually, you really need to know what we're not doing here. What are we getting wrong? You know, what, you know, why? Why is this not working for people? And, you know, all across the country, the way that services have delivered, the way services are working - it's not working for a lot of people.”

“The commissioners job is to spend money and exchange money for stats. So if the service gives them the right stats, they don't care that they don't necessarily care that the service is rubbish if the service has given them the right stats for them to report back up the line.”

“I think sometimes audits and inspections are just seen really negatively, and I think it's about trying to help somebody improve.”

2. People must be at the heart of everything. So are you collecting, numbers, stories or both?

“When I worked in learning disabilities and mental health, you'd get one announced inspection a year, and then one un-announced or somebody could just turn up any time. What they do is they just spend the day with you, and then just pick out files randomly. But the half of the day is just spent with the people who live in the accommodation, so they get a real feel for what support people get and things like that… Commissioners should be doing that.”

“There's just not enough talking to the people who live in our services”

3. When finding out about what a the system does well or could improve, remember that everyone has a voice, not just those who agree with you!

“If you asked a provider they would just give you the best [most positive] ones, you know, they're not going to give you any of the ones that’s a little bit negative. But it's about learning, isn't it? It's about learning, what worked, what didn't work? How can we help you do this? Because everybody's struggling at the moment.”

“Housing providers, they've got to show some sort of engagement with the beneficiaries. If you're a registered housing provider, you got to do that. But actually, what a lot of services do, and I found that when I when I was in a hostel, they cherry pick people and they're not prepared to go get feedback from the fucking pissed off angry people, because they don't want that on their stats.”

“[It’s] always the same people that get picked time and time and time and time again, to talk to people, same at [Service], it’s a trend going on. Because as you know, we're split into sides, the ones that will say this is actual shit, that they're doing this wrong… And it's not, it's not freedom of speech.”

4. There are challenges for people sharing their opinions. Recognise this and ensure everyone is fully supported.

“It's really, really important to get those voices that are saying this service is shit, it's really important to hear that. But I'd be very concerned about any person using services standing up for what they actually think of the services, if there wasn't a full team, and a plan B in case it all goes to shit, which it's very likely to do.”

“I'm currently in supporting accommodation, and my housing provider doesn't have a move on plan. And I've got that in writing. There's no way I'm challenging that. Because I don't want to lose my current accommodation. And that's with me knowing the law, knowing that I'd be absolutely fine. Knowing my rights or whatnot. But still, as a service user, if someone came to me and said, ‘Oh, what's it like living there?’ ‘Yes. All right. It's not too bad, you know?’ Because it's such a risk. You're potentially talking about going back to being homeless, you're potentially talking about a very traumatic time again. And so as much as I'm all for, including, you know, people who are living in hostels, people who are living in supported accommodation, I think the protection that needs to be there needs to be incredibly high. And the support needs to be incredibly spot on.”

“I can't go to that meeting, speak to [Government department] and really tell them what I think, when my commissioning manager is sat in front of me, Head to Services beside me, because essentially, it could affect [things] especially when our tenders up… You're effectively going to jeopardize that, but you're also going to affect relationships with other partners, that potentially may shut you out of the meetings that you need to be in to have a positive influence and make change.”

5. Really think about what the data you’re collecting is actually telling you?

“People have moved on, and then it's looked at as a positive move on, but we need to be able to speak to those people! Because if you looked at like six months, or three months down the line when they've moved on - are they still in that same accommodation? Have they gone back into the hostel route again?...  So it's about being able to really dig deep; what choices did they have? How are they? Are they genuinely a positive move on? Because I doubt that the majority are, you know.”

“It's all the questions and the answers that organizations local authorities want. Like, we're almost dictating what the conversation has to be – ‘these are the 10 questions that we want you to answer.’ It's weak, you know, we [a service] can say we've sat down, we can tick a box, we can say we've done co-production, because we've sat down with this many people and you know, got the feedback.”

“Secret shopper reports…, they've got to be really positive and not scare services too much. But at the same time, there's a real interesting dynamic there about how you actually get services to buy into it - if you're going to give them constructive feedback that then doesn't make them look bad.”

What advice would we give…

So how can we get data about the system that will improve it for people?

1. Consider different approaches to getting and using information, whether critical or constructive

“You have to have something somewhere just going absolutely for it and just criticizing heavily. And that then opens up the conversation to be had with more moderate, you know, those kind of organizations that can make a big difference. But I think without that driving force somewhere, unless you're willing to challenge it, you won't change anything. You just continually dance around the edges.”

2. It’s not just the numbers – case studies are crucial!

“The focus was stats. And I actually did turn around and say, you know, during that meeting, let's refocus this because when you're asking why this many people are not in treatment, or this many people have not gone into accommodation, we actually need to look at whether the offers right? What's the reason for someone not wanting to go into treatment? And let's look at it like that, you know, someone's got accommodation, but that might not be the priority? And that's not the question, ‘What is this person's priority? And what are we doing to support them to achieve that?’ I think, case studies are a lot better.”

3. Fully involve people with lived experience

“I think one possible way of improving things, which doesn't create that, “I want to hire somebody who's going to say nice things about me” approach, is to require or at least encourage organizations to get some sort of internal reviews. At some NGOs, I'm still on the client advisory board, and we look at particular areas, we give feedback. And some of that is going to be acted on. So that's one approach.”

“Ask an organisation with people with lived experience to come in and undertake reviews. And for that organisation to say, this is an internal document, and we're prepared for honest and supportive criticism. That's probably an easier way for the organisation to deal with, than to simply say, ‘here's an external report that's going to get published,’ because then they're going to be less willing to face the bad news, especially with their funders.”

Use different approaches, move beyond data, and fully involve people with lived experience. What would you recommend? We’d love to hear your wisdom!

If you are wanting some pointers on getting started with co-production, check out Expert Links videos here.

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