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August 3, 2021

Using data and young people's lived experiences to 'design out' homelessness

Jean Templeton

Like lots of voluntary sector organisations, at St Basils in the West Midlands, we have very tiny margins. We have to make absolutely sure we are making the best possible use of the resources we have.

Our most valuable resource is our skilled colleagues doing person-to-person work with young people.

Three years ago, we changed our structure. As we grew, we had to consider, do we invest more in managerial/supervisory structures, or do we choose to invest more in our front-line contact with young people? It didn’t take long to reach the conclusion that the latter was what was important.

Our focus was then on how we empower those teams to provide a consistent, high-quality service making informed decisions. We chose a ‘franchise-style’ structure, removing layers of management and giving greater responsibility to our managers in the front line. 

We had invested in becoming a Psychologically Informed Environment (PIE) since 2011 which continues to underpin our structure and methods. We developed a ‘strategic doing’ approach with pillar and foundation strategies.

Critical to the empowerment of our community teams was to enable good performance through access to objective, real-time data and analysis so that people  have objective information at their fingertips about their service and others.

Our Performance Improvement Hub provides access to performance dashboards for every service, team, and young person on key agreed indicators of progression. This brings an additional dimension to discussions about outcomes and performance and enables self-assessment and learning from others. It is a key part of our Operational Support Service. 

Front-line teams can see what they’re doing well, where they’re struggling and talk to colleagues who may be achieving outcomes they’re struggling with and learn from each other.  

It enables us to move away from reliance on the anecdotal and the sometimes consuming presenting challenges. Feeling overwhelmed by a series of challenging issues, can lead to a belief that this is a trend (climate rather than weather). The additional perspective of the data enables us to review across services and consider whether it is indeed climate change, which needs addressing systemically, or some localised specific storm. 

It isn’t just about data, however. We all collect, collate, report using data. Often, it’s for the benefit of others: commissioners, regulators. This all important but can be seen as a chore by those who have to gather it. On its own, data may be ignored, or may prompt a defensive reaction. We blend this information by weaving in young people’s lived experience.

Last year 3,860 young people sought our assistance and 1,028 lived with us during the year. The knowledge and experience young people have of their context and our services is absolutely critical to us.

Our Youth Voice members recently consulted with young people across our services about what is important to them and co-developed 12 Youth Standards which were taken through our governance structures by Youth Voice members and have been fully adopted. Young people and colleagues now have clarity as to what we will be accountable for to young people and our Board.  These standards are visible and promoted in every service area. 

Number one says: ‘Communicate expectations, rights, responsibilities and co-develop house rules with young people.’ If you develop them jointly you are much more likely to have ownership and adherence to them. 

Number six says: ‘Be friendly, approachable, and fun but keep boundaries clear and consistent.’ Those boundaries are as important to young people as they are to the organisation. 

Number nine says: ‘ Help young people achieve their dreams. Establish skills, set goals and lay out steps for the future so progression can be seen.’

Number eleven says: ‘Offer real opportunities for young people to be heard at all levels and represented on St Basils’ Board’

And number twelve says: ‘Actively encourage and embrace feedback to continually improve service delivery.’ We all have layers of expectations of standards through regulation, good practice, local commissioning, internal KPIs. All are important. 

For me though, these Youth Standards, developed by young people, provide the headlines of what is important for us to work together on; to be accountable for and to continually review, discuss, be honest about, and plan our improvement. 

When a young person comes in to any one of our services, they will see these 12 standards WRIT LARGE, telling them: this is what you should expect here. This is what you have every right to experience.

Our resident representatives will be able to discuss with managers: How are we doing on these? What do we need to do better on? What do we do really well on?They will tell our Youth Advisory Board who in turn will report to our main Board, which includes two elected young people.

In this way we weave evidence on our performance from the data with evidence from our young people’s lived experiences to provide that richer, truer picture. 

We are also privileged to facilitate national Youth Voice and national Youth Homeless Parliament, where young people use their lived experience to illustrate what works and what doesn’t and to contribute to better policy.

As independent Chair of the West Midlands Combined Authority Homelessness Taskforce, our ambition is to ‘design out homelessness’ in the West Midlands. To achieve an end to homelessness requires intentional, perpetual prevention and a universal offer which keeps people included in our mainstream systems.

That’s why I’m so pleased to become an Ambassador to the End It With Evidence campaign run by the Centre for Homelessness Impact and I urge others to join the movement.

Jean Templeton is Chief Executive of St Basils, which works with young people in the West Midlands to enable them to find and keep a home, grow their confidence, develop their skills, increase opportunities and prevent homelessness.

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