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April 12, 2022

Our first Evidence + Skill Sprints: what we’ve learned and who from

In March 2022 the we launched the third iteration of the What Works Community Impact Accelerator. This year, we wanted to build on what we’ve learned from our 2020 and 2021 Accelerators, where our local partners told us they would benefit from focussing specific issues in shorter and more accessible formats, and experiment with new ways of taking the best available evidence and helping homelessness practitioners apply it to their specific local context.

What’s a ‘Sprint’ anyway?

The principles and approaches of human-centred design, pioneered by our partner IDEO, is part of the Centre’s DNA. A ‘Sprint’ is a process that uses design thinking to make fast progress on new ideas in an intensive, facilitated experience, and seemed a perfect way to work rapidly to turn insights from evidence into plans for action for people working in local authorities across the country. 

Using ‘Sprints’ to accelerate local homelessness efforts

Our recent Evidence and Skills Sprints, which ran over Spring 2022, offered leaders at all levels in housing and homelessness the opportunity to join fellow practitioners in three week long deep-dives on key skill and evidence areas to build their capacity to use evidence and data to deliver impact. As with all of our implementation work, sessions were free for local authorities to attend.

The sprints were delivered online using MS Teams. We used Miro, a great online whiteboard and visual collaboration tool, to facilitate exercises and capture conversations. 

Two of our Sprints focussed on the evidence in specific key issues of homelessness:

  • The evidence about what works (and what doesn’t) to support people leaving prison into accommodation, in which participants were supported to produce an action plan with clear next steps towards ending homelessness for this group of people.
  • The evidence behind different interventions for people using substances, in which participants started to develop a plan to design and deliver a mix of effective, evidence backed services that people need, when they need them.

We also delivered a Skills Sprint which focussed on building capacity and confidence to use data to deliver impact: 

  • What data is and some of the key ways homelessness data is collected in the UK, how it can be put into a framework and used to build a more data-led approach to solving homelessness in the participants' local area. 

This was our first time delivering content this way as we sought to be experimental and to learn by doing. 

Just three of the things we learnt were…

Not making assumptions about the challenges of accessibility of technology. This sounds simple but when delivering content remotely and online, it’s safest to assume the worst-case scenario and be nicely surprised rather than finding things out the other way around about how people, through different firewalls, licensing systems etc, can and will access software and tech. 

The tension between the time needed to digest complex concepts, and how time-constrained people at local authorities are was also apparent. Overwhelmingly the feedback we have received from people doing the three week long courses, which generally were 2hrs of session per week, with 30 mins of activity needing done between them, was that this was the right amount of time to spend together. However you can’t overestimate how much you can cover in that amount of time. Especially when dealing with such complex issues, for example the use of supervised consumption facilities and complexities surrounding them, a lot of time needs to be spent on exploration and leaving space for participants to share learning with each other.

And last but not least, simply that to successfully embed evidence based practice, you need to have the right people in the room and they need to have the authority to make changes.  Embedding evidence based practice is a long process and, hopefully, the Sprints can act as a springboard for that.

Over the course of the two months we delivered the Sprints in, we were delighted to work with participants from:

Aberdeen City
East Ayrshire
North Norfolk
Blaenau Gwent
South Norfolk and Broadlands
Newport (Wales)
Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole
Norfolk County Council
Rhondda Cynon Taf 

To stay up to date with what’s on offer in the What Works Community and to be first in the line, fill out this short form and be at the front of the queue to work with us in applying the what works approach to your local homelessness issues.

If you have any questions about the What Works Community, email eilidh@homelessnessimpact.org.

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