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December 21, 2023

Smart government in homelessness: How a new programme aims to elevate responses and accelerate scaling of innovation

Dr Lígia Teixeira

By Lígia Teixeira

In the current dynamic global landscape and the particularly demanding context of homelessness following the Covid-19 pandemic, progress and growth hinge on our ability to innovate effectively.

Recognising the importance of fostering innovation and evidence-based decision-making, especially given the pressure from high inflation on living standards and constrained public spending, the government introduced a groundbreaking programme that aims to improve our understanding of how the homelessness and rough sleeping system works in England, and to scale innovation and existing practices through strategic investments and rigorous evaluation.

The £15 million ‘Test & Learn and Systems’ initiative, not only promises to create a new evidence base for resource allocation but also holds the potential to transform the impact of investments in homelessness, just like similar programmes have done in fields such as education and international development.

Within the testing strand of the programme, 80% of the money will fund interventions and services not currently taking place in the homelessness sector in England or which are too small to be tested. Most of the cost will fund these interventions, with a much smaller proportion to cover the cost of impact evaluations. A further 11% of the sum will fund impact evaluations of interventions already in use that have not yet been rigorously tested.

By investing in services alongside rigorous evaluation, the initiative enables innovative ideas and practices to be scaled up effectively. The majority of the funding will enable local areas across England to try out new things, in areas such as personalised budgets, employment and effective volunteering to support people affected by rough sleeping and other forms of homelessness. It will provide the necessary support and resources to test those new services and the mechanism to scale any that prove effective.

The initiative, which is funded by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, will also support evidence-based decision-making by rigorously evaluating the impact of existing services. Notably, a systems evaluation will examine the overall impact of existing government investments in England, both the main programmes such as the Homelessness Prevention Grant and the Rough Sleepers Initiative, as well as those led by Heath and DWP. The hope is that even greater clarity about what’s working or not about the current homelessness and rough sleeping system will be instrumental in nurturing a learning system that continually strives to make better choices about resource allocation, ensuring that taxpayer’s money is allocated to initiatives with proven effectiveness and impact.

Another benefit of the initiative is that it will facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing across local areas. By bringing together local leaders, innovators, and researchers across local areas, it will further nurture a culture of continuous improvement.

In the field of education, similar programmes have transformed teaching methods in English schools. By investing in innovative educational practices, such as learning toolkits and student-centric approaches, these programmes have improved academic performance. Rigorous evaluations provided evidence of the effectiveness of these interventions, influencing educational policies to embrace more evidence-led approaches..

As we embark on this groundbreaking journey, the success of the initiative relies on collective effort. The size of this programme will enable eight service models and interventions to be introduced at scale and evaluated. Generating a robust evidence base for each of these should enable better decision making, achieve greater value for money and, most importantly, improve the lives of people who experience or are at risk of rough sleeping and other forms of homelessness. And, it should do something else, too: it should demonstrate the impact of this approach.  

By changing how we fund innovation over time, we provide the government with the evidence needed for informed decisions and much needed continued investment in homelessness. Let's shape a future where transformative ideas not only receive support but flourish, creating a ripple effect that positively impacts society at large. Reach out, learn more, and be a part of this transformative initiative. Together, we can redefine the homelessness and rough sleeping system in England and beyond.

Dr Lígia Teixeira is Chief Executive of the Centre for Homelessness Impact

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