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June 27, 2018

Eilidh Morrissey

Creating our own Google Maps for homelessness

We know where the sector wants to be – making impactful decisions informed by reliable evidence.

But knowing where we’d like to be is not good enough. We need to be able to get there as efficiently as possible. To do that, we need to be able to reliably assess where we currently are.

But locating + assessing that evidence – and determining where the sector is – isn’t easy. You can start to feel lost quite quickly. Especially when the evidence can be scattered, inaccessible, and in some areas, doesn’t exist. In other words, we need a Google Maps for evidence on homelessness. Google Maps is a powerful tool.

You tell it where you are and where you’d like to be, and it quickly shows you the simplest route to get there. It allows you to move with purpose. No wasteful detours or time consuming back roads.

Our flagship Evidence Tools build the picture of where we are by allowing us to clearly see where high quality evidence does and doesn’t exist for homelessness interventions.

Using tools like these allows us to easily see A – the current state of evidence, and from there it is possible to chart the most efficient route to B – by making current evidence useful and actionable, highlighting what we know and the reliability of that evidence, and allowing us to easily identify the gaps in the evidence base that need to be filled.

Without a common understanding of the end goal and what needs to happen to reach it, there is a risk the existing momentum will not be enough to move the dial on homelessness. We’ve got a chance to make a real difference, but to realise our high ambitions, we’ve got to move with purpose, on the basis of the most reliable evidence available, towards our end goal.

We’ve offered our tools to the sector as a response to this immediate need. They are the first tools of their kind for the homelessness sector, and this is just their first iteration.

When Google Maps was first launched, the maps themselves were sparse. Lots of information and key functionalities were missing. At that point, it was also impossible to predict what a crucial part of our day to day lives they’d become.

Over time, with rigorous user testing, trials and updates, and with more nuanced systems of data collection, that changed. The information and the tool itself is constantly updated to ensure it is as accurate and practical as possible. This is the plan for our evidence tools for homelessness which we are now undertaking.

Image result for google maps 2005
Google Maps at its 2005 launch. It contained information about roads, streets, parks, and bodies of water.
Google Maps today. It contains information about roads and streets, parks, bodies of water, park paths, transport stations, transport times, businesses, landmarks, areas of interests, neighbourhoods, live traffic updates, multiple routes to the same location, integrated with websites, and has peer review functionality - and this is not an exhaustive list.

Our tools are open, and have been offered to you as a strategic launchpad to maximise your efforts to improve the lives of those affected by homelessness. We know that not all evidence is the same, which is why we’ve applied standards of evidence developed by our partner The Campbell Collaboration to each tool – you can trust us to do the legwork of filtering for you.

Now we’re putting them into practice with change-makers in local areas and in government. Their intended use is multifaceted; from a starting point to commission systematic reviews or trials in priority areas with little to no evidence, to using them to help guide investment decisions, to framing conversations about how best to achieve better results for people experiencing homelessness and help ensure we are collecting meaningful data.

We want our tools to be as populated and practical as possible. That’s where you can help. Use them, get to know them, and then let’s build them together. So we can all move with purpose towards a future without homelessness.

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