November 27, 2018

Don't design a system for people, without people

Dave Russell

To inform the options appraisal for a new Scottish data and monitoring system for rough sleeping, we spoke to people with lived experiences of homelessness in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness.

The publication of the Scottish Government’s Action Plan to tackle homelessness is a unique opportunity to set Scotland on a road to being a nation that ends homelessness for good. The options appraisal for a new data and monitoring system we are doing is part of this effort as it will enable us to understand progress towards the goal of ending street homelessness in Scotland in a sustainable manner.

Involving those who will be using the data system at every stage of the design process is crucial to developing this future looking system and is integral to the Centre’s approach. This is because we are all about marrying the heart and the head: we believe that to progress towards ending homelessness sustainably, we need to focus not just on outputs, but outcomes. We knew that co-creating a shared vision of success for the system was very important and therefore vital that any eventual options represented the user voice. And, who has greater expertise on what good outcomes look like than those who have first hand experience of homelessness?

We decided that an important first step was to ask people: how can a system that stores information about you make positive changes to your situation? This will help ensure that the options that we are co-designing with a range of stakeholders (local authorities, statutory and non-statutory service providers and people with lived experience) has the voice of users at its heart.

We partnered with Glasgow Homelessness Network to facilitate six focus group sessions in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness. We wanted to understand what a new monitoring and data system would look like for people to help us begin to imagine how it could accelerate progress towards meeting the goal of making homelessness rare, brief and non recurrent.

We met with around 60 people over the course of 6 user sessions, from a mix of backgrounds and experiences. Over the course of a couple of hours, we spent time hearing people’s stories — the circumstances that contributed to them losing their homes, their experiences of the homelessness system, and for a number of people who were no longer homeless, how they came out the other side.

The conversations focused on two main areas: how did people feel about their data being collected, shared and used in their support, and what were the points in their experience where sharing information with service providers has, or would have been useful?

What we heard

Feedback from participants who attended the focus groups was very useful. Here’s some key insights:

  • People experience assessment fatigue, particularly when having to retell their story. One man in Glasgow said,
“I don’t know how many times I have told my story to different workers, different loses its impact by the fifth and sixth time you’ve told it.”  
  • People are also aware that they need to cover certain details in order to receive services – “you’re saying to yourself, am I telling them the things they’re looking for?  Have I told them the important stuff, because I don’t know what they’re wanting here?”.
  • People fully expect that their data will be shared with relevant service agencies in order to receive services and there is an assumption that this already happens; someone told us,
“the information I want to be shared should go on a system, in one place - I appreciate multiple agencies need the information” and another person used the example, “if you get an x-ray in Glasgow, the doctor will be able to look at it in Edinburgh. It follows me”.
  • People want to see their progress and there are a number of indicators that signal their situation is improving – from concrete goals like tenancies to softer indicators like routines, relationships and mental health. People would like these to be included in the dialogue they have with services. One individual’s primary goal was to be able to fill out his own forms and paperwork, “to become more independent, get back to the way things used to be”.
  • People told us that in assessment situations e.g. with the Council, it can feel very pressured and judgemental. A woman in Glasgow suggested that being given the time and opportunity to write her story down once for future reference would be valuable,
“If somebody said ‘what you tell me just now is going on file and will be passed on to anyone that you want it to, so tell me what you think is important’ – I would want to be prepared for it and go into depth about why things happened, and what could have prevented it instead of just skipping it”
  • People feel the assessment process could be made easier by being asked the right questions in a low pressure environment “somewhere where there is no power dynamic (no suits and ties)”.
  • We heard a lot about people feeling ‘processed through the system’ and the difference that genuine, friendly interactions with workers can make. One man in Edinburgh told us,
“I need people to listen, not just hear. I need to feel like people are invested in me, not just getting spoken at”. Another said “you may as well be talking to a computer at the council”

These stories have meant that we can represent the needs and concerns of people experiencing homelessness as we develop options for this data collection system. In particular, the learnings from these focus groups have helped shape a set of principles – the things that need to be considered as the system is built so that it works for everyone involved.

What’s next?

We are now drafting up our options appraisal and the report will be ready soon. We’ll also be developing prototypes to test with people across the sector.

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