Setting sail in foggy conditions can make for a rough voyage – and we’ve certainly had our fair share of these since we launched the Centre for Homelessness Impact.
We created the Centre in 2018 to help accelerate progress towards ending homelessness through better use of data and evidence. We work hard to enable people working in homelessness to achieve breakthrough results, to ultimately create a society where homelessness is prevented whenever possible and, where it cannot be prevented, it is a rare, brief and non-recurring experience.
Our values lay the foundation for everything we do, and play out in the make up of our team, how we work with others, how we conduct research, how we support and challenge our partners, and how we reflect on our own learnings as we mature as an organisation.
People and partner organisations often ask me how we built the Centre’s ‘what works’ culture. In the early years, I would give a vague answer. Then, about three years ago, we decided we really should put our values in writing.
The result was six person-centred values, that distil what makes our workplace tick:
Keep it clear
We use data and evidence to affect change in a complex system. For this to be useful, our work must be clear, usable and person-centred. We focus on concrete examples of what works to end homelessness, and make explicit the gaps that exist in the evidence.
Make others successful
We work to enable others to end homelessness through applying evidence and building learning cultures. We are collaborative and have the right mix of skills and experience to support each other to work towards our mission.
Ask the hard questions
The path to ending homelessness is not straightforward, and we know we don’t have all the answers. We seek diverse perspectives that help us challenge our assumptions, disrupt our thinking, and reflect on our learning. This means asking hard but important questions early and often but doing so from a supportive place.
Focus on impact
Being outcomes-driven helps us respond to change and prioritise actions that are most likely to help us collectively move faster towards the ultimate goal of ending homelessness for good. With a ‘what works’ approach underpinning our mission, we aren’t afraid to stop doing things if they don’t have an impact.
It can be surprisingly hard to distinguish between what is plausible and what is true, so it is vital to stay humble and take ownership. Humility is at the heart of the ‘what works’ approach – ‘in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few’ – and it means acting promptly on the best knowledge available, while doubting what you know.
Generating evidence of what works to end homelessness is not an end in itself - improving the lives of people at risk or affected by homelessness is what matters. So we learn and adapt as we go, and support others in the homelessness system to do the same. This value is also about shortening the distance between talking about an idea and taking action or doing. We believe that the only way to assess the merit of an idea is by bringing them to life, by turning it into something more concrete, and testing them. It also helps to tell people that what you’re doing is an experiment – that way it doesn’t seem to precious that they can’t give you honest feedback. Also, asking for help will help clarify what would be most useful and invites others to build on your idea.
Fog is always present at CHI. It's a metaphor they use at IDEO, a design consultancy where I did a secondment when I was working on the feasibility study that led to the creation of the Centre. It refers to those iffy moments when a project team doesn’t know where they’re headed. Sometimes the cloudiness is caused by the simple fact that we’re ultimately trying to answer a big, abstract question, i.e. “How can we end homelessness for good in the UK?” Sometimes the uncertainty arises from the competing needs of the people we exist to serve – especially when they’re just one part of a complex system, from a government department or administration to a housing department in a local authority.
But I've come to believe that embracing ambiguity is an essential part of the creative process, or you will inevitably be unable to answer old problems in new ways. I've come to understand that if you've set your sights on taking a field like homelessness from good to great, you need to be okay with not knowing where you'll end up before you start. Being aware of this means saying to your team: fog was in the forecast - stay focused, work together and be kind. And ur final destination will soon come into sight.
Do you share similar values with us? If so, we encourage you to sign our pledge to End It With Evidence or browse our current vacancies.
Dr Lígia Teixeira is Chief Executive of the Centre for Homelessness Impact
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