July 20, 2020

Impact Festival: a summary of our first week

Hannah Green

The first week of our Impact Festival included a total of 13 events, with 32 different speakers. Week one focused on the ‘S’ of our SHARE framework; designing smart policies and programmes. 

We kicked the week off with Leading Economist and Author, John Kay who spoke about his two books, ’Obliquity’ and ‘Radical Uncertainty’ . John discussed the art of decision-making in a currently very uncertain world, and how our goals to end homelessness are best achieved indirectly.

Following this, we heard a fascinating discussion around ‘What Doesn’t Work’. We heard from Gabriel Imevbore, Trustee of the YMCA in Birmingham, Stan Burridge of Expert Focus, Viki Fox, Trustee of Crisis, and Project Manager & Hotel to PRS co-ordinator at Cyrenians. They all powerfully shared their own experiences of homelessness,  and reflections on effective partnerships, strength-based services and service use empowerment. Here are the key take-away points from the session;

  • Before we try to move forward, we have to push having more conversations and involving people with lived experience
  • You can make the biggest difference by caring about and responding to an individuals needs, rather than using one generic approach
  • The homelessness sector can’t end homelessness on its own 

Tuesday’s session on ‘How to Make Government Smarter’ was chaired by Sarah Davidson, CEO Carnegie Trust, and saw Geoff Mulgan, ex CEO Nesta and Stephen Aldridge, Director of Analysis, speaking about the importance of policy makers engaging with local authorities, communities and academics. One of Geoff's key points was the need for real-time shared learning for every aspect of homelessness in the near future, along with experimentation at scale and in real time so we can learn from data. Stephen agreed with this, and stressed the importance of  governments doing the right thing at the right time thus improving economic and social wellbeing, for populations. 

Governments have many tough issues to deal with, at both local and national levels and he talked us through what the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is doing to improve decision making. Their focus on improving access to data and evidence whilst also concentrating on outcomes, is essential for this.

Leaving that session, two points stuck out. Firstly, we shouldn’t underestimate the ability of crises to drive change, and secondly, we don’t know that much about the world, but that can’t stop us from making decisions. This means we have to make the most of the evidence we already have, as we continually strive for better. 

On Tuesday, we brought together policy makers from Wales and Scotland, and individuals with lived experience of homelessness in a session chaired by Jon Sparkes, CEO Crisis. Paul Atherton spoke powerfully about the importance of seeing housing as a human right, and Catriona Mackean explored the power of partnerships in getting people into accommodation that worked for them in Scotland. Emma Williams, Head of Housing Policy & Regulation at the Welsh Government, gave us the Welsh perspective.

We then heard from David Halpern, the What Works National Advisor and Director of the Behavioural Insights Team, on the use of empirical methods to enhance responses to the COVID-19 pandemic now and in the future. He stressed the value of testing, because many  of the best ideas  may not work in practice. 

On Wednesday afternoon Dr Alina Turner, CEO of HelpSeeker, chaired a session on ‘ Leveraging Social Innovation & Technology to Prevent and End Homelessness’ with Steff Jones, VP of Innovation at Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and Jaime Rogers, manager for Homeless and Housing Development at Medicine Hat Community Housing Society. Some of the discussion focused on why service users don’t engage with services, and why we should be redesigning systems for users, because ‘if they hate it, then what's the point?’ 

The pandemic has exposed the stark inequalities, but it has also shown the possibilities, things so many people didn’t think we could do, we have done’ - Dr Alina Turner

We were treated to first-hand insights from the Minister for Housing and Local Government Julie James MS, into the Welsh Government's response to the pandemic, along with a personal and inspiring story from Adel from Crisis in Swansea. After hearing Adel’s story the Minister stressed the significance of providing people with help, no matter where they are from and without passing them ‘from pillar to post’ 

Katie Dalton, Director of Cymorth Cymru, also joined this session and told us about the push towards charities remodeling their services so they are oriented towards getting people off the streets, without asking questions. 

What we can learn from the armed forces during a pandemic was the topic of conversation on Thursday, with Nan Roman, CEO of the Alliance to End Homelessness and Christopher Brannigan of Policy Exchange. One focus was cross-sector collaboration,in order to gain new perspectives on problems we are facing. The message I left the session with was; ‘If you can’t explain it to the guy down the pub, then people won’t understand it’.   The simplicity of instructions is key.

For the final day of our first week, we heard about homelessness as a UN sustainable development goal by 2030, which was chaired by Lydia Stazen, the Executive Director of the Institute of Global Homelessness (IGH),  and also included Indu Prakash Singh, the leader of Urban Knowledge Activist Hub and the vital lived experience voice of Liz Madden, who is an advocate for lived experience voices at the IGH. They looked at their ambition to include homelessness as a UN sustainable development goal in 2030, and the power that people hold in creating change. 

'Nothing will ever change, unless YOU do something, we all have to be the person who takes responsibility. As people we have a lot of power, we can create change' - Liz Madden 

The final session of the week was run in partnership with the Harvard Kennedy School - Evidence for Policy Design with Charlotte Tuminelli, the Senior Training Manager, and Ammar Malik, the Director of Research. We were given an insight into their international development work and were able to explore how this is also relevant in homelessness. They talked us through their Smart Policy Design and Implementation (SPDI) framework and applied it to real world examples.

'Humility and admitting we need to make changes is really important’

Thank you to everyone who joined us for week one of our Impact Festival. All of the videos from this week's sessions will be made available on the website. 

You can sign up for all of the events taking place in week two, which focuses on Housing system: building a housing system that leaves no one behind, here.

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