October 3, 2019

Launching our What Works Community pilot designed to help Local Authorities

Eilidh Morrissey

Large numbers of people are affected by homelessness. Shelter estimates that more than 300,000 people are experiencing homelessness across Britain. Although this number is contested, what is certain is that homelessness devastates lives. It is also systemic, stubborn, and cyclical. 

At a local level, it is the responsibility of local authorities (LA’s) to respond to and tackle homelessness. We know that across the UK they are working very hard to support those most in need. Yet they face significant challenges: 

  • limited resources and having to do more with less, 
  • a lack of breathing space for longer-term, strategic thinking due to constant firefighting,
  • driving forward new modes of leadership within complex public networks and organisations.

While there is no magic formula for ending homelessness, we know that better use of data and evidence can help address all of them, and that growing capacity within LAs will help them achieve better results.

As a first step to address the urgent need for lasting reductions in homelessness at a local level, the Centre for Homelessness Impact (CHI) has invited three Local Authorities (LAs) to participate in an 8-month ‘What Works Community’ pilot. The three councils, East Ayrshire Council in Scotland, Pembrokeshire Council in Wales and Southend-On-Sea Borough Council in England will be helped to improve their use of evidence and data to achieve breakthrough results. 

Councillor Elena Whitham, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Housing and Communities at East Ayrshire Council, said:

“East Ayrshire Council is delighted to be working with the Centre for Homelessness Impact on this What Works Community pilot to explore the private sector as a sustainable and accessible housing option for people experiencing homelessness.

“The pilot will help East Ayrshire to achieve its rapid rehousing vision on early intervention and prevention to eradicate homelessness, exploring all tenures to ensure a settled housing option is reached for someone as quickly as possible and reducing any time spent in temporary accommodation.”

Cllr. Michelle Bateman, Cabinet Member for Housing, Pembrokeshire Council, said: 

“Pembrokeshire County Council is thrilled to be taking part in this innovative pilot in collaboration with the Centre for Homelessness Impact and contributing to a Community of Practice. One of our priorities is supporting people into the private sector, so we'll look to build capacity for the use of evidence and data not just to see more sustainable reductions in homelessness, but more broadly to sustaining tenancies across all tenures.”

Cllr Ian Gilbert, leader of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, said: 

“In Southend, we are really honest about the need to improve the housing available for many people in our borough and have committed to doing this in our Southend 2050 ambition. This is an opportunity for us to find new ways of working and new relationships to help people sustain tenancies in the private sector. It is one of a range of measures we are pursuing to reduce homelessness in the town, sitting alongside our efforts to acquire and build more genuinely affordable housing.”

Dr Ligia Teixeira, CEO of the Centre for Homelessness Impact responded: 

“The needs of local authorities are as varied as the communities they represent and we’re excited to be working with three councils who bring unique challenges to the table. What they all have in common is their commitment to improving the lives of their citizens and an understanding that making more effective use of data and evidence can aid them in their goals. 

“They have difficult jobs to do, but we want to make them easier by helping them to be more effective. That’s why we’re excited to be partnering with some of the world’s experts in behavioural science, evaluation, data science and design to give LAs the tools required to increase their capacity to tackle a multitude of challenges and deliver innovative solutions.” 

The three LA’s have been set an ‘evidence accelerator’ challenge: to increase the duration and number of successful tenancies in the private rental market to people who are homeless or at risk. To help them respond to the challenge, we have brought together experts from CHI, Johns Hopkins University, the Behavioural Insights Team, and IDEO with deep knowledge of data science and capacity building, behavioural science, evaluation, and design, to share their skills and give LAs the ability to respond with new skills and capabilities. 

The Centre for Homelessness Impact, a member of the What Works Network, champions the creation and use of better evidence for a world without homelessness. Their mission is to improve the lives of those experiencing homelessness by acting as a catalyst for evidence-led change to enable breakthrough results. 

Johns Hopkins University’s Centers for Civic Impact’s mission is to help governments use data to make informed decisions and improve people’s quality of life. They will provide customised guidance on how to improve infrastructure and data practices and strengthen capabilities on data quality and analysis.

The Behavioural Insights Team works to generate and apply behavioural insights to inform policy, improve public services and deliver results for citizens and society. BIT works in partnership with governments, local authorities, businesses and charities, often using simple changes to tackle major policy problems.

IDEO is a global design company that creates positive impact through human-centred design. They will help the LA’s to apply human-centred and design-based approaches, equipping them with the tools and mindsets necessary for creative confidence and the delivery of innovative solutions.

Over a series of touchpoints including residentials, workshops, data surveys and analysis and trial sketching, this pilot programme intends to support local areas to see more sustainable reductions in homelessness through:

  • becoming evidence and data driven,
  • more effectively prioritising resources and efforts,
  • embracing a culture of collaboration and continuous learning,
  • nurturing strong, visionary leaders to collaborate across silos.

At the end of the pilot the three LA teams will pitch their solutions, share their experiences and plan with leadership and others to operationalise their initiative. 

Throughout the programme we will co-develop material to inform open-access tools and pioneer a new way of collaborative, data-driven and person-centred working: building the wider What Works Community of practice. This will encourage a learning culture at scale and build a community to facilitate learning between areas. CHI intends to nurture ideas from that community and build a pipeline of locally-designed trials that everyone will benefit from. Longer-term, CHI will explore other themes with more areas in order to build knowledge of what works and capacity for using evidence and data at scale. 

If you would like to know more about plans for the pilot or wider Community of Practice, please email

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