Radical collaboration to achieve lasting change
The What Works Community provides unparalleled expertise, technical assistance, and peer connections to equip local authority leaders with the tools and techniques needed to tackle their toughest homelessness challenges.
Spanning the fields of behavioural insights, design thinking and data-informed decision making, the programme supports local authorities to develop a culture of continuous innovation, and enhance their ability to use evidence and data to tackle homelessness by focusing on ‘what works’.
At the core of our What Works Community programme is the belief that learning from different fields is essential to provide us with the skills and expertise we need to challenge the most pressing real-world problems. Ending homelessness for good demands collaboration across organisations and disciplines and the rapid sharing of knowledge in pursuit of what works.
To celebrate the end of this year’s What Works Community programme we invited Lizzie Hodgson to share her thoughts on the imperative of putting collaboration at the heart of our efforts to end homelessness.
Collaboration is key to finding solutions to problems we face in the workplace. Outside of work we constantly encounter different people and perspectives, but at work we tend to function in narrow tracks. Understandably, we need to stay focused on our tasks and responsibilities, and the structures and methodologies we operate in are years, or even decades, in the making. But breaking free of such structures is essential to affect change, and that can often prove incredibly difficult.
Engaging with change often means feeling out of control and admitting that how things are currently done isn't the best way to do them. Embracing uncertainty and accepting failure are not behaviours we’re naturally inclined towards, but failing to do so can suffocate any spark of progression or problem solving, leading to inertia in the long term.
In physics, inertia is when matter continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless that state is changed by an external force. But inertia isn't just in physics, it can occur everywhere in life. We humans often stay in the same state unless acted upon by an external force, either positive or negative, and sometimes we’re in desperate need of an external force to push us onto a different track.
So how do we kickstart that external force on our own? How do we disrupt negative inertia to tackle the big challenges that stare us in the face? How do we change our approaches when things just aren’t working? How do we harness change to solve problems such as homelessness?
The Centre for Homelessness Impact and the participants in the What Works Community are already starting to answer some of those questions and discovering that the answer is both simple and extremely difficult. It requires a shift in mindset, an ability to get out of a comfort zone, and the desire to throw out the rule book – for a short while at least.
Organisations are rarely keen to dispense with a rule book, and local authorities (LAs) are no exception. Within LAs there are structures and procedures that have to be followed while delivering projects against a backdrop of budget cuts and under constant scrutiny. These pressures are seen as immovable objects, but they needn’t be. What if we were to create the space and potential for real, radical change? What might happen if a user experience expert, a data scientist, an artist, a policy lead and a person with lived experience of homelessness were to get together for one day and asked to propose solutions to ending homelessness. What ideas could be sparked by breaking out of the status quo? This is how we begin to find radical solutions.
Of course this is easier said than done. Just doing things differently in the workplace won’t lead to change unless you have buy-in from your leaders. More than anything, a collaborative and fearless approach means that leaders need to create the foundations for people to ignite ideas and collaborations... and then get out of the way. It’s the job of good leaders to nurture the environment where friction can thrive in a safe framework.
We live in extraordinary times. Our world is made up of the most educated, technologically-advanced generations in human history. We also live in a complex age, with deep-rooted institutional and socio-economic structural challenges. We have biases, inequality, division. But every day we see people igniting and demanding change and coming up with new ideas and solutions that governments react to with new laws and policy. The same ought to be true of homelessness.
Ending and preventing homelessness isn’t going to be a light-switch moment, but equally, it cannot be a pipe-dream. It will take collaboration, innovation, imagination and political will. It will take money, fortitude, and vision. It will demand reform and legislation. It will take resolve, tenacity and creativity, but we can disrupt the inertia. And we can start today.
Lizzie Hodgson is a consultant and strategist to global corporations, governments, companies, public sector organisations and charities to help them identify purpose, vision, and solutions.