April 3, 2019

Putting people first: building a common vision for a new national data system for street homelessness in Scotland

Dave Russell

When the Scottish Government asked us to undertake an options appraisal for a new national data and monitoring system to support its aim to end rough sleeping in Scotland we wanted to put people first.

Typical approaches to this kind of work might look like a literature review of pre-existing systems and researching current data collection activities. But the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group suggested the Scottish Government work with us to ensure the needs of end users came first. Our advisory group also told us that ease of use and a shared vision would be core to the success of a new data and monitoring system.

We wanted to find out how to make options fit in with current working practices – meaning we had to understand points of interaction in depth, at all levels. But we also knew that fundamentally the system needs to be useable for it to be useful – which is why practical considerations and technical questions around usability framed some of our research.

We also knew that for the system to be successful there needs to be a shared understanding of the added value it brings. How could the system ease some friction that people face in their day-to-day work? How might it help them to get better outcomes for people experiencing homelessness?


This video was shot with Glasgow City Council where we learned from people working at all levels to inform the options appraisal.

We engaged with people working in planning, commissioning and the provision of services (both statutory and non-statutory), outreach workers and people with lived experience. The focus of our questions ranged from practical to structural, to aspirational.

This is just a little of what we heard:

In many areas across Scotland, there has been a push towards closer collaboration across silos, and between different agencies working towards the same goal of supporting people affected by homelessness – from informal interagency case management meetings to value-driven public service partnerships. There’s an opportunity for the new system to help scale some of the good work that’s already happening. However, we also heard that more needs to be done to bridge the gap between work done by third sector organisations and statutory services.

We learned that there's an opportunity for the system to encourage a shift in attitudes towards data. It has historically been used as a means of managing performance – to account for ‘work done’ rather than ‘outcomes achieved’. If the system is to create meaningful impact, we heard that we should reframe the role of data as something to be learned from and responded to, not simply for setting targets.

There’s also a clear opportunity for the data collection system to allow the voice of the user to come through in the data collection. Collecting ‘soft’ data around personal objectives like social connectedness or maintaining routines – as well as statistical and administrative data – could be an empowering way of directly engaging people with the data collection and giving them a greater sense of control over their journey out of homelessness.

These insights, among others, helped us determine not just how to create options that fit into current working practices but also build a picture of how the system could support stakeholders’ priorities and capacity going forward.


Throughout our engagement, we collected insights about how things are today and how they could be in the future. Asking questions that were granular in scope gave us a baseline from which to think about the technical properties required for a new system and our wide-ranging questions revealed the bigger picture: a vision for a data and monitoring system that will support the Scottish Government’s commitment to end rough sleeping and homelessness.  

The options appraisal phase of this longer-term project will conclude in the Spring, after which the Scottish Government will work with partners to scope out the next steps. We recently had a really productive meeting with this projects advisory panel and we will publish another post about the outcomes of that soon. 

Please get in touch if you’d like to know more at

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