A homelessness example of service and systems design thinking.
Delivery Director Cat Drew was invited to be the Keynote speaker and close day one, at this year’s Service Design Global Conference, Madrid. Watch the full keynote here as Cat shares an example of service and systems design thinking, and collaboration at scale to tackle a growing problem of homelessness.
Cat began her session by asking who in the audience had done any work on homelessness. About 3% gave a show of hands.
The graph shows that homelessness is a big problem in England. In England last year local government had to provide housing to 56,000 homeless families and vulnerable people. An increase of 35% in the last 5 years.
Rough sleepers have increased by 135% in the last 5 years. In places like London 1 in 50 people are homeless, and it’s not going to get any better. Collectively in the UK about a quarter of a million people are homeless, and it’s predicted to go up to 400,000 by 2050.
Lack of social housing means people are being housed in temporary accommodation, and often of a poor standard. The very fact that it’s temporary prevents people from moving on with their lives and costs the government a lot of money.
The data is stark in England, and in other countries, but what’s starker is the stories. We at Uscreates, and Cat in her previous role in the Government’s Policy Lab have been doing lots of user research with homeless people in a variety of different situations and housing officers who are battling against sometimes impossible situations to support them. We’ve heard the most harrowing stories.
She remembers people like Ella (name changed to protect identity) (Listen to the full keynote here to learn more about the story of Ella .Or like Maggie, who works in local Government (name changed to protect identity).Listen to the full keynote here to learn more about Maggie’s story
Read more about the work we’ve been doing with five local councils on their Trailblazer Programmes.
What we at Uscreates and Policy Lab have learned was services are overwhelmed and there are many missed opportunities to spot people who are at risk much earlier. We found lots and lots of opportunity to redesign the local service. But that’s all well and good, however homelessness cannot be solved by just a really, really good government service. It’s incredibly complex, the back stories of all the people we spoke to showed us various different deep rooted causes, the data science revealed risk factors, and the many, many experts we spoke to pointed to big structural problems.
To find out more about the complexity listen to the full keynote.
It’s really important for service designers when working away in one part of the system to be able to understand what the rest of the system looks like, and help figure out where are the reinforcing loops.
The last three years led Cat to start mapping where design is at work across the system. The first she shares is the value of working at different levels of the system.
Listen to Cat discuss working at national and local government level and how Lewisham Council are redesigning the experience of going into the government housing office.
Listen to keynote to hear about how the redesign is transforming the staff, clients and service.
Solutions might not always reside within government level, sometimes they reside at community level. In one area, the local prevention hub is a cafe, where people informally get advice from their neighbours about eviction, benefits and housing. The question for us here is ‘how can we really support these community hubs to do the work we need them to do?’
If we’re going to prevent homelessness we need to start early on. Cat goes on to share three examples of how design is already at work.
How is it all possible to keep a bigger sense of the system? First map and expose the system. Identify the root causes and feedback loops. Work at different parts and levels of the system. Open up your tools and insights to the system. Collaborate with others, we can’t do this ourselves. And if we can’t collaborate convene, and agitate. We can create provocative ideas, we’re designers and that might provoke action or stimulate change.
Cat closes with another question… ‘Stand up if you’ve done a project about homelessness (3%) a project about resilience building, or mental health, or education, or about employment or boosting the economy’. With most of the audience now standing, Cat’s final message is simply to reiterate services and systems design thinking can help us develop solutions but she reinforces that ‘we can’t do this by ourselves and we have to collaborate, because together we’re bigger than the sum of our parts’.