Six tips from our shared experience of what it takes to do multi-agency service development.

‘When you work in the public sector with limited resources, you often have intractable problems. No one service has the solution so it’s through relationships you figure out how best to move it forward. We’ve built relationships through this collaborative process and because you have that you have the trust to do something together. We’re already seeing this.’
Akin Akinyebo, Head of Housing, Adur & Worthing Councils

Since May 2018 we’ve been involved in two multi-agency Design Labs and are currently piloting ideas that identify and support people at risk of homelessness. They build on research we carried out in Winter 2017 with people who have lived experience of homelessness and the professionals who support them.

This is the second post in a series about using service design and participatory leadership in our mission to prevent homelessness. Here, Design Lab members will pass on what they’re learning about doing collaborative service development.

If you want to join us in preventing homelessness, we’d love to invite you to our December workshop. More on this and other ways to get involved at the end of this post.

Six tips to consider when starting collaborative service development

These tips are taken from Design Lab members’ reflections on the strengths and challenges of this process over the past year.  This has included in-depth research with customers and professionals, collaborative workshops, and iterative sprints and pilots to kickstart system change. We offer them as food for thought for anyone interested in doing something similar, as well as part of the learning we’ll take into the next stage.

1. Understand the challenge, need and strengths

We started by reaching out and bringing people together to understand what needed to be done. We initially did this through interviews with customers and staff, then collaborative workshops to draw out insights and begin co-creating solutions.

‘Everyone has talked about upstream homeless prevention, the problem is we all think we know why people become homeless and what people go through. We design services for them based on what we think are the issues. Those are all assumptions. The only way we could really know the impact of the service we delivered and how they felt about it was by engaging with them and learning from them.’
Akin Akinyebo, Head of Housing, Adur & Worthing Councils

Service design and sprints (two-weekly windows to research or test an idea then bring findings back to the team to further develop) are useful in unpicking what can seem insurmountable problems. Using this approach and understanding challenges, needs and strengths isn’t a one-off activity; it runs throughout the research, development and service delivery.

‘It’s been a really collaborative way of working to unpick a significant critical problem and come up with a relatively straightforward solution.’
Charlene Hornsey, Hub System Lead, Integrated Prevention and Earliest Help Service (IPEH), West Sussex County Council

The Design Labs have also given partners time to see and build on the good work already happening.

‘Just looking in and focusing in on the details shows how much good work goes on across the services. We don’t acknowledge it enough sometimes because it’s constant. I feel confident and proud about the level of commitment across all the agencies to genuinely help and support vulnerable people.’
Amanda Eremie, Housing Solutions Manager, Adur & Worthing Councils

2. Get people onboard and work to shared goals

‘No agency would have been able to do this on their own; it would have been impossible. Make sure you've got the right people otherwise it could falter. You have to have the right people to remove barriers and drive it forward.’
Charlene Hornsey, Hub System Lead, Integrated Prevention and Earliest Help Service (IPEH), West Sussex County Council

It was essential we shaped this whole community system as partners, not just as a council. Inviting people from organisations across the public, voluntary and community sectors into the Design Labs and pilots was one way we did this, as was having a strategy board of senior decision-makers. The ‘right people’ for this process means a range of things: people who can take initiative, make decisions, be open to learning through doing; who are motivated to act, reflect, challenge and celebrate together.

‘We did a lot of our sprints with social services and healthcare, tapping into agencies we never normally would. Every one of those people that were part of the pilot were taking it back to their teams.’
Leanna Moore, Neighbourhood Manager, Worthing Homes

Commitment and engagement worked best where our goals were most closely aligned, both in the overarching mission and in the specific goals for our pilots.

‘Work with a shared goal in whatever your labs want to achieve.’
Mark Rice, Tenancy Sustainment Officer, Adur & Worthing Councils
‘It’s incredible what you can achieve if you legitimately remove barriers and work collaboratively. It can be a huge problem but if you look at it as a system and all your goals are aligned to the same outcome you will get results. Housing isn’t my specialism, but dealing with the traumatic impact of homelessness, temporary or poor accommodation means that preventing homelessness is mine and everyone’s business.’
Charlene Hornsey, Hub System Lead, Integrated Prevention and Earliest Help Service (IPEH), West Sussex County Council

Gathering people together to take practical steps towards a shared mission has its own momentum. Strengthened relationships between lab members, and the better outcomes this results in for customers, has been one of the biggest successes of this project.

‘There are now closer working relationships between services that previously weren’t well linked up with each other.’
Mark Dow, Head of Strategic Housing, West Sussex County Council
‘I think the profile of Jobcentre Plus has risen since we’ve been a part of this. I’ve had lots of contact from group members about specific cases and we’re now working in partnership with more people to resolve cases and customers’ problems.’
Rachel Storm, Service Delivery Coach, Health & Wellbeing Advocate & Social Justice Ambassador, Jobcentre Plus

‘Having direct contacts with the housing team, having direct support and advice, means the teams are starting to identify and support families earlier.’  Sam Lewis, Family Support Lead, Integrated Prevention and Earliest Help Service (IPEH)

3. Try something. Start small. Develop and scale

Through our research we developed a big mission: to prevent homelessness. Taking a learning-through-doing approach made this less overwhelming. We got practical, started seeing results quickly, and could tailor our ideas to local strengths and needs.

‘An idea doesn’t have to be grand, some of the smallest ideas could be the most effective.’
Akin Akinyebo, Head of Housing, Adur & Worthing Councils
‘We now have a process for intervening as early as possible to prevent homelessness, and one which is fairly straightforward as it fits in with an existing threshold framework. It just makes sense to all different stakeholders such as schools, health, social workers and early help workers.’
Charlene Hornsey, Hub System Lead, Integrated Prevention and Earliest Help Service (IPEH), West Sussex County Council

Our approach was to start with a small multi-agency group and work with those who could commit to the shared goal. But that means impact from the pilots hasn’t yet been felt by everyone. Part of our December workshop is to invite more people into designing, developing and creating with us. See ‘Getting Involved’ at the end of this post if you’d like to find out more and join us.

‘We’ve got a clear working model in place. However the work to improve and see outcomes from where I sit is invisible.’
Clive Mills, Team Manager, Youth Homeless Prevention, West Sussex County Council
‘There are opportunities to develop what we’ve already done, to widen it out.’
Charlene Hornsey, Hub System Lead, Integrated Prevention and Earliest Help Service (IPEH), West Sussex County Council
‘The approach we’ve taken means the change is continuous, it doesn't stop. We all own it, its malleable, it's flexible, we can mould it, it’s easier to adapt it to changing situations and challenges.’
Akin Akinyebo, Head of Housing, Adur & Worthing Councils

Change isn’t easy, and innovating can feel uncomfortable. The positive impact we’re seeing through our pilots is the result of sitting with that discomfort, and working through it.  

‘Be careful not to get it perfectly right the first time! Innovation is also about learning what doesn’t work in a structured way. You might have a good idea, so just start it, don’t get too bogged down in every little detail. Make mistakes because you learn from those mistakes.’
Akin Akinyebo, Head of Housing, Adur & Worthing Councils

4. Be open to the process

A repeated piece of advice from lab members about this process is to ‘try it!’. Be open to making new connections and finding new ways of working.

‘We’ve been open to discussion, debate and taking an objective view of each service’s priorities and working within them.’
Mark Rice, Tenancy Sustainment Officer, Adur & Worthing Councils
‘It’s brought housing and the housing team out of its bubble. Before it could be difficult for people to contact or meet the team, now everyone’s welcoming the opportunity to work with them.’
Leanna Moore, Neighbourhood Manager, Worthing Homes

It’s not always easy working in this way but the sticky points - where it’s uncomfortable and challenging - are often the points where change is happening.

‘Be open to the process, don’t prejudge it. See the value in the journey, it's not all about the destination. Even the moments of tension that happen - because there will be these moments - what comes out of these is greater understanding and a problem solved.’
Amanda Eremie, Housing Solutions Manager, Adur & Worthing Councils

5. Prioritise and resource innovation (as much as you can)

Thanks to the motivation and goodwill of all partners to drive it forward we’ve succeeded in kickstarting action, moving from listening to talking to doing and getting results. However, limited resources, especially time, has had and continues to have an impact. Advice from lab members is to prioritise and resource the process as much as you can, but we know from experience this is difficult.

‘Resources are genuinely the biggest challenge. It can become quite scary for us sometimes because when you’re investing in one thing, giving it extra resource, you always have the worry, what if someone vulnerable is left waiting?’
Amanda Eremie, Housing Solutions Manager, Adur & Worthing Councils
‘It’s not a resource intensive project to deliver but it was quite time intensive setting it up. Ultimately it’s proactive instead of reactive, so we’ll be saving time, but it takes a lot of commitment to get started.’
Charlene Hornsey, Hub System Lead, Integrated Prevention and Earliest Help Service (IPEH), West Sussex County Council

Practical tips for prioritising resources: take a learn-through-doing approach to get started; have a facilitator and project coordinator to keep the process and pilots on track; be clear what people need to commit to the process from the start and get sign up to this; create a way to collect and share data amongst partners as you go; invest in stakeholder engagement and communications.  

‘Have a really good facilitator; that made all the difference in the Design Labs, it kept people on track. Make sure you resource it appropriately. Trying to run a pilot with already stretched resources was hard, it would have been even better if we had someone in on a 3-month secondment to do that.’
Leanna Moore, Neighbourhood Manager, Worthing Homes

Now we’ve got tried and tested service delivery ideas, we need to make these sustainable. We want to do this with partners, senior decision-makers, frontline professionals and commissioners (see more about how you could get involved at the end of this post).

As well as understanding what extra resources are needed we’ll be asking at the workshop and beyond, how do we use the resources we already have together? What gatherings do we have that we could bring shared goals and a learning-through-doing approach to?

Use the forums you already have to affect change and make sure that they are proactive and engaging.
Clive Mills, Team Manager, Youth Homeless Prevention, West Sussex County Council
‘In a world of limited resources pulling resources together can help us achieve better outcomes for our customers.’
Akin Akinyebo, Head of Housing, Adur & Worthing Councils

6. Be clear on the scope of your project. Do what you can

Innovating in much of the public, voluntary and community sector is both essential and hugely challenging. There are lots of things we can’t affect and that can feel overwhelming, especially when seeing firsthand the impact on the adults and children we support.

‘I feel we are heading in the right direction but a major problem is limited housing; landlords don’t want housing benefits and despite lots of properties being built, nothing is being put aside for general needs.’
John Barnard, Service Manager for Adur, Arun and Worthing, Mental Health Supported Housing, United Response

The experience we can share from the Design Labs is to keep focusing on what’s in your control; be clear about the scope of what you can do together; when you get results, find a way to celebrate and share these. Once you start working on a shared goal together, you will achieve results.

‘We all come away knowing we can help a family keep a roof over their heads by intervening much earlier and linking up potential triggers. This will not solve the housing crisis but it will help many families unnecessarily going into emergency/temporary accommodation which is not suitable, physically or emotionally.’
Sam Lewis, Family Support Lead, Integrated Prevention and Earliest Help Service (IPEH)
‘Some of the workshops that myself and Akin have delivered have made a big difference in terms of upskilling people’s knowledge about the crisis in housing and what the reality is. Sharing learning has been significant.’
Charlene Hornsey, Hub System Lead, Integrated Prevention and Earliest Help Service (IPEH), West Sussex County Council

With a set intention and multi-agency approach even a small step forward is a step towards shifting the whole system. Being clear about the scope of your project means both setting expectations of what’s in your control and, for us, acknowledging that our ambition of culture change will take time and commitment to reach.

‘Changing long established mindsets is a challenge.’
Mark Dow, Head of Strategic Housing, West Sussex County Council
‘We’ve come a long way in building relationships over this process. There’s more trust between our organisations. We’re in the same boat, we’re all part of the solution. We’re breaking the mould in how we work together and that’s a tough mould! It will take time.’
John Barnard, Service Manager for Adur, Arun and Worthing, Mental Health Supported Housing, United Response

A huge thank you to the Design Lab members who have invested their time, energy and ideas in this collaborative work. They are from: Adur & Worthing Councils, Jobcentre Plus, Kent, Surrey & Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company, Sanctuary Housing, Southdown Housing, Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust, West Sussex County Council, Worthing Churches Homeless Projects, Worthing Homes, United Response, YMCA DownsLink Group. And thank you to all the organisations, professionals and customers who were part of the research phase that started this.

Getting involved

If you work in Adur and Worthing and want to join us in preventing homelessness we’d love to see you at our December workshop. We’ll open up a conversation about what we’re learning and explore how to build on this to maximise our collective impact in preventing homelessness. Together we’ll share, discuss and develop:

  • Tested systems and tools around prevention to adapt, adopt and opt into
  • Powerful stories of customers and professionals before and after the pilots
  • Costs and savings resulting from the pilots
  • Customer insights from the pilots to take into service development.

Contact Amanda to book your place at this workshop or to arrange other ways you can find out more and get involved. Thank you for reading. This is the second in a series of posts on our mission to prevent homelessness. Next time we’ll share highlights from the data and stories that have come out of our pilots. Click here to find out more about the pilots and impact so far.

Preventing Homelessness is a SameRoom project, bringing people together around a shared challenge to create, test and grow solutions that work for our communities. We use human-centred, collaborative approaches, listening to and designing with the people who live in Adur and Worthing, our staff and members, our partners and peers.