What really amazed and inspired me about the process was the enthusiasm and commitment shown by the team to come together to solve complex problems
Simone Melia, Head of Homelessness Prevention in Hammersmith and Fulham
In the summer of 2019, Hammersmith and Fulham’s Homelessness Prevention Service was undergoing a period of significant change. Part way through a restructure, and faced with rising demand, the service was struggling to consistently meet their customers’ needs.
We were commissioned to help the service get under the skin of the challenges they faced, to co-design solutions to those challenges, and to put those solutions into practice.
How we helped
We believe passionately that the best people to improve a service are those who feel the pain when it’s not working well. To get started we pulled together a group of people who understood the end-to-end Homelessness pathway. The team included Housing Advisers, Temporary Accommodation Officers, folks from the Income Team, Team Leaders, Firmstep Developers, Operational Managers and senior leaders. We had all the bases covered.
To understand the challenge we conducted two discovery workshops where we upskilled the team to conduct interviews with service users and to produce customer journey maps. We also analysed the demand hitting the front door and helped the team to produce value stream maps to identify bottlenecks in the process.
Two major challenges emerged:
- Customers presenting as homeless on the day were waiting far too long for their queries to be resolved; and
- Too many customers were being placed in an emergency out-of-hours accommodation – this was expensive for the service, and unsettling for customers.
Prototyping improvements and testing them in a live environment
We firmly believe you only understand a system when you start to change it. In order to start making changes quickly, we ran a two-week Impact Sprint with the service.
The team spent 10 days, full time and away from front line roles, designing solutions to the challenges they’d identified, testing them with customers in a live environment and iterating them in response to feedback on what worked.
During the discovery, the team had noticed there was no means of quickly identifying whether a customer needed urgent support. The first step in the process for everyone presenting as homeless on the day was to fill in a lengthy application, regardless of their circumstances. Those who needed urgent help often had to wait many hours to see a Housing Adviser. Customers without priority housing need became frustrated at having to write out their story and wait, only to be told they were not entitled to support.
We decided to prototype a triage system for all customers presenting as homeless on the day. When a customer arrived at the office, a Housing Adviser would be called to reception immediately, would ask the customer to complete a very short form and have a conversation with them to see whether they needed a full duty appointment.
Our hypotheses were:
- by placing expert housing advisers at the beginning of the process, only those who were eligible for support would be booked into to a full duty appointment, which would save a significant amount of officer time;
- those who did not have the correct documentation could be told early in the day what they needed to bring in to ensure they could be helped before the office was due to close; and
- the backlog of people waiting to be seen in the office would be reduced.
We began testing the prototype on day two of the sprint. To start with, this was just one Housing Adviser for one morning. Although we realised we hadn’t thought through everything (we needed a rough script for what would be discussed during the discussion and needed to clarify how we recorded information on internal systems) it was clear the triage approach worked.
On the first morning, only one of the four people who presented as homeless really needed intensive support. Rather than staying in the office all day (which was happening to the other customers who were going through the ‘as is’ process) they were provided with advice and guidance within an hour.
Over the course of the two weeks, we iterated and grew the prototype to the point where every Housing Adviser in the service was taking part and triage was running every day.
The lasting impact of the work
At the time, we suspected that in the longer term the changes the team had implemented during the Impact Sprint would also result in fewer people needing to be placed in emergency accommodation. With Housing Advisers able to see more customers earlier in the day when they had the time to explore better options, the need to place people with the out-of-hours service at short notice would reduce.
We were right. When we checked back six months after the Impact Sprint, the use of out-of-hours accommodation had reduced by 80%. Not only that, but the service could see a steady, month-on-month decline in the use of this provision starting from the month of the sprint.
We caught up with Simone Melia, Head of Homelessness Prevention in Hammersmith and Fulham recently, and here’s what she had to say about our work:
"I think the impact of the work speaks for itself, but what really amazed and inspired me about the process was the enthusiasm and commitment shown by the team to come together to solve complex problems and improve services quickly. These team members have since been able to apply these skills in practice and have progressed to new and challenging roles within the Council."
"It was such a fun and inspiring two weeks. What motivated me was that we could see things changing and processes evolving that would not only help us but our clients in the long-run. I really feel like we were involved in something bigger and could make changes that we wouldn't have necessarily been able to make in our day to day roles"