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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

New Housing Professional 2018 finalist blog: Catherine James


Catherine James from Family Housing sat in on a session exploring approaches to delivering services which are designed around the needs of service users on day one of TAI 2018 as part of our New Housing Professional competition.

Building futures - Developing change agents is a concept that Melys Phinnemore (Leadership and change management expert) and Jo Carter (Co-founder, The Satori Lab) are looking to roll out with housing providers.

The outcome that they hope to achieve is to support providers to engage with service users in a meaningful way to design services around their needs. They illustrated why this is a good way of working by setting us a challenge to design a service for rough sleepers in Cardiff. We had the following information:

• It had to be a day time service

• There are 45 rough sleepers in Cardiff

• We have a budget of £25K, to get started

• After year one it had to be self sustaining

Our group and other groups jumped to the end and came up with a solution. Melys and Jo pointed out that we didn’t know what the rough sleepers wanted. The principal of the concept is to engage with the service users and ask what they would want.

Melys and Jo then shared the results of the research which had been carried out in Cologne where researchers had shadowed homeless people and interviewed them. They were told:

“I don’t like authority figures”

“I need somewhere to charge my mobile”

“I rarely feel clean “

“I used to have some dignity”

“I can’t get a job without a permanent address”

“I just need somewhere secure to dump my bag during the day, so I can walk around without all my stuff”

Armed with that information we then had another attempt at designing a service. Ideas that came from the group were

  • A Social enterprise – local businesses sponsor possible café, providing work
  • Mobile van – dump belongings and then pick up – maybe not sustainable
  • Hotel type of environment – use what is already there

In Cologne the service that was designed following the research was tested first in a very small prototype and then when tested resulted in a service which was:

  • Accessed via a reception
  • Was a paid service
  • Employed homeless people
  • Gave users a permanent address
  • Provided sanitary and hygiene services
  • Provided a charging station
  • Had XL locker – dump stuff during day

We came away understanding that when we engage with service users in a meaningful way at the beginning, the result is services designed around their needs which will be different than what we think they need.

The facilitators controversially stated that they had yet to see one Housing Association who really put the users at the heart of what we do. They also made the point that as a sector we were behind other sectors in embracing service design. The government have put a huge amount of effort into service design and it is time to embrace this in Wales and in housing.

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