Every organisation has its own ways of working. We talk a lot about providing tools, resources and capabilities needed for people and places to creatively address problems. Before I joined FutureGov this was an interesting idea that sounded great in theory, but now I’ve seen how it’s done in practice with a council working to create better outcomes for residents.

At the start of this year, I joined FutureGov as a Service Designer. My first FutureGov project has been working alongside the Benefits and Housing Needs Service at Hackney Council, exploring how collaboration between professionals can provide better support for people with complex needs.

We’ve worked with Hackney Council on many projects, and they’ve fully adopted working in ways that make change happen for people living in the borough. They embrace projects with a user-centred approach, encouraging diverse teams to work across departments. This project was no different. It showed me how working closely and collaboratively, across organisational boundaries and with communities, can make a real difference.

Collaborating across organisational boundaries

Many people who experience homelessness have complex needs and have experienced difficult life events. This project focused on supporting residents who have multiple and complex needs as the council works with them to relieve their homelessness and find sustainable housing solutions.

The service had secured funding to embed two social workers to help support the existing teams as they provide a holistic and psychologically informed service for residents. Working as a blended team with Hackney staff, we were asked to design a way to integrate the social worker roles into the Benefits and Housing Needs Service, to support staff and deliver better housing outcomes for residents.

The social workers offered one-to-one case advice and group case reviews of complex needs, to build the knowledge and skills of officers. They engaged in peer to peer learning, communication between service areas was redesigned and resident facing tools were developed. All of this builds on the foundation of the shared plan agreed with residents and is overseen by the Homeless, Health and Housing multidisciplinary team, working together to improve the resident experience.

Encouraging this collaboration has allowed staff to not only tap into greater resources and networks, but also grow their own confidence and understanding of how to support residents. The social workers maintained these links back into their professional practice and the project was governed by a blended leadership group that includes staff from Adult Social Care, Mental Health, Public Health, Corporate Strategy and Commissioning.

Meeting complex needs

Our focus was preventing crises and improving temporary accommodation placements for people with multiple complex needs. The areas of intervention covered identifying these residents as early as possible and building on strengths and assets to develop sustainable support plans. Exploring these specific areas helped us implement simple immediate solutions and to scope wider and long term interventions alongside validating the impact of the social workers' work within the team.

Taking a familiar and user-centred approach, we designed and prototyped five immediate solutions to help residents currently in and moving to temporary housing.

A journey map of a resident moving through the housing service in Hackney.
  • patient tracker spreadsheet: for hospital and housing teams to track residents likely to need temporary accommodation or housing support

  • revised referral form and process: designed for all general referrals, prison releases and hospital discharges to focus on crucial information necessary for placements and support

  • resilience chat: to recognise a resident’s strengths and assets when they’re moved into temporary accommodation, a guide also helps officers have empowering conversations with these residents

  • temporary accommodation guide: to give to residents when they move into temporary accommodation, with guidance on who to go to with any issues

  • one-pager: to help housing staff communicate to residents where they are in the process, to have conversations and provide guidance

With these tools Hackney officers and partners can now recognise individual indicators of crisis earlier, preventing the breakdown of temporary accommodation placements. Staff are using this information to work closely with people who are looking for sustainable housing, working together to identify their strengths and assets so they can build a better-shared plan for their future.

Improved communication between local hospitals, prisons and staff means there’s earlier sight of the residents at risk of becoming homeless. With a multidisciplinary and strength-based approach, staff can work together to get residents into stable homes sooner.

Reflecting on my first project

Taking time to reflect at the end of my first project, I've really been able to see how working in ways that allow organisations to experiment and prototype interventions make it easy for changes to be adopted by frontline services. There’s no such thing as handover documents when collaboration is truly about setting organisations up for success from the start. The Hackney team has always owned the project and they’ve been designing, testing and iterating the prototypes that will impact their communities with us, every step of the way.

Reflecting on how much we’ve managed to deliver and the impact we’ve made collectively in such a short amount of time, I’ve really been able to connect to the work and the people we strive to help on every project.

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