Telling the story of WHY: how qualitative research helped improve service delivery in Brighton

Tuesday, 2 June 2015 - 1:12pm

Researching and reporting the numbers that reflect homelessness is essential - but look at statistics alone and you're missing a big part of the picture, as our new research from Brighton shows.

Photograph: James Hill (Flickr)

Can numbers tell us everything? Of course the short answer is no. However, in the current funding and commissioning environment, precedence is usually given to recording and reporting hard outcomes and numbers to make the case for the existence or development of a service.

The why behind the numbers is rarely explored, usually because of lack of resources - yet it can do a lot to show the impact of a service, indicate where improvements can be made, and also influence decision makers.

We've published a new report, Repeat Homelessness in Brighton, in partnership with three Brighton based organisations - First Base, CRI and Project Anti-Freeze – using qualitative interviews to look at repeat homelessness across the city, and to develop recommendations for policy and practice. The research was carried out as part of Picture the Change, a Lankelly Chase funded project, to help homelessness organisations collect, understand and use compelling evidence to deliver systems change.

“If we could understand and prevent these 20% from returning to rough sleeping, we would be reducing the city’s ever increasing rough sleeping figures to a more manageable amount.”

Identifying the issue

The members of the CAIERS group (Coordinated Agency Interventions to End Rough Sleeping) identified through their outcomes framework that a fifth of the people using their services had returned to rough sleeping after a period in accommodation on more than one occasion.

“If we could understand and prevent these 20% from returning to rough sleeping, we would be reducing the city’s ever increasing rough sleeping figures to a more manageable amount.”

But the hard outcomes data did nothing to explain why repeat homelessness was such an issue. The CAIERS group wanted to understand the problem so they could develop solutions that would be effective across the area:

“We need to know how to offer clients long term solutions. Picture the Change helped identify where we are lacking in services and so need to offer better provision and support to help prevent repeat homelessness.”

Repeat homelessness in Brighton

29 in-depth interviews were conducted with people who had repeatedly slept rough in the area, to explore the reasons as to why people returned to using street outreach and day centres services despite being rehoused. Issues raised included barriers to accessing appropriate services, especially dual diagnosis, housing affordability problems and inadequate support following relocation or reconnection.

As well as highlighting the underlying causes of repeat homelessness, the interviews provided us with ‘myth busting’ evidence that people come to Brighton because they like the city rather than the misperceived view that people experiencing homelessness come to Brighton because of its services. It also shone a spotlight on street life in Brighton and peoples exposure to abuse and violence.

“As most projects are up for re-commissioning in the next year, this research has helped towards providing useful recommendations for both outreach / daycentre services as well as hostels and the integrated support pathway.”

What does this mean for service delivery?

The findings from the research have led to improvements in service delivery in a number of ways:

“Our team has made some changes to roles within the team to ensure that we pick up clients sooner and provide a ‘rapid response’ service to ensure timely and robust reconnections. We have visited some of the areas we regularly reconnect to in order to build links with relevant services that we send people too.”

The research also helped the members of the CAIERS group to understand the issues in the city to help them with the re-commissioning process:

“As most projects are up for re-commissioning in the next year, this research has helped towards providing useful recommendations for both outreach / daycentre services as well as hostels and the integrated support pathway.”

It also helped to identify gaps in services. A number of interviews were conducted with women and highlighted the gaps in services to fully support their needs.

We worked with the staff to train them in qualitative interviewing so they could carry out similar research in the future alongside their outcomes monitoring:

“The importance of qualitative data in telling the story of a certain situation. It’s important that services regularly do this to help tell the story of why, rather than just relying on data.”

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Francesca Albanese

Francesca was our Research Manager from April 2014 to December 2015.