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Perth Zero Project

At our Pulse Meeting on 25 September participants learnt about the Perth Zero Project, an approach that builds a month by month understanding of how many people are experiencing homelessness and how they are moving out of the homelessness system.

To explain the concept Leah Watkins the 50 Lives 50 Homes Manager at Ruah Community Services made a presentation about the Project.

The Perth Zero project is run by a group of organisations and people who are actively committed to addressing chronic homelessness in our city. The aim is reaching ‘functional zero’ where the housing system is working within capacity so more people are housed each month than become homeless - and you can prove that with data.

An Advance to Zero approach, supported by By-Name Lists, is however, not just a data collection exercise, but a commitment to know who is homeless in our community and do something about it. It also works to create major service improvements through smarter triage and coordination, as well as identifying gaps and flaws in the system that can be addressed quickly and effectively.

The approach is not without its challenges, which include consent and privacy considerations, ensuring the quality of data and engaging multiple organisations in a collaborative effort. Members of the Perth-Fremantle Community Team, including Amanda Stafford (Royal Perth Hospital) and Dylan Dumbleton (Salvation Army) facilitated discussions and activities around different parts of the approach for WA’s context.

The Australian Alliance to End Homelessness has brought together teams of people from Perth, Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to develop common tools, participate in action labs and coaching, and to share learnings around how to end rough sleeping.

In February 2019, Community Solutions visited Perth to run an Action Lab about developing the By-Name List.

In August a second Action Lab was held in Adelaide which focused on how to use the data to drive system level change to end homelessness.

Leah shared the main concepts the group learnt over the two-day session:

  • You must have a concrete and measurable aim.

An identified clear and measurable end state needs to be done first and then you work backwards with all activities and strategies done last so they can change and adapt. This keeps the work clearly focused on the end aim. To help be concrete on what you want to achieve participants were asked to have a verb, a specific problem, a number, a date and population target.

“We came up with - we will increase the number of housing placements for rough sleepers from five per month to 30 per month by February (2020) next year,” explained Leah.

  • How will we know that the change is an improvement?

We do a lot of changing in the sector, but do we know if things are better or not.

You need to determine if you are doing a service level change where we have made doing the same thing a little bit better or is it a systems change that is doing something different to drive broader changes that make it possible to achieve the aim.

The solution is to create data points, preferably 15 of them to get a median which clearly shows what the system as normal looks like. Once you have a median on a graph you can analyse trends and recognise what a real change looks like in your data. If six points are either below or above the median you have then created a “new normal” ie. a real change.

  • What change can we make that will result in improvement?

This involves mapping out what are the primary drivers that push that aim and therefore what are the secondary drivers that push those primary drivers that push that aim.

“When you map all those things out you know that you are doing A to produce B to get C to happen,” said Leah.

“For example, if our aim was to reduce rough sleeping in the city by half in the next two years. One of our primary drivers might be increasing the housing supply. All drivers need clear measures, and you can measure that by the number of permanent housing places sourced per month.

“One of the secondary drivers to increase housing supply could be to increase access private rentals. This can be measured by the number of private rental places that those people access per month.

“The reason you want all this mapped out is so that you make sure that the stuff you are doing is actually pulling the right levers to create the change you want.”

  • Plan-Do-Study-Act Cycles

Once all this is mapped out, you have the structure for testing out ideas to see if they create movement in your key drivers. A simple Plan-Do-Study-Act process (or action research) has the advantage of enabling small-scale prototyping.

With prototyping you can fail safe, fail early, fail quickly and cheaply and learn a lot without taking much risk. You might start with three people to see what the result is and what you learn. If it doesn’t work, you can stop or adjust, but scale up gradually through cycles that grow in complexity until you reach a widespread implementation piece.

This process allows you to see if you are creating change when you compare it with the month by month data. It also allows you to build on evidence-based change all the way along.

After the presentation finished a breakout session over two tables was held. Participants workshopped with Perth Zero Committee members their own project ideas which can be tested and measured using this approach.


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