From client feedback to radical redesign

cropped-holman-house-trioClient feedback resulted in a radical redesign of how one homelessness charity offers all its services.

Back in 2011, thanks to the tough funding climate in the UK the Mayday Trust was considering whether it should merge with another organization and decided to review its services. In an attempt to discover the charity’s unique offering they spoke to over 100 people experiencing homelessness and frontline staff inside and outside the organization. The results were complied into a report called ‘Wisdom from the Street’ which tells the story of a broken system.

Chief executive officer of Mayday Trust Pat McArdle said: “We didn’t hear anything that we didn’t already know but this time we really reflected on it. We wondered if people keep saying these things why aren’t things changing? We really needed to look for something different.”

What emerged loudly from the report was two things – how you are treated when you become homeless is experienced as degrading, intrusive and humiliating. Secondly, when you get into the system it is hard to get out.

The charity responded directly to what people told them and revised all its operations, organizational culture, systems and structures to focus on the strengths of their clients rather than their needs. They believe that this is the way to treat people with respect and dignity. All their operating procedures were re-written with the thought ‘how would I like to be treated in this situation’?

“Now we call it co-production or co-design but then we didn’t have the words for what we were trying to do.”- Pat McArdle CEO, the Mayday Trust.

The result was changes in almost every aspect of the trust’s work. Engagement for service users became voluntary. Needs assessments were replaced with real conversations focusing on people’s strengths, skills, interests, aspriations and past successes. Risk assessments were replaced with conversations about how people can keep themselves safe. Meetings between coaches and the people they work with moved from offices to coffee shops and topics of conversation are now driven by the clients. All clients were given access to small personal budgets enabling them to secure the services or opportunities they needed, when they need them. And the trust offers more real world opportunities and interactions based on people’s aspirations rather than ‘homelessness’ training based on the lowest common denominator.

IMG_0553This revolutionary change in how the charity does business has not been without problems. In the change process half the original members of staff left. The new approach requires much more flexible funders. The charity’s annual turnover has fallen from £4million to £2million, mainly because it now rejects contracts that don’t allow it to operate the new model.

Despite these challenges, Pat McArdle believes it has been worth it. She said: “Undoubtedly we are seeing better outcomes for more clients. We see more people living less chaotic lifestyles, drugs and alcohol are less important in people’s lives and mental health and wellbeing is improving.”

The Mayday Trust is in the process of collecting evidence of this new model but it will take a while to gather statistically significant data (it currently works with 200 individuals).

Pat McArdle said: “The change we notice is significant enough for us to continue. We know if people are happier and more engaged they are more likely to get on with their lives. The feedback from people is that the whole process is much better.”

To find out how The Mayday Trust shifted power to its services users see our next blog.

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