Learning event report - 20 April 2016, Edinburgh

Housing and Homelessness - where now for service user involvement?


26543911285_311e3a0b18_z.jpgThe Scottish Co-production Network (SCN) worked in partnership with colleagues from Shelter Scotland and the Scottish Homelessness Involvement and Empowerment Network (SHIEN) to bring people together to talk about how we can build on what service user involvement is already happening to move towards more co-productive relationships between housing providers and people who are homeless.

Our colleagues at Shelter Scotland have also produced a fantastic blog on the day which you can read here.

Setting the scene

LogosThe Scottish Co-production Network is a forum for the development of ideas, creating opportunities to learn from each other and supporting discussions that advance co-production approaches. That’s why we were excited at the opportunity to work with Shelter Scotland and SHIEN to connect ideas about how to tackle homelessness with emerging ideas and lessons about co-production. How can people who are or have experienced homelessness take the lead in the struggle for good quality housing for all?  We wondered how and where community development principles and practice could play a part in working toward the linked goals of co-commissioning and co-designing better services that help people exit homelessness.

 Co-production could make massive changes in the homelessness sector by helping change the rules

26270990580_829e0fe3b2_o.jpgAll three partners behind this event thought that there was a lot of work to do to bring homelessness and housing up to the same level of service user involvement achieved by other sectors in Scotland.  At the same time, policy conditions in Scotland have never been as supportive of co-productive approaches, with the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act opening up opportunities for involvement alongside Self Directed Support and the Integration of Health and Social Care. With all this in mind, co-productive approaches could help people who are experts by their own experience design and deliver services that better meet their needs and achieve their own outcomes.


On the day


Fiona Garven, Co-chair of the Scottish Co-production Network welcomed all one hundred attendees and chaired the morning session of the event. Alison Watson, Shelter Scotland’s Deputy Director took the reins and chaired the afternoon. Fiona told the conference that to her, co-production was about combining our strengths a capacities so that we can work with one another on an equal basis to take shared decisions and shared actions, leading to positive change

We felt that co-production was really common sense and is something that should just be done!

We heard from a lot of practice that is already happening. Elaine Ritchiegave a local authority and service provider perspective on behalf of Perth and Kinross Council. Ashley Young, told us about the Simon Community’s research project into the opportunities of self-directed support – you can read their excellent snapshot here.

We heard from Dr. Neil Hamlet, National Public Health Lead for Health and Homelessness who set out some big issues around housing, homelessness and health.


Neil placed homelessness as visible late marker of deep inequality across life, calling homelessness a barometer of social justice.  He linked homelessness to the whole life cycle, starting with poor parenting and children at risk throughout their early years which leads to risks of homelessness at transitions into adulthood.  Neil visualised a health inequality iceberg with multiple exclusion homelessness at the visible tip. Below the waterline lie all the social, environmental and behavioural drivers and transition points for prevention and early intervention. Neil called on us all to involve ‘experts by experience’ in creating quality support services with early detection and referral across the life course. He saw Health and Social Care Partnerships as a possible springboard to achieving this and suggested membership of Pathway as a rallying point.  


Morning group exercise - download the full notes here

Often the most valuable part of a conference is group discussions. In our first discussion we asked people to think about and talk through what we had heard so far.  We asked for initial responses to presentations, what was important and what can we build on to move forwards?

Key points from the discussion include

  • It was felt that co-production was really common sense and that it is something that should just be done!
  • Presentations were a good reminder of the underlying issues behind homelessness, don’t just focus on the challenging behaviours
  • Sustaining engagement takes continued support 
  • We need to be honest about the challenges – don’t be afraid to ‘fail’.

Involvement/coproduction can’t be tokenistic, need to resource it.

We prepared questions and issues to put to the Scottish Government. These were addressed by Nick Wilding, Lead on Transformation and Inquiry with the Scottish Government’s Ingage division.


After lunch Alison introduced short case studies of positive practice in service user involvement including Jamie Graham telling us about SmartLiving Fife’s Step On’s Peer Education Project; Rachael Clark explaining Shelter Scotland’s Glasgow Participation Project and Liz Blythe presented on Navigate, a project hosted by Glasgow Homeless Network.

We heard about the value of trying to find the spaces and places to speak to the people that don’t come through the door; our role in connect personal situations with bigger political problems and the importance of always checking back with ourselves and others by asking ‘did we hear this right?’.

Afternoon group exercise - download the full notes here


The purpose of the exercise was for people to examine an adapted version of the ‘ladder of participation’, place their most recent experience of engagement on that ladder and discuss how, in their different roles, they can ‘move up the ladder’ together.

We found that we are at different stages of the ‘ladder’ but some key points emerged, including:

  • Co-production could make massive changes in the homelessness sector by helping to change rules that make life more difficult for clients.
  • There must be a follow up to this conference; with calls for regular forums across Scotland.
  •  E.JPGWe need to share best practice across the sector to help encourage each other to involve our clients in shaping our services.
  • Involvement/coproduction can’t be tokenistic, need to resource appropriately and make sure people know how to participate
  • Co-production might not always be appropriate
  • We need to think about, to build a strong co-production movement in Scotland how do we manage risk for people with offences & increase access to Self Directed Support to homeless people

Next steps

The conference ended with a panel discussion involving many of those who had spoken earlier. Although housing and homelessness might be behind other areas of public life in achieving co-production, we were struck by how immediately similar issues surfaces. The National Co-production Conference in 2015 identified key steps that would enable us to ‘walk the talk’ with co-production. These included:

  • the need to build a movement
  • take risks
  • being in it for the long term
  • barriers around language.

These were all present in the day's discussions around housing and homelessness. People weren’t shy in voicing what is often an elephant in the room; power. One person with lived experience of homelessness who has been trying to change the way services work explained that for people like him to have more power, others will have to get used to having a little less. Or as he put it; “if you want us to step up – you’ve got to step down".

We were pleased that there was a general agreement that we should work together to develop a co-productive approach to service user involvement in housing and homelessness. A core group will hopefully form to take on the work and keep the momentum going. This is an excellent outcome for the SCN and one we are keen to continue to support.

There must be a follow up to this conference!

Event feedback and tweets

89% of people who completed evaluation questionnaires told us that they agree or strongly agree that the conference helped them develop a better understanding of co-producing service user involvement. 

Comments about what people liked about the conference include:

  • Good mix of agencies, good speakers and lots of info well-presented and easy to understand.
  • Siting with people from different parts of Scotland.
  • There was a real feeling of equality in the room.  The group of volunteers there with me felt really comfortable and valued.
  • The number of people who used services there [at the conference].
  • Thinking about what would be needed to move up the ladder. Found that thought provoking and gave me something to take away and work on.

There was some room for improvement though:

  • I had hoped for more cutting edge and innovative examples from practice. 
  • There was no talk or presentation given by any beneficiaries or service users.  There was little evidence that the conference had been co-produced in a way meaningful.
We hope you found this report useful! We'd like to say a big thank you to everyone who helped out on the day, including graphic artist Clare Mills. You can find her website here.