Since we formed Street Support Network, alongside the online tools, a lot of our work has been connecting people from different organisations around common challenges, and supporting collaboration towards a shared mission. Through this journey using different formats, facilitation styles and tools, and gathering feedback, we are continuously learning more about what works – reflecting on what cultivates more connection and trust, and what leads to effective action. Here is some of what we are seeing works well…
Open Space Events
We have hosted sporadic ‘Open Space’ events over the past few years for GMHAN (the homelessness network in Greater Manchester), and fortnightly online since the start of the pandemic. These events have an open invitation to anyone in the network, and focus on connection and mutual support, at the same time highlighting emerging issues and patterns people are seeing from their perspective across the region. This also makes it easier to harvest and share insights as they emerge with the rest of the network and key decision makers. This has input into GM and local level strategy, for example the GM response to covid, and the new GM prevention strategy.
Open Space is a format from Art of Hosting where the agenda is set within the meeting by those who come…
- We start with a check in, how each person is (as a human – recognising we have an existence beyond our job title, that is not separate from our work).
- We gather any emerging themes and shape them together into an agena (if the group is large and some items need more time, breakout rooms can be used).
- We ask people to share what they are seeing and sensing from their location and perspective, what is working well, what they see are issues, what support they need, and any other insights or requests they have.
- We harvest the key points and anything that can’t be progressed in the meeting and might need another action is picked up (in GM this is currently by Samra Said who we secured some short term funding for to see how it could support this network to have more capacity and be even more effective).
As Street Support Network was based in GM, we started facilitating the meetings, and over time have asked others to facilitate which is more sustainable and less reliant on a few key people, and allows more to happen with people bringing their own experiences and interests. NB: While we don’t have capacity within the team to host these for our other locations, we can offer support and guidance if needed.
Another format we are using and finding really effective is to host events around a theme or question that needs more focussed attention, including for prison release / resettlement, women and homelessness, and for ‘A Bed Every Night (ABEN) ’ emergency accommodation. The themes have largely emerged from the open space or larger network events. Here are the common ingredients that we are finding…
- Connect with key organisations and individuals related to the topic, inviting them to collaborate on or feedback on the event format.
- Co-design and host a specific network communication around this topic/question, inviting the whole network and also any other networks or potential partners from outside of ‘homelessness’ specific organisations who can bring relevant insights.
- Plan how to communicate, organise, harvest and follow up from the event – this generally takes some effort and co-ordination to do well!
In Greater Manchester, we along with our partners GMHAN and GMCA have also been exploring other creative and engaging methods of exploring issues and possible solutions, including Legislative Theatre.
We co-produced GM Homelessness Prevention Strategy using this legislative theatre as a participatory policy-making strategy. It is a community-led process led and directed by Katy Rubin based on a collaborative effort, addressing the three focus areas for homelessness prevention: multiple disadvantage and multiple complex needs; funding and commissioning; and structural racism in homelessness services across: issue areas currently identified as priorities within the GMHAN.The Greater Manchester Homelessness Prevention Strategy will encompass the coming 5 years, as well as more immediate policy actions post-covid.
The process was designed and led by a cohort of facilitators-in-training, who brought a wide-ranging experience with the arts, organising and leadership, and who have been directly impacted by homelessness and housing insecurity.
All the policy proposal generated from events where audiences, – made up of people with experience of homelessness, frontline support staff, GMCA officers and elected officials, advocates, and neighbours – improvised alternative responses to these systemic problems onstage. During the events, these ideas were collaboratively developed into specific and feasible policy proposals. Following debate and amendments, the proposals were ready for a community vote. Finally, the GMCA carried these proposals forward into the GM Homelessness Prevention Strategy and Covid step-down planning.
You can read a summary of all the policy proposals that were drawn from all 2020 GM legislative theatre here.
NB: If you are interested in legislative theatre in action and how it leads to real change, please contact Katy Rubin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whole Network Events
In addition to all of this, many of our locations co-design and host events for the whole local network a few times a year. These can take different forms including focus on updates, focus on a pre-defined topic, focus on a new project or initiative, feedback on current projects, co-producing strategy etc. There is generally a need to connect, share updates and learnings, find shared reality and decide on next steps together.
We would love to see this evolve towards what is happening in Glasgow, where key decisions are made together, including around how the homelessness budget is spent.
Street Support Network Events
From 2021, we are hosting more events for the whole SSN network, bringing together perspectives from all of the different location networks, building a stronger ‘network of networks’. We see the amazing work that is going on in different locations, and know there is so much learning and insight within the network that we want to surface and share. We have always been clear on the need for locally driven networks, responding to the specific context of their place, and it now feels time to draw that wisdom and collective power together to see what else emerges from there.
If you have suggestions for future network events, please let us know via email@example.com.