Evaluation of the local authority housing hubs approach

The report presents findings from an evaluation of local authority hubs set up to prevent homelessness by pursuing a housing options approach.

5 Key success factors and barriers

5.1 A number of factors were identified as having an influence on the success of Hub working and, in particular, the Hubs' ability to achieve the perceived benefits of the approach discussed in the previous chapter. This chapter outlines the key success factors and barriers to successful Hub working in relation to three aspects of the Hub process:

  • the early development of the Hubs
  • the membership of the Hub
  • the management and day-to-day running of Hubs.

5.2 The key success factors for Hubs were:

  • spending sufficient time in the early stages to develop clear aims for the Hub
  • Hubs being comprised of local authorities at different stages in the development of housing options
  • having a committed 'lead' authority
  • developing trust, openness and honesty
  • having regular and frequent meetings
  • having administrative support
  • having committed members.

5.3 While, for purposes of reporting, these issues are discussed separately below, in reality a number of the factors were interlinked.

Early development of the Hubs

Spending sufficient time in the early stages to develop clear aims for the Hub

5.4 Hub members highlighted the need to spend sufficient time in the early stages of the Hub developing clear aims and how it might best help meet the needs of member local authorities.

5.5 Hub members who felt that they had received most benefit from the process were part of Hubs who had met most often in the early stages. Making time to meet in the early stages was central to Hubs getting off the ground. In the initial stages it was important for Hub members to spend time: building relationships and trust between members; discussing the key challenges being faced by member local authorities; and identifying what best practice was already being carried out by members of the Hub. Over the course of initial meetings Hubs developed a greater awareness of the challenges that were being faced by member local authorities, and were able to better understand how Hubs could meet their needs. They were able to develop more considered desired outcomes for the group and generate ideas for spending available funding. Further, where the aims and priorities of the Hub changed over the course of initial meetings, those who met most often in the early stages were able to identify these shifting priorities early and change their action plans accordingly.

5.6 The scale of progress made by Hubs in the early stages had a major impact on the development of the Hub in subsequent stages of the process.

Barriers to developing clear aims for the Hub

5.7 A number of Hubs found it difficult to develop clear aims for the Hub, particularly in the early stages of their development. Two factors had an impact on this:

  • a lack of formal guidance from the Scottish Government on housing options and the Hubs approach
  • too much focus in the early stages on how funding could be spent and short timescales allowed for submitting action plans.

5.8 Both of these factors were exacerbated by a lack of meetings in some Hubs in the early stages of their development (the importance of meetings is discussed in more detail below).

Lack of formal guidance

5.9 A common view among Hub members was that a lack of guidance provided by the Scottish Government 12 on housing options and the Hubs approach acted as a barrier to the development of Hubs in their early stages and, in particular, prevented Hubs from developing clear aims for their Hub. Hub members did not fully understand the purpose of the Hubs and what they were expected to achieve.

5.10 As a consequence, Hubs tended to make slow progress in the early stages. Representatives in some Hubs felt they had wasted a lot of time in early meetings, when there was a "lot of talk without action". There was a perception among all Hub members, but in particular those from Hubs which had not met often, that the Hubs could have perhaps progressed faster had they received more guidance. However, at the time of fieldwork, the lack of guidance had impacted on Hubs in different ways. On one hand, those who met often in the early stages were able to overcome the lack of guidance and develop their own aims for their Hub. Members of these Hubs felt that, in hindsight, the lack of prescription had been positive for the development of their Hub. They believed the lack of formal guidance allowed the Hub to grow much more naturally than it would have with guidance. This was linked to the fact that these Hubs had met more frequently at the beginning and therefore were able to develop a clear vision and purpose for the Hub.

In many ways I think they were quite organic…Do you know, that's how it certainly transpired, but it does feel as if they were very much about allowing local authorities to come together and run with it themselves because recognising a lot of us were starting from pretty well low base. So, therefore, we had to define what the regional Hubs were for ourselves and I actually think it was a helpful approach.

(Hub Member)

5.11 Conversely, at the time of fieldwork, some Hub members felt that their Hub had suffered from the lack of clarity and progress in the early stages in a way that had still not been fully resolved.

It is quite clear they didn't want to prescribe how the Hub should operate…now you have different Hubs working at a different speed, with different agendas, different things, and it could have been done differently…I just feel that they have shoved it on to the local authorities or on to the Hubs just to get on with it and, "oh here have some money just to help you along with that".

(Hub member)

...that needs to come from [the Scottish Government] from the outset to enable [Hubs to] hit the ground running. I think we had a period of bedding in. [This requires] a lot of people from a number of authorities, that's huge resources. You need to have that from the start.

(Hub Member)

Funding provided too early and too short timescales allowed for submitting action plans

5.12 As described earlier, local authorities were asked to submit their action plans up to February 2011. In all but one of the Hubs, the action plan was the focus of the initial meeting(s). There was a perception among some Hub members that they were asked to formulate their action plan and apply for funding too early in their development and in too short a timescale.

5.13 There was a strong feeling among many participants that the focus on funding so early on in the process was putting the "cart before the horse": participants did not feel they had enough time to discuss in great depth the circumstances of, and challenges faced by, member authorities to be able to arrive at relevant and effective ways of spending the funding. This was particularly the case in Hubs which scheduled multiple meetings in advance of submitting their action plans. All discussions in early meetings were focused on how the funding could be spent. Some Hubs spent very little time reflecting on the purpose of the Hub or discussing best practice being carried out in local authorities. There was a perception that, in many ways, the development of clear aims for the Hub - and subsequent beneficial discussions around the sharing of best practice and information - in the early stages was "hijacked" by discussions over funding.

I'm going to be quite honest…I think the funding is a slight distraction, because the group becomes focused on how they are going to spend money, rather than focusing on the implementation of an approach...because it is about culture and change of approach.

(Head of Service)

5.14 With hindsight, a number of participants suggested that the process would have been improved if, in the initial stages, Hubs were allowed sufficient time to develop naturally as a group and develop a clearer purpose and direction, based on the challenges faced by member local authorities. Only then would Hubs develop ideas for projects, for which funding could be made available, rather than trying to develop ideas for projects that would fit the full funding allocation.

I think in a way it might have worked better the other way around, that the Hubs were set up, we had the opportunity, we have some of the meetings like this and then we have the funding opportunity. We would be in a much better place to know what, as a group, our priorities were. Where just in terms of the time constraints there was a lot of pressure to say, right well you need to jump now.

(Hub member)

5.15 Indeed, following a number of meetings, Hubs developed a clearer understanding of the desired outcomes of the Hub and what could realistically be achieved to the benefit of members. As Hubs developed, it was clear that many of the planned activities outlined in their original action plans were no longer aligned to the shifting needs of the group, did not require any funding or, following additional research, were deemed too ambitious and therefore were not viable; for example, shared IT solutions.

5.16 This was exemplified by the experience of one Hub. When developing their action plan they tried to develop outcomes and related project activities that would benefit all members, and thus ensure that each local authority received an equal share of the funding. However, following a number of meetings it became clear that local authorities were operating in very different contexts and many of the projects outlined in the Hub's action plan were not viable. As a result, with hindsight, a member of this Hub felt that they should have made funding available to individual local authorities to take forward their own projects.

5.17 Those Hubs which met frequently were able to identify these issues, amend and update their action plans, and develop new ideas of how the unspent funding might be better used to benefit their members 13 .

5.18 However, those who had met less frequently felt that, by the time they had developed an understanding of how the Hub could benefit members, it was too late to make full use of the funding before 31st March 2012.

5.19 The short timescales for developing action plans were exacerbated by two additional factors:

  • in many cases, this was the first time local authorities had come together so there was some degree of reticence to "put their cards on the table", and speak openly and honestly with one another in the early stages. (The importance of trust and honesty to the success of Hubs process is discussed in more detail below).
  • some Hub members entered the Hubs process not convinced that housing options was an appropriate approach for their local authority, while others from local authorities who were at early stages in the development of the housing options approach did not have a clear understanding of the priorities of their local authority and, therefore, how the Hub could assist with that development. As their local authorities developed their thinking on housing options, they had a better idea of how the Hub could help with the development of the approach.

Membership of Hubs

5.20 Two factors related to the composition and membership of the Hub were identified as being important to the success of the Hub. These were:

  • Hubs consisting of local authorities at different stages in the development of housing options
  • The 'lead' local authority being able to make time to carry out Hub activities.

Hubs of local authorities at different stages in the development of housing options

5.21 It was important to the success of Hubs that they were comprised of local authorities at different stages in developing housing options approaches. This ensured that Hub members could share best practice and experiences, and learn from members who were further ahead in the development of housing options.

5.22 This also meant that the success of the Hub process was reliant on a high degree of altruism among local authorities, particularly from those who were further ahead in their development of housing options, and a commitment to bring other local authorities up to the same level of development. However, by definition, this meant that the more advanced local authorities had considerably less to gain from being part of the Hub than others. In some of the cases, those local authorities who were further ahead were also 'leads' and, therefore, had to undertake much of the administration of their Hub. These local authorities therefore, in many ways, spent a great deal of time and resource for the benefit of others.

5.23 As discussed in Chapter 3, at the outset of the process, the consensus among local authorities was to group Hubs on the basis of geography. It was accepted that this was the most logical way of organising the Hubs. In practical terms, grouping Hubs by geography was important for two reasons. First, it allowed local authorities to hold Hub meetings on a frequent basis should they have wished to do so, without incurring expense and excessive time away from their local authority. Second, it encouraged local authorities to develop relationships with neighbouring authorities, to and from where potential homeless client might migrate.

5.24 However, grouping Hubs by geography also meant that, by default, Hubs were made up of a range of local authorities at different stages in developing their housing options approaches. As one Hub member explained, if her Hub was made up of local authorities at the same stage as hers, they would "still be floundering around".

if you're all complete novices it becomes very difficult to be able to translate what you might know is a theoretical thing into practice, whereas if somebody said, well this is the way we did it, it makes it much more real.

(Head of Service).

The 'lead' local authority being committed to the Hub

5.25 The commitment of 'lead' local authorities was important to the success of the Hub. Some 'leads' felt they were more of a facilitator for the Hub, rather than 'mentor'. Evidence from Hubs suggested that the suitability and effectiveness of the 'lead' was reliant on them being fully committed to the process and making appropriate resources available to carry out Hub-related administrative tasks (in addition to their 'day job'). 'Leads' played an important role in scheduling meetings, facilitating communication between members and ensuring the continuity of Hub activities.

5.26 In one of the Hubs, the 'lead' took on a mentoring role for other member authorities. Members of this Hub felt that it was important for their Hub to be led by the local authority with the most experience of housing options:

I think if you could identify somebody that would take a lead, I think that's crucial and if there is somebody who has an expertise or experience then I think that would be a huge advantage to setting up something like that, otherwise it is a bit of the blind leading the blind, kind of feeling your way along.

(Hub member)

5.27 However, while there were obvious benefits to local authorities who were part of a Hub led by a 'mentor' local authority, it was not deemed essential to the success of the Hubs process. Indeed, in other Hubs, the process worked just as effectively when the 'lead' did not adopt an overt mentoring role.

5.28 The importance of the 'lead' to the process, and specifically the need for them to commit sufficient time and resources to facilitate the Hub, was evidenced by the experience of the 'lead' authority in one Hub. The work of the Hub was not seen as a priority compared to other pressures within their local authority.

The inner workings of the Hub

5.29 There were a number of factors related to the day-to-day running of the Hub that were seen as being important to the success of the Hub. These were:

  • trust, openness and honesty among members
  • having regular and frequent meetings
  • having administrative support
  • having committed members.

Trust, openness and honesty

5.30 A common view among Hub members was that the success of their Hub was founded on the development of trust between members. Trust encouraged members to be open and honest with each other about their local authority's progress and their concerns surrounding housing options - to "lay their cards on the table". This helped to facilitate the setting of clear aims for the Hub and was the foundation for sharing information and best practice. However, it took time (a number of meetings) to build this trust. One Hub spoke of how, over time, a "group feeling" emerged where members felt they were "all in it together".

5.31 The importance of trust was also highlighted as something that impacted upon the sharing of information with local authorities in other Hubs; for example, willingness to upload information to the communities of practice website. Indeed, one Hub member discussed how their Hub was reluctant to share information with other Hubs because they had not developed the same trust with members of other Hubs.

We are always really open... but I think the thing that is difficult about it is that trust thing, because [the Scottish Government] had asked about opening out the Hubs, and I said well there are things that we will say in this room, that we wouldn't say anywhere else, because we trust each other enough that that information is not going to go anywhere else. You can say silly things or come up with daft ideas, because we trust each other.

(Hub member)

Having regular and frequent meetings

5.32 It was central to the success of the approach that Hubs met frequently, particularly in the early stages. This ensured continuity of Hub activities. Those Hubs which met most frequently had developed quicker than those which had fewer meetings, in terms of: building trust between members, developing clear aims for the Hub (and overcoming the barriers of lack of guidance and time in the initial stages), sharing best practice, and making progress towards the Hub's desired outcomes.

Take time over your action plan, but have regular meetings. I think the most important thing is scheduling your meetings in advance and make sure everybody can attend, because you lose focus of it...I think if you miss one or two meetings, you can very quickly lose the focus and lose the drive, so it's important to keep it up.

(Hub member)

5.33 The importance of meetings to the sharing of best practice was evidenced by the experience of one Hub which had a break of nine months between their first and second meetings. The initial meeting was focused on the development of the action plan and how the group would spend the funding. At the meeting, specific projects were delegated to individual members to take forward on behalf of the Hub. However, rather than schedule subsequent face-to-face meetings, members kept each other up-to-date on the progress of projects via email. While this approach helped the Hub take forward projects outlined in their original action plan, the members of the group did not benefit from learning about each other's housing options approaches in the same way that members of other Hubs which met more often did. Indeed, as this member of the group acknowledged, the Hub only began to feel the benefit of information sharing late in the process, after they had met for the third time:

I didn't have the feeling that we were getting anywhere in terms of the ideas exchanged, the information exchanged, but I think we needed to get to meet each other in the flesh more often to get that part of the process going. We are still at a very early stage in the lifecycle of the group for that part of the process, [because] for the most part so far it's been about spending that wee pot of money.

(Hub member)

5.34 Three factors prevented Hubs from meeting more often:.

  • holiday commitments prevented Hubs from meeting in the summer months when it was difficult to schedule dates when all members were available to attend. Hub members felt that the absence of meetings during this time affected the continuity and focus of the Hub
  • one Hub could not meet more often due to the geographic spread of member authorities. Their inability to meet more often than every three months was identified as something that hindered their ability to share best practice and, in particular, revise their actions plans
  • a number of representatives in one Hub found it difficult to allocate time to have more meetings due to conflicts with work commitments. For these participants, ongoing pressures within their local authority took priority over the Hub (although, members of this Hub had not benefited from sharing best practice).

Having administrative support

5.35 Administrative support was perceived to be essential to alleviate the workload of the 'lead' and ensure the continuity of the Hub.

5.36 As discussed above, two Hubs recruited external organisations to carry out administrative tasks: one brought in help at the very start of the process; while the other brought in assistance in November, having already had a series of meetings. One Hub utilised internal administrative support to assist with Hub-related tasks. The remaining two host/leads carried out tasks without any specific administrative support.

5.37 Lack of administrative support was identified as a significant barrier to the successful running of the Hub process. Without support, 'leads' found it difficult to manage the administration of the Hubs effectively on top of their 'day job' in their local authority. As a result, there were occasions when tasks - for example, organising meetings, sending communications, dealing with consultants, preparing minutes from meetings - were delayed, left until the last minute or had to be dealt with in meetings.

5.38 The level of administration work involved for 'leads', caused the Heads of Service of two of the 'lead' authorities to say that they should have been made aware of the extent of work that had to be carried out by the 'lead', so that they could have made more of an informed decision about taking on the responsibility and made sufficient resources available.

5.39 Hub 'leads' gave two reasons for not recruiting administrative support for their Hub:

  • at the outset of the process, one was unsure about how their Hub should go about procuring support and wanted more guidance from the Scottish Government about how they should do this. By the time the Hub started meeting regularly enough to warrant some kind of support, it was felt to be too late to recruit assistance
  • one 'lead', who adopted a mentoring role with their Hub, was concerned that their Hub might lose focus if responsibility for facilitating the Hub was passed to an external agency.

5.40 With hindsight, those Hubs which did not recruit support, felt that their Hub should have arranged administrative support in one of two ways:

  • a number of Hub members felt it would have been beneficial to the Hubs process if the Scottish Government had taken funding from each of the Hubs to commission an organisation to manage the administration of all Hubs
  • alternatively, they discussed how it would have been beneficial to have a formal arrangement within their Hub to share administrative tasks between members, rather than these being the sole responsibility of the 'lead' authority.

Having committed members

5.41 The success of the Hub was also reliant upon all members of the Hub being committed to the process by making efforts to attend Hub meetings and sharing the responsibility of carrying out action plan-related tasks. There were examples in all of the Hubs of action plan-related tasks being delegated to non-'lead' local authorities to take forward - for example, in one Hub, particular members had been identified as 'experts' in specific areas of interest for the Hub (such as training). This way of working helped to share responsibility across members and ensure the continuity of Hub activities. Further, it ensured that the process was not over-reliant on the 'lead' local authority:

we are all pretty much taking bits of responsibility for different pieces of work, but I think there is a real commitment to make the thing work on the basis of people taking responsibility for the thing….It's not a case of ['lead'] driving this thing and everybody is hanging on ['lead'], you know, with every bated breath. Everybody is pretty much rolling their sleeves up and getting the thing taken forward.

(Hub member)

5.42 However, this arrangement should not be seen as a replacement for holding regular meetings. As discussed above, one Hub, which took forward project activities without holding regularly meetings, did not benefit from the sharing of best practice in the same way as other Hubs.

5.43 The importance of sharing responsibility was evidenced by the views of one Head of Service, who felt that some members of their Hub were more committed than others. As a result, there was an over-reliance on the 'lead' authority to take forward the activities of the Hub:

… we are chairing the meetings, therefore, we are doing all the paperwork, we're organising all the meetings, doing most of the work involved in it…I think people quite like coming along to the meetings, but I don't genuinely feel there is an equal partnership involved in the Hub at present.

(Head of Service)


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