Q Shelter needed to measure its impact as a peak body for the housing and homelessness sector.
To develop a sector-wide approach to impact measurement fit for an organisation that leads the sector.
Louie was a 60-year old Yugoslavian man that lived in the short-term boarding house next door. He didn't speak a lot of English, but then, as a four-year-old, neither did I. Our main form of communication was biscuits; sharing our favourite Arnott’s Tina Wafers over the fence. I would wait out the front of our house in the afternoons, hoping he would walk past with a fresh packet. Louie was in and out of temporary housing since he had come to Australia and, I found out later, he would steal the biscuits from Coles that we shared.
I only know this because he crossed paths with my mum through her court work. Almost 20 years later, he was still living in temporary housing, shoplifting food and other essentials to get by.
Louie is just one of the estimated 20,000 people in Queensland experiencing homelessness. And the reality is, there are many more people at risk. In 2022, services struggle to meet demand amidst new challenges and in ways accessible for different communities.
- Olivia Roney, spur: Strategist
Q Shelter has been advocating for and supporting the Queensland housing and homelessness sector for over 40 years. Initiatives, like The Deck - an Australian first in open-source data and resourcing for the sector, the Service Integration Initiative - bringing together Queensland service providers to offer coordinated housing solutions and the Queensland Housing Roundtable - bringing together sector leaders and government decision-makers to set priorities, all are building towards a Queensland where everyone has a home.
The challenge for Q Shelter, as an organisation that works through its sector, is how to understand its impact.
That's how long Mission Australia estimates 30% of Australians were away from homelessness in Australia in 2018.
Following the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, job losses, and the exclusion of casual workers and some students from assistance payments, homelessness services reported a six-fold increase in demand for their services, including people who had not sought housing assistance before.
Many services reported increases in demand for family violence services. The Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre reported that violence against women and children increased in prevalence, severity and complexity during this period. (Inquiry into Homelessness in Australia)
Homelessness can be defined as:
In Queensland, it is estimated that 1 in 200 people, (or approximately 20,000 people in Queensland) are experiencing homelessness. Elders, young people, particularly LGBTIQ+ young people, women, and First Nations people are most at risk of homelessness in Queensland. The most common reasons people seek support from homelessness services are financial difficulties broadly, housing crisis and housing affordability stress.
There are many services across Queensland providing a range of support to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness, including shelter support, mental health and drug and alcohol counselling, legal and financial services, including domestic violence support, and other primary assistance such as food vans and laundry services. The housing and homelessness sector touches hundreds of organisations and partners, including the Department of Communities, Housing and Digital Economy, and thousands of people at risk of or experiencing homelessness:
Q Shelter is one organisation at the centre of the sector that seeks to bring together, upskill and advocate for the sector as a whole, to ensure people experiencing homelessness can access the most affordable and appropriate housing for them.
Impact measurement is hard enough at the best of times.
There are a thousands ways to think about, model, and articulate your impact - theory of change, outcomes frameworks, 'if this. then that' statements etc - and the only way that is right is the one that is right for the context.
Armed with your vision, and the activities you undertake towards your vision, impact is understanding how you demonstrably shift the world towards that north star goal - using data and real stories. It's an area that is generally not done well and can be complex.
But why it is hard, is why it is so deeply important.
For many organisations that we work with, not-for-profits, government even, making an impact is their overarching 'why' of how the organisation came to be, how it still runs, why people turn up for work each day. It's how you know if you are achieving what you set out to achieve - and it serves as a yardstick for how far there is left to go. It's also a strong business case - understand and communicate your impact well and you will be best placed for grants, tenders and engaging stakeholders.
It's why Q Shelter approached spur: to understand and measure their impact through a theory of change statement and framework, made more complex by their role as an amplifier of the work of others.
Organisations on the frontlines of issues generally have a streamlined impact model - they engage a particular user and that user or another beneficiary experience the benefit of the activities that organisation undertakes (it's an oversimplification but it rings true).So how then, do you talk about impact when you are one step removed from those 'frontlines'?
Impact for capacity builders shifts focus from outcomes on the population level, to outcomes on the system level.
Population outcomes still feature, but they are further down the chain, because there is effectively an extra step to get to them.
spur: thinks about the impact of these organisations like this:
For system change, this model should be read from top-to-bottom, or bottom-to-top, and still make sense.
For organisations making systems change through amplification of others' work, what they directly control (in green) is different to what they indirectly influence (in purple). This is because there are a myriad organisations, programs and people in between using the knowledge, partnerships and advocacy provided by Q Shelter to improve their own work.
For these organisations, like Q Shelter, there are limited touch points with the frontline, but the 'rational threads' of this impact model shows that
the impact of a change to the system will result in benefits for people.
Through this process we came to understand that in setting out to achieve their vision that 'every Queenslander has a home', all of Q Shelter's activities resulted in an increase in sector capacity across the themes of Resources, Partnerships and Advocacy, each with their own distinct set of measures for how Q Shelter might measure progress.
The ultimate impact was an increase supply of well designed and located housing. This was what Q Shelter could directly impact through their work.
The result of well designed and located housing is a series of outcomes for people - more shelter, safety, agency and connection. Ultimately this circles back to more people having a home. This is what they can indirectly influence through their work.
Part science, part art - impact is as complex as it is important. For capacity building organisations, peak bodies and government bodies, there are extra steps to consider in getting to your ultimate impact, and the flow on effects for community.
After all, that's why we all do the work that we do. So that all people in Queensland, like Louie, can have a home.
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