One of the many highlights of the 2019 Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness Conference in Edmonton, Alberta, was the annual Making the Shift (MtS) Summit at the YESS Armoury Resource Centre.

As the two newest members of the Making the Shift Demonstration Lab (MtS DEMS) team, it was a chance for us to meet partners face-to-face, reflect on the successes to date, and discuss opportunities for improvement as we look to Phase Two (2020–2023). We learned, for instance, that MtS DEMS’ Family and Natural Supports (FNS) sites require more clinical support than anticipated, community partners are keen to stay on top of program performance, and sites desire to belong to a robust community of practice. Our learnings from the summit will hopefully guide other organizations who are interested in connecting their research to their work on the ground particularly across multiple sites. 

The Importance of Practice 

Taking part in these conversations reinforced just how important the role of practice is to our collective response to the issue of youth homelessness. In truth, the bold changes we have long been calling for, in, for instance, The Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessness, will only be realized when the everyday work practices of people working inside and outside homeless-serving organizations shift. 

This transformation will not occur through one single event but will unfold overtime –– often in subtle ways, such as in the way case consultation meetings are organized and run.

The key to change, as we argue, is to map and examine the everyday practices associated with delivering services and support to young people. For instance, when we talk about case management, what do we really mean? What are the specific activities that staff carry when doing this type of work? What technology or other artifacts do they use to support these practices? What practical know-how have they acquired over their career? How is this work perceived internally, within organizations, and more broadly within society?

Answers to these questions give us important insight into how practices can be scaled across communities. And also illustrate the importance of carefully linking research to practice.

Needs and Opportunities for Enhancement

Based on input from community partners at the Making the Shift (MtS) Summit we identified five key opportunity areas to enhance program performance and more intentionally link research and practice.



Strengthen and nurture our Community of Practice (CoP)

Work cooperatively with demonstration sites to highlight and tell the stories of frontline work, while at the same time identifying topics to guide community of practice activities

Show program performance results early and often

Publish outcomes data regularly and create easy opportunities for MtS DEMS to share innovations happening in practice (e.g., new tools to support case management etc.)

Create opportunities to tell the story of our collective work and the impact it is having in the world

Create, curate, and broadcast communications pieces that build on lessons learned from the frontlines, youth stories, and research (using social media, MtS Newsletter, AWH & Homeless Hub blogs, etc.)

Support community partners through enhanced technical training and case management support

Explore opportunities to provide real-time technical training and support to demonstration sites that is based on evidence and best practices

Progress to Date

We are already making progress on all of these fronts. The research and practice teams are working closely with MtS DEMS sites to enhance processes for collecting data and feedback related to program delivery. This is all part of our mission to draw closer empirical linkages between practices that are occurring at the frontline and outcomes related to youth wellbeing, including housing stability, educational attainment, connections to family and community, among others. 

For example, we recently refined reporting tools we use to collect data from sites based on the need that project partners reported wanting to have better insight into how their program is performing and to identify opportunities to enhance the training of program teams. The updated tool has been designed to allow them to provide detailed accounts of the specific actions program teams are taking to achieve outcomes. The tool also captures the barriers that are getting in the way of delivering programming. This feedback is invaluable in that it allows us to refine and develop case management tools that are rooted in evidence, and that are user-friendly, create opportunities to address barriers through interactive CoP activities, and develop training support for program teams that is tailored to their needs.