In our latest website survey, we received the following question from Helen B.: “We know our initiative is effective at prevention and early intervention of homelessness but our non-profit cannot afford to do research to prove it, how can you help?” This is tough to answer without knowing a bit about the initiative we’re discussing, but I’ll do my best!
Research is important, but we don’t always need years-long studies to quantify everything. Sometimes, especially in front-line work, we see how programs work firsthand and can attest to their effectiveness. Evaluation and accountability, however, are also important – they provide evidence that your initiative works.
My first question to you is: how do you know it is effective? What is happening? In other words: How do you know what you know, and how are you measuring it right now? This kind of questioning can lead to a list of outcomes that you can try to collect, quantify and publicize; without spending a whole lot of money.
Let’s say, for example, that you’ve observed most people who go through your program manage to almost always avoid homelessness. In order to “prove” this, you’ll have to establish how many people participated, and answer a series of questions about what might have led to them finding stable housing. Getting this information doesn’t necessarily require a huge, unique research project – it could be a survey given to each participant asking them, from their perspective, what led to them securing housing, along with what was and wasn’t helpful in the program.
I don’t mean to suggest surveys are easy, because they take significant time and effort; but it would be very well spent if you could take your results to the community, potential donors and funders.
Draw from existing research
Another way to analyze your program is by comparing it with what else is out there. Start in your own community. What are other organizations doing, and is it successful? Have they released studies or reports about their programs? If so, what were their findings? How similar are their participants and programs to the ones in your organization? If statistics and findings that are applicable to your program are available, use them! For example, many homelessness organizations in Toronto rely on the Street Needs Assessment for certain kinds of information that they then use for their own analyses.
Another good question to ask is: is your initiative in line with any existing best, emerging or promising practices? That can open up a whole new area of existing research for you to explore and draw from. Below, the hierarchy of evidence shows what kinds of research are considered best, promising and emerging practices.
So what can we do?
Mostly, we can provide information. The Homeless Hub is a resource for homelessness and related information, like poverty and housing issues. While our library hosts many academic journal articles, we also post reports, fact sheets, videos, stories and toolkits (and much more) – many of which are produced by organizations, large and small. Browse around for examples of the kind of research or information you want to share, and think about how you can make it happen.
And of course, if you ever do create something about your initiative, share it with us! We’re always open to learning more about what people are doing to prevent and remedy homelessness.
This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at email@example.com and we will provide a research-based answer.
Photo credit: Hierarchy of Evidence