The current research examines the policy impacts of the AHCS project beyond the demonstration project period. Part of a larger study about the sustainability of the services and their long-term impacts, the current report examines AHCS’s wider impact on homelessness policy in Canada. The study describes how efforts to achieve sustainability in a limited sense – that is, to attain transitional funding and secure a “safe landing” for the project beyond the official end of the project – were integrally related to the project’s longer-term impact on national homelessness policy and resource allocation. It highlights the importance of the evidence presented by AHCS leaders and its timing, given that it occurred during a time when the federal government was reconsidering the direction of HPS. It also highlights the importance of the strong relationships between the research team and the policymakers and the ability of the researchers to present interim findings in a way that is most relevant to the decision-making context. This research builds on previous research on the conception (Macnaughton, Nelson, & Goering, 2013), planning (Nelson et al., 2013; Nelson et al., 2015) and implementation (Macnaughton et al., 2015; Nelson et al., 2014) of AHSC. This report, together with a companion report on sustainability of programs at each of the sites (Nelson et al., 2016) offers systematic evidence about knowledge translation and provides both practical and theoretical insights as to how research makes its way into policy.
The overall purpose of this research is to tell the story behind this large-scale RCT (Nelson, Macnaughton, & Goering, 2015). The two main research questions are:
- What is the story of the AHCS’s national-level efforts to sustain the project for a transitional period and impact social policy?
- What are the key themes on how the study’s research findings were translated into ongoing federal policy?
Given the complexity of the knowledge exchange process related to moving evidence into policy, we adopted a case study approach, which has been recommended as the best way to understand this complexity (Greenhalgh & Fahy, 2015). The approach relies primarily on data from 15 semi-structured key informant interviews with individuals from the political and policy spheres who were involved in the project, as well as AHCS project leaders at both the national and provincial levels.
The findings were analyzed to produce a chronology of the key events leading to sustainability, as well as the common themes underlying the process. By sustainability, we refer both to the efforts to secure transitional funding using the research findings and wider policy impacts of that research.
Key events in the chronology included:
- Deciding to use an integrated knowledge translation approach;
- Creating a Sustainability Task Force which brought together AHCS project leaders and key MHCC staff (including Government Relations);
- Confirming that the federal government would not sustain the project beyond its commitment for the demonstration project;
- Developing a federal-provincial “ask” for transitional funding based on the success of the interim findings from AHCS;
- The upcoming deadline for consideration of renewal of the HPS program;
- Meeting with key federal government insiders to gain advice about how to frame the evidence;
- Based on the interim findings, using a “full court press” to present the findings to numerous political and bureaucratic decision-makers and to “create a buzz” about the findings;
- Drawing on key policy entrepreneurs to bring the urgency of the issue to the attention of senior political leaders;
- Negotiating a provincial/federal agreement to secure transitional funding for the AHCS teams; and
- Learning in advance of the March, 2013 budget that the HF approach would guide future federal homelessness policy
In terms of theoretical implications, the findings are consistent with policy streams theory, which holds that policy change occurs when the three streams of problems, politics and policy ideas converge. In this case, the threat of AHCS participants losing their housing created a problem. Regarding the politics of the situation, the success of the project’s findings and their framing resonated with key decisionmakers, expressed in terms congruent with the current government’s political agenda (more efficient government). At the same time, policy entrepreneurs both internal to government and outside, were able to use an opening window of opportunity (i.e. the government’s review of the HPS program) to advance the successful policy idea (using the AHCS project’s findings to inform the renewal of the HPS program). Thus, there was not one key “driver” for the change. Rather, it was the convergence of a number of factors that led to the policy change (and the securing of transitional funding): concern for the participants, the window of the HPS renewal and the strong policy idea backed by rigorous evidence, expressed in a way that was relevant to policy-makers.
In terms of its practical implications for demonstration projects, the study showed:
- the importance of a collaborative approach to lobbying (avoid “shaming”);
- the value of having interim findings to use as a knowledge translation tool in advance of the end of the project’s formal demonstration period;
- the importance of framing the findings (and “ask”) in terms of a broader policy agenda; and
- if possible, the importance of planning for (and securing funding) for a transitional period after the end of the formal demonstration program.