Critical Mass - Big Lottery funded research project

There is no national data source that covers non statutory homeless people at all stages of their journey, from  living on the streets to moving into a home.

It is often thought that client recording systems could yield powerful and valuable data but this has never been tested. Homeless Link has received funding for three years from the Big Lottery Fund to collate, combine and analyse client recording data from 6 partners using In-Form and to report on the findings. The aim is to see if client recording data can be used to inform policy and practice.

What's it worth?

In partnership with Pro Bono Economics, and building on our Critical Mass research, we have published ‘What’s It Worth?’ – a guide to financial savings analysis and how it can be used by homelessness services in a robust way.

What has the project achieved?

In the first year of this project, we produced a Literature Review, an Ethics Report, an Interim Report on the project so far and the findings of the first year of analysis, and a Toolkit, including tools and templates on Funding and Data, Data Collection and Analysis, and Ethical Considerations.
Download the Critical Mass Literature ReviewDownload the Critical Mass Ethics ReportDownload the Critical Mass Interim ReportCritical Mass Toolkits
In the second and third years of the project, we worked to ensure that agencies are supported to improve data collection, to use data to improve practice and influence commissioning and policy.
In the third year of the project, we repeated the research to see if data quality had improved enough to answer our research questions and inform our understanding of how people use homelessness services.  You can find our final research report here and a summary here

What DO we know about homelessness?

We conducted a literature review at the beginning of the project to give us an overview of what we know about homelessness. The literature review goes into detail on the history of homelessness data, existing data sources in the UK as well as Europe, and looks at how other sectors use operational data and the perceived benefits and challenges. In addition, the review covers information on current funding streams and data monitoring requirements in the homelessness sector, and includes detailed profiles of the seven partner organisations for the Critical Mass project. To ensure that the views of all members are considered in this project, a survey was conducted which explored the current use and collection of data in services, barriers to analysis and use, and how such services could be supported to ensure the information they hold on their clients can be used effectively. The findings of this initial survey are also described in the review.

What research questions does the project address?

We set ourselves the following research questions, initially using data from 2005-2009, and repeated for 2008-2012 data in our final report:

  • What is the demographic and needs profile of people using homelessness services and how does this differ from the general population?
  • How have these characteristics changed over the past 5 years?
  • What are the characteristics of the client groups of different types of services compared to the wider population?
  • In what ways do different service types deliver different outcomes for homeless people? 

The Interim Report outlines how we addressed these questions and looks at the quality of the data. 

Our Final Report concludes the project and shows how data quality has improved. 

What about the ethical issues associated with client data?

As a part of the first year of Critical Mass we looked at the ethical and legal considerations of using operational data for national research purposes. There has been no formal ethical oversight or guidelines for homelessness organisations who wish to explore how the personal data they gather through supporting clients could be used for research purposes.

The Ethics Report: 'From Private to Public' is a research report which was informed by consultations with clients and staff of homelessness services, current consent and confidentiality practices in services, legal responsibilities, ethical frameworks, and practice in analogous sectors and environments.

The practical aspects of informing clients, engaging frontline staff, managing consent processes, developing policy and procedures and anonymising data are covered in the Ethics tools section in the Critical Mass Toolkit.

How will it help me? 

  • As a provider – this project will enable you to use evidence based knowledge to benchmark and improve your services, and to influence local commissioners and strategies to tackle unmet need
  • As a provider/researcher – this project will enable you to access and use operational data to undertake research and explore client need and the effects of the provision clients receive
  • As a local commissioner – this project will enable you to use operational data in strategic and commissioning decisions relating to the spectrum of services for homeless people
  • As a national policy maker – this project will enable you to use a comprehensive and sound evidence base to guide national policies and spend across Whitehall

Project oversight 

  • The project was advised and guided by the University of St Andrews to ensure that the research methodology and findings are robust.
  • All the partners met regularly with Homeless Link to ensure that the research and materials met their requirements and provide them with the necessary tools.
  • A project steering group of national policy makers and commissioners met to advise on how the findings can be strategically presented to influence policy and commissioning decisions.


What's it worth?

A guide to financial savings analysis and how it can be used by homelessness services in a robust way. Published in partnership with Pro Bono Economics.