Revealing & changing lives by going beyond data to share rich, human stories

Homelessness + substance misuse + criminal justice

With Lankelly Chase & User Voice, London, UK

Well told stories have the power to change things. Too often organisations who  deal with people start, and stop, with the numbers. Digging deep to really understand people’s lives and the systems around them generates new insights and the most powerful case for change. It allows us to value people for who they are; with problems, but also with strengths and ambitions.

The problem

250,000 People

In England experience severe & multiple disadvantage

£4.3 billion

Spent on people struggling with homelessness, addiction and mental health problems

Too often we see policy decisions and the delivery of public services being heavily driven by data. This kind of evidence is important, but relying on it as the main source of insight can factor out the empathy that drove investment and action in the first place.

Lankelly Chase is a foundation with a vision to bring about lasting change to the lives of people who suffer severe and multiple disadvantage. Their detailed research revealed a lot about the scale and nature of disadvantage across the UK, but they wanted to go deeper. They asked us to reveal the complex human stories that sat behind the data, and to generate new insights about how the systems of support for these people needed to change.

“Hard Edges gave us the most robust data to date on severe and multiple disadvantage in England (produced by Herriot-Watt University). But we know how critical it is to listen to and be led by people with real lived experience. While many that we spoke to welcomed the data, they also noted that it only told half of the story.” Rebecca Fordham

“When people see you as a burden, you start acting as one. There is a stigma that people who are in addiction commit the crimes - they don't.” Colin

Steve from Innovation Unit project Photograph of living room taken during the Hard Edges project Paul holding medication case taken as part of Hard Edges project

Our impact

12 months / 12 rich stories

From participatory research

5 big lessons

For system change

100 service providers & policy makers

Hearing and responding to new insights

We partnered with User Voice, a charity set up and run by ex-offenders that use their experiences to improve the criminal justice system and help others with their rehabilitation. Together we designed participatory research that gave 12 people with experience of severe and multiple disadvantage the chance to share their life journeys and their aspirations. Over the course of a year we spent time with Tex, Liz, Colin, Martin, Karen, Steve, Zeb, Stuart, Natasha, Lee, Paul and James, capturing honest, deep and rich stories through a combination of images, narrative and film. We analysed what we heard and developed a set of big ideas to frame listening conversations with different groups of professionals.

The impact of the research was three-fold. The storytelling process provided those we talked to a platform for understanding their own lives – their problems and needs, but also what they hoped for and what they were capable of. A celebration event at the House of Lords gave the research participants the chance to discuss the changes they wanted to see across the system. It was a powerful moment where some of the research participants came together in one of the most significant policy-making settings in the country. They were transformed from former addict to passionate public speakers with a voice that mattered.

“I know that at least half of the storytellers have really transformed through the project and that having this platform has boosted their recovery and confidence in their ability to change not just their lives, but also the wider system.” Fan Sissoko

Service providers, commissioners, policy influencers, and various experts, came together to listen and learn from the stories, connect with other change makers and reflect on how to best put the learnings into practice. A workshop in Newcastle allowed people to apply these insights to their existing work – strengthening and giving momentum to a coalition of local organisations working with adults with complex needs.

The team at Lankelly Chase were new to this kind of ethnographic research – the project was an experiment around how they communicate important messages with the world. They now see understanding and telling human stories as core to their work and are better equipped to undertake this kind of research in the future.

View the stories on the Hard Edges website.