Background

Centrepoint is a youth homelessness charity which provides people, aged 16-25, with a safe place to live in London and the North East of England.

Despite youth homelessness figures being widely recorded across the UK, there are major discrepancies and disparities within the data. One of the winners of the Google Impact Challenge 2014, Centrepoint sought our technical expertise to combat this problem by creating the UK’s first Youth Homelessness Databank.

Youth Homelessness Databank Homepage

Youth Homelessness Databank homepage

Objectives

Centrepoint wanted the Youth Homelessness Databank to act as a central data repository for youth homelessness in the UK. The custom web application needed to capture, measure and display youth homelessness data from multiple sources including the government, local authorities, charities and housing providers. The specifics for this project were:

  • Create a web-based dashboard which would allow third-party data providers to easily upload normalised youth homeless data from disparate sources. 
  • Collate the uploaded information and present it in an easy-to-understand, digestible way to provide a true view of youth homelessness in the UK.

"Policy about youth homelessness is currently made in the dark, with no agreement on even the most basic question: how many young people are homeless? No-one really knows! Here at Centrepoint’s Youth Homelessness Databank we are delighted to have worked with Torchbox to develop the UK’s first ever website that turns youth homelessness data from across the country into youth homelessness knowledge."

– Gaia Marcus, Youth Homelessness Databank Manager, Centrepoint

Challenges Faced

There are more than 400 local authorities in the UK. Each collects and stores youth homelessness data in a different way. Our challenge was to consolidate this body of data into one central source, without sacrificing the integrity or nuance of it in any way. We also had to ensure that the process of adding data to the Youth Homelessness Databank was simple and straightforward, to encourage uptake and use. This was a particular consideration for local authority data providers; we needed to design an upload process which would facilitate adding data to the system without creating additional work for them.

Strategy

+ Discovery Phase
We began by analysing the existing user research previously undertaken by the Centrepoint Youth Homelessness Databank team, which gave us insight into user’s’ requirements and needs. These insights were expressed in the form of user stories (for example, ‘as a user I need to filter the data by date so that I understand how recent the data is’). We used these stories to develop a list of potential features for the Youth Homelessness Databank, which we then worked with Centrepoint to prioritise.

+ Alpha Phase
We then moved into our Alpha phase, creating an underlying data model to define how the Youth Homelessness Databank would represent the aggregated data. This was a complex process because of the range of ways in which homelessness statistics are currently captured; as an example, some data providers break data down by age ranges of 16-17 and 18-24, whilst others treat this as a single large group. In parallel, mockups for the web-based dashboard user interface were created, and these were user tested to validate the initial premise of the product.

“The beta website is a design that we can be proud of and that we are receiving positive feedback on. We look forward to using it to help create the evidence base necessary to create real change.”

– Gaia Marcus, Youth Homelessness Databank Manager, Centrepoint

+ Beta Phase
Once the solution from the alpha phase had been fully tested and iterated, we focused on developing the site’s visual design and user-facing features. We worked through our prioritised feature list and drew on our user research to add key functionality, such as the ability to compare data from two different local authorities. A final round of user testing was conducted to test the dashboard’s usability amongst target audiences.

Centrepoint's Youth Homelessness Databank

Youth homelessness data comparison

Results

Working in partnership with Centrepoint’s Youth Homelessness Databank team, we have successfully developed the UK’s first central source for youth homelessness data. The Youth Homelessness Databank not only allows local authorities and charities to easily upload data, but it also consolidates and presents youth homelessness data in an easy to understand, digestible format which can better help affect future change.