Complex, shifting problems that present high risks for vulnerable people are solved every day by teams trained to do so, in hospitals, on construction sites, in aviation, and in many other industries. Certain types of problems are similar no matter where they show up. In our first meetings with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), which had brought improvement science to the mission of helping hospitals and physicians eliminate avoidable deaths and patient harm, hearing that insights and practices associated with the Japanese auto industry could make healthcare safer took some getting used to. Seeing the difference between hospitals that have rigorous safety cultures and those that don’t turned us into believers.
Learning that problem solving practices can move between industries spurred us to reflect on the kind of problem that homelessness is, and to look broadly for solutions to the accountability and coordination problems at the heart of persistent homelessness. These problems have made all our efforts less powerful and hindered for a generation the dedicated work of organizations serving the homeless.
But we can change that.
Six months after the 100,000 Homes Campaign ended, Built for Zero began. 70 communities signed on to figure out together how to get all the way to a sustainable end to homelessness. We had learned by then the necessity of well organized teams in each community that shared a clear goal; of accurate information and measures to show the effect of different interventions; of training local teams in problem solving skills like design thinking to understand where the pitfalls and barriers are for avoiding or escaping homelessness and frame possible solutions, of quality improvement to test and refine ideas, and in using data to see what’s working, for whom, and to help us get better at our work.