Collaborative think tank tackles homelessness

Collaborative think tank tackles homelessness
At last month's Big Sleepout in Auckland, Lifewise and Running With Scissors collaborated to conduct a think tank using innovative business knowledge to solve the issue of homelessness. Could this be the next frontier in tackling some of the country's biggest social issues?

At the Lifewise Big Sleepout early last month, organisers and creative hub Running With Scissors collaborated to conduct a think tank where the application of commercial innovation knowledge was used to rapidly evolve suggestions around solving homelessness from the idea to the implementation phase– and it seems to be working.


The Big Sleepout (BSO) has been an overwhelming success since its first event a few years ago. Thousands of dollars have been raised to tackle the issue of homelessness and rough-sleeping, a problem which organisers say will grow at the same rate as Auckland if nothing is done.

Lifewise director of fundraising, marketing and communications Lesley Mynett-Johnson says while the organisation was doing its part to help those in need, it came to the painful conclusion that its charitable initiatives weren’t actually addressing the root cause of homelessness. Its approach needed to change if it was ever going to help people get off the street rather than simply providing respite from it.

After switching its focus to helping homeless people make the transition from the street to permanent housing (Lifewise has already helped make this happen for over 100 people), it decided in needed to do more to turn all the brilliant ideas given forth by individuals and community groups into working solutions. This is when Running With Scissors joined the party.

Non-profit organisations trying to solve a social issue aren’t typical clients of problem-solvers Running With Scissors, but when the opportunity arose to team up with Lifewise and address a great cause, it leaped at the chance.

“How do you take what’s in peoples’ heads overnight, and turn it into something useful that will motivate them in the morning to help you get things done?” says Running With Scissors co-founder Andy Mitchell.

The answer is sending people out with three clear ideas on how they can make an immediate difference. Motivation, too, is invaluable in getting people to swiftly turn these ideas into action. Though it sounds impossible to achieve over just one short night, thoroughly stress-testing and concept-testing ideas is a surprisingly fast way to turn 100 ideas to into three achievable ones in the space of roughly eight hours.

One of these three ideas is a virtual portal where organisations can offer professional services, goods, education and other opportunities to homeless people who are already known to existing service providers such as Lifewise.

The other two primary ideas aim to prevent evictions and homelessness before it happens, and setting up transition accommodation for someone in need before they are moved to a permanent home.

Mynett-Johnson is already seeing the benefits of the think-tank experiment, and thinks the model could be used by other organisations to solve any number of social issues.

“I don’t think anybody in the social services sector or in the community sector has tried this approach before.”

Mitchell says the approach, which is commonly used the commercial world, can easily be translated into tackling some of New Zealand’s greatest social issues.

“The biggest problem with innovation in this country is that so many great, innovative thoughts or initiatives never actually get put through into markets because there’s not enough force to really make things happen.”

Photos: Kaan Hiini

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