Can data do for StreetSoccer Scotland what they do for the homeless?

David Reed, knowledge and strategy director, DataIQ

David Duke has a challenge for you: what can you do with data and analytics to help the homeless and disconnected to engage with football and turn their lives around? The founder of StreetSoccer Scotland and holder of an MBE for his charity work threw down this gauntlet during the executive dinner for last week’s DataFest18 and again in an interview with DataIQ.

David Duke MBE, StreetSoccer Scotland“I was thinking about the work of the charity, how we use football to bring in people who are disconnected and in difficult times. When you look at the challenges they face as individuals and the way it impacts on their ability to get support, I think about how data could help,” he said.

In case that seems an unlikely engagement for this industry, then consider this - on average, somebody who is homeless and may have physical or mental health problems could interact with as many as 30 different agencies and service providers. Each time, the lack of integration between services means they have to repeat their story from the start. They may also no longer have any formal identity documents, making their pathway into support even more difficult.

“There are simply things that are not being done. If you phone HMRC, the Council or your bank, they record everything so they know what that call was about and when it happened. When somebody is disengaged from society, for example by being homeless, they have to start from scratch each time, which can be painful,” said Duke. 

Given the urgency of the need in many cases, combined with a possible loss of social skills, or an absence of digital experience, it adds an unnecessary burden on their journey towards improving their situation. As Duke said, “we need to challenge that.”

To him, the services on offer should be as easy to access as an app is to use, while the data captured on users should form an integrated backbone across that journey. “Some data is being captured, but it is not joined up,” he notes.

Scotland winning Homeless World Cup 2007Duke’s own experience is an example of how the right initiatives can turn lives around, and it is a story he tells with power and honesty. The effects of an alcoholic father and a broken home ultimately led him, via the loss of his job, relationship and home, to alcoholism and being homeless himself. It was the 2003 Homeless World Cup in Sweden that provided his way out. Having been picked to play for Scotland, the team finished fourth and, after he took over as managed, went on to win four years later. He founded StreetSoccer Scotland to provide an accessible, supportive community through which disengaged individuals could begin to care about themselves and start the same journey to recovery he had. 

He believes that better analysis of data could also help to drive prevention strategies that would be hugely beneficial not just to the individuals themselves, but to society as a whole One compelling statistic he shared shows why:”Look at Edinburgh prison - 40% of the people there on release are homeless. We know that, so how do we start an intervention eight weeks before their release? If you work out where to put the investment, it will save money because it costs about £22,000 to keep somebody in prison.”

Whether it is using analytics to identify the pinch points in the system or where clusters of need are arising, or finding how to link data sets together more effectively, these are challenges which are being addressed routinely in the commercial sector, but have yet to impact on key areas of the public sector, healthcare and social care. So, how will you rise to that challenge?

Knowledge and strategy director, DataIQ
David is developing the framework for soft skills and career development among data and analytics practitioners. He continues to be editor-in-chief and research director for DataIQ.