Crisis: Hothouses for Innovation

Identify priority challenges, co-design and test innovations with those who deliver and receive Crisis services to improve outcomes for homeless people.


Homelessness remains a pervasive and intractable issue in the UK. Services must innovate, refine and continually test approaches if they are to improve outcomes and end homelessness.

Crisis is a national charity for homeless people. It helps people directly out of homelessness, and campaigns for the changes needed to solve it altogether. Crisis believe homelessness is not inevitable. The Lab has been commissioned by Crisis to undertake a service design initiative focused on applying rapid cycle innovation and testing techniques to improve outcomes for Crisis members.

“We are using state-of-the-art design thinking approaches to frame challenges experienced by Crisis service users and co-design and test innovative responses to them.”

Our role

The Lab will work intensively with three Crisis Skylight centres – the Hothouses for Innovation – to identify priority challenges and prototype solutions for implementation and testing. The Lab’s approach to service design will blend best science of what works to end homelessness, with insights from those who deliver and use the service to inform service adaptations and refinements. It will bring together those who deliver the service with those who receive the service to build a shared understanding of priority challenges, and develop innovations together.

An online platform is being created to engage the wider Crisis community by sharing developments and challenges from within the Hothouses, and inviting ideas from across all Skylights.

The Lab is also working with Crisis to bolster its data systems and refine how these data are communicated in order to aid the testing and refinement process.

Work began in November 2016 and will conclude September 2019.



Crisis has commissioned the Hothouses for Innovation initiative.

For more information, contact : Kate Tobin, researcher and service design specialist


Challenge Workshops in Oxford, South Yorkshire and Edinburgh, 2017

Crisis Skylight South Yorkshire, 2-week Service Design Sprint, January 2018


Project Timeline


MarchSkylight Coventry and Warwickshire evaluation is published: The Lab’s evaluation of the Pathways to Employment project in Crisis Skylight Coventry and Warwickshire has been published. The report provides 10 reflections and 5 recommendations for consideration.The report is available to download here.

February Crisis Skylight South Yorkshire and South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority evaluation report is launched:The Lab conducted an independent evaluation of the activities carried out by the Crisis Skylight South Yorkshire and South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue partnership. The partnership worked to better identify and support vulnerable groups at greater risk of fire; help vulnerable groups facing homelessness to increase their knowledge of fire safety and; help those facing homelessness to more effectively access and safely sustain tenancies. The evaluation report and recommendations can be accessed here.

January Crisis Skylight South Yorkshire complete 2-week Service Design Sprint:The Lab facilitated a 2-week Service Design Sprint that brought together Crisis staff, those with experience of homelessness and local partners to co-design innovations/adaptations to the existing service. The Lab delivered 14 workshops across various locations in South Yorkshire. More than 100 people took part in the workshops, between them coming up with around 80 ideas. Key criteria were applied to refine this longlist of ideas into a smaller list of viable propositions for Crisis to consider taking forward (i.e. can this reasonably address the priority challenge? Is it feasible to implement within existing resource? Would Crisis want to implement this idea?). The smaller number of propositions were again shared with partners, Crisis staff and those with experience of homelessness to shape and further refine the ideas. The Crisis Hothouse team were then tasked with selecting one idea to take forward (with a preferred second option).


November Priority challenges have been selected for the Crisis Hothouses:The Crisis Evaluation and Insight Board met to discuss and agree the priority challenges. Each Hothouse presented on the priority challenges that emerged during the Challenge Workshops. The Board selected one priority challenge for each Hothouse. These priority challenges will form the focus for the up-coming design sprints early in 2018.

Edinburgh Hothouse: How can Crisis Skylight Edinburgh increase and maintain member engagement, particularly for those with multiple needs?

South Yorkshire Hothouse:How might Crisis Skylight South Yorkshire maximise the intensity and impact of our offer and improve the sustainability of outcomes alongside effective local partnerships?

Oxford Hothouse:How can Crisis Skylight Oxford better reach people who are at risk of homelessness, before they become homeless?

October Challenge Workshops in Oxford, South Yorkshire and Edinburgh:The Lab facilitated full day workshops across the three Hothouses for Innovation. The workshop brought together Crisis staff, partners and members to identify priority challenges that Crisis could work together to address.You can download the Challenge Briefs that summarise each Skylights longlist of challenges: Oxford,South Yorkshire and Edinburgh.

September South Yorkshire - Innovation Coordinator announced: Sam Bond, has been selected as the Innovation Coordinator for the Crisis South Yorkshire Skylight. Welcome to the design team! Sam will work closely with the Lab to oversee the design process within the South Yorkshire Hothouse for Innovation.

"I wanted to become the innovation co-ordinator because I was interested in the idea of using experience from members and staff to streamline our service – making it more efficient all round. I have experience of collecting and analysing data in an academic setting and I wanted to see how similar methods can be used in the real-world to help organisations and, as a result, benefit the people who are using our service. I also wanted to gain more experience in co-ordinating a project and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to get involved in!"

Sam Bond, Crisis Progression Coach.

Edinburgh - Innovation Coordinator announced: We are delighted to welcome Simon Ashpool, Learning manager and Mike Tyson, progression Coach as the Innovation Coordinators for the Edinburgh Hothouse.  

“The Edinburgh team are constantly thinking of ways to improve and a need to innovate is inherent in everything they do. Becoming an Innovation Coordinator was a wonderful opportunity to harness this and working alongside Mike is an opportunity to explore cross-team and integrated innovative ideas.”

Simon Ashpool, Learning Manager

“I had recently been attending subgroups and training on psychologically informed environments and how simple changes can help make a big difference in promoting and encouraging safe and positive engagement. When the opportunity came up for the Hothouse innovation initiative, I felt that this would be an excellent opportunity to identify areas where psychologically informed environments could be adopted into current practice within the skylight and to determine the impact that it may have.”

Mike Tyson, Progression Coach

Call for Hothouse Innovation Coordinators: Nominations for the Innovation Coordinators are circulated within the selected Hothouses for Innovation. Innovation Coordinators will be responsible for overseeing the initiative within the Skylight. The Lab will work closely with Innovation Coordinators to foster their skills as design leaders within Crisis.

July Hothouses selected - Edinburgh, Oxford and South Yorkshire Skylight centres: The first Hothouses for Innovation are selected through a collaborative process with Skylight Directors, The Crisis Monitoring & Evaluation team and the Evaluation and Insights Board. The Skylights - Edinburgh, Oxford and South Yorkshire - facilitated by the Lab, will host challenge and innovation workshops, prototype new solutions and use routine data (qualitative and quantitative) to monitor changes.

“It was important for us to be one of the first Hothouses for Innovation. We will play an influential role in shaping the design process and benefit from the support provided by the Lab and Crisis Evaluation and Monitoring team.”

Mandy Carlson, South Yorkshire Skylight Director Evaluation report(s) published: Final versions of evaluation reports are published on the Crisis website.

June Hothouses for Innovation Webinar series launched:The Lab and Crisis hosted the first Hothouses for Innovation Webinar. The first webinar invited all Crisis Skylights throughout the UK to hear more about the initiative and provides an outline of key events/deadlines.

Progressing Towards Employment interim evaluation report: Crisis Skylight Edinburgh The Lab prepares the interim evaluation report that collates both qualitative insights from staff interviews and quantitative findings from Crisis data systems.

May Member and staff interviews across England and Scotland: The Lab conducts semi-structured interviews across the Edinburgh and London Skylights with staff and Crisis members who receive support.

March Awareness raising of the Hothouses for Innovation initiative: The Lab visits Crisis Skylights in Birmingham and Coventry to develop a deeper understanding of how the Crisis model is delivered across the country. The Lab introduces the Hothouses for Innovation initiative to raise the profile and generate interest across the UK Crisis teams.

February Crisis Skylight Edinburgh visit - Evaluation report preparation: The Lab met with the Crisis Skylight Edinburgh to better understand the evaluation report requirements for the Progressing Towards Employment project, delivered by the Edinburgh Skylight and funded by the Big Lottery Fund.

Circulation of data system recommendations for future consideration:The Lab fed back thoughts about data routinely collected by Crisis, reflected on the purpose of this data and highlighted opportunities to adapt the Crisis systems to enhance day-to-day utility for Crisis coaches.

JanuaryInitial preparation of Crisis evaluation reports (x 8): The Lab explore opportunities to build-in efficiencies in preparation for funder evaluation reports across the Crisis Skylights. This involved critical reflection of existing Crisis Data systems and thinking about how data can be used differently.


NovemberWork formally begins - reconnaissance and insight phase: The work programme is formally launched. Over the next few months, the Lab undertake initial scoping and reconnaissance visits to better understand the Crisis’ service provision and data systems. The Lab meet the coaches, evaluation and data teams.