Coming home with the Home Star

Outcomes Star for homelessness gets a radical overhaul

Over the 20 years since we first started working on an outcomes tool for homelessness, a huge amount has changed in the sector. In response, we’ve undertaken a major review of the Outcomes Star. The resulting Home Star is now published – and it’s a truly person-centred Star for homeless people.

The Outcomes Star, commonly known as the Homelessness Star, was Triangle’s first ever outcomes tool. At its heart from the beginning were the principles of empowerment and collaboration that have informed Triangle’s work ever since. And its structure, with the simple yet engaging Star shape underpinned by a five-stage Journey of Change, has become the basis of the whole constellation of Stars that followed it.

Appropriately enough for a tool with collaboration at its heart, it came about through an initial collaboration with St Mungo’s back in 2002. We worked with St Mungo’s to design an outcomes tool, then developed it in collaboration with the London Housing Foundation and other homelessness charities to publish the Homelessness Star in 2006. It has been a resounding success and is widely used within the sector.

But with close to 50 Stars now published and more than 60 research studies supporting the Star’s validity, we’ve learned a lot since that first Star. We’ve come to know what resonates with service users, how to ensure that the stages in the Journey of Change are absolutely clear, and how to make sure each Star is measuring the things that really matter. It was time to put that learning back into the Homelessness Star.

Time for a rethink

We had updated the Homelessness Star in 2017, but increasingly felt that it needed a more radical overhaul. As a social enterprise, Triangle invests part of the licence fee for Stars in keeping them under review and up to date – and we wanted to make a big investment in our first Star. So in April 2020 we formally kicked the process off with a Round Table of users of the Homelessness Star (see the Reviewing the Star box below).

Three main things drove the rethink. First and foremost, the language needed changing. Our more recent Stars are even more trauma-informed as we have learnt how to word them to avoid triggers or any suggestion of blame – so we wanted to bring that learning into what would be the new Home Star. And while the original Homelessness Star was also person-centred, the thinking on that has moved on and there was more that could be done to eliminate jargon, focus on the service user’s real concerns and put them right at the centre.

Secondly, the sector itself has changed rapidly over recent years. When we first wrote the Homelessness Star, the main clients were single homeless men. Today far more women and families are accessing services, and people often have significantly more complex needs. And with increasing pressures on funding, many homelessness services are offering shorter-term interventions.

Thirdly, the external environment for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness has got tougher. There’s less social housing, the cost of living is sky high, and access to work has become even tougher. It was important to reflect all that more explicitly in the new edition of the Star.

“We’re really proud of the new Home Star,” says Triangle director Sara Burns. “It was our first flagship Star, and we wanted to make it as good and relevant and accessible as it could possibly be. So we’re delighted at the way it’s being received. We’ve had feedback that it’s ‘bang up to date’, with the language being particularly good. And perhaps most importantly, it’s person-centred to its very core.”

The new Home Star

At a glance: what’s changed in the Home Star 

  • There’s trauma-informed language throughout – for example: “You don’t have the help you need or are not ready to engage with it. Perhaps it doesn’t work for you or it’s hard to trust it”.
  • The Star works for women and families and for people with complex needs.
  • There are explicit references to external factors that are beyond the control of the service and of the service user.
  • The former “Motivation and responsibility” area has become “Trust and hope” and is completely different.
  • The old “Offending” area has been reworked as “Safety and crime”, focusing much more on homeless people being victims of crime.
  • The “Alcohol and drugs” area now recognises that drinking or taking drugs can be a coping strategy.
  • The “Meaningful use of time” scale has become “How I spend my time” and focuses more on what is meaningful for the service user.
  • There are more accessible materials, including Flashcards for people with limited English or who struggle with forms.

Reviewing the Star: the process

Gathering feedback
– Continuous input over many years through our trainers and implementing leads
Meeting with MEAM and others
Workshop organised by Brighton Women’s Centre
Round Table in April 2020
Wide call for feedback

Testing successive drafts

– Drafts sent for feedback in April and Nov 2021
Workshop with Psychologically Informed Environments (PIE) in Dec 2021
Final version Jan 2022
Launch webinar Mar 2022
New Star available April 2022

A major collaboration: organisations contributing to the review

How to start with the new Star

For new Star users, the process is simple – get in touch with Triangle (details below), get a licence and some training and you can start using the Home Star straightaway.

For organisations already using the Homelessness Star, switching is free for all licence holders, and there’s guidance on the Triangle website on how to do it with minimum disruption. There’s also support for licensed trainers. However it’s important to realise that the new Home Star is significantly different from the Star it replaces. The data won’t match (for example, the “Trust and hope” area is entirely different from the old “Motivation and responsibility”, so there needs to be a period of adjustment.

“There will be an interruption in the continuity of detailed data when switching over, and you will need to update your internal policy and other documentation mentioning the Star,” says Sara Burns. “But we’re confident that the effort of switching is well worth it.”

Next steps

New ‘How to’ guide explains how the Outcomes Star can turn Human Learning Systems principles into practice

Since the publication of our Enabling Help report last year, we have been working with Toby Lowe and colleagues at the Centre for Public Impact to articulate how the Outcomes Star can operationalise learning as a management strategy and other core components of the Human Learning Systems (HLS) paradigm.

Both HLS and Enabling help focus on moving on from the failings of New Public Management towards an alternative vision of supporting ‘human freedom and flourishing’ through creating flexible, relational, compassionate service delivery systems in which the role of measuring is to support learning for individuals, organisations and places.

The Star as a tool for turning HLS and Enabling Help principles into practice

We are delighted that the Star is one of the tools identified in the Centre for Public Impact’s recently launched guide: Human Learning Systems: A practical guide for the curious, commissioned by Healthcare Improvement Scotland and Iriss.  

 The guide highlights three different ways that the Outcomes Star can be used to put the principles of Human Learning Systems into practice:

  • Person level: the Star empowers people to take an overview of where they are, understand their life as a system, choose their goals and work out the next steps to achieve them
  • Organisation/place level: the Star enables meaningful purpose-aligned reflection and learning about what is and isn’t working within services, in order to better support those they serve
  • Connected learning cycles: the Star offers a way of collective sense-making between different actors within or across organisations, for example within a multidisciplinary team supporting an individual, or between commissioners and service providers

Read the Outcomes Star case studies included within the guide. 

The synergy between the Star and human learning systems

HLS started as an analysis of the problems within traditional approaches to public service management.  It has gone on to articulate an alternative framework and then look for practical ways of bringing that vision to life. 

The Outcomes Star, in contrast, started as a practical tool for service providers to evidence that they are making a difference in a way that really reflects and supports what they do. From there we articulated the vision of service delivery and public management that was implicit in the tool in our Enabling Help report. 

The convergence of these approaches, despite their different starting points, speaks volumes.  The time has come for this shift in thinking and practice.  We look forward to furthering collaboration with the HLS movement and others who share this vision.

Could your use of the Star inspire others?
Are you working with the Star as part of a wider HLS approach?
Please get in touch with our Research analyst, Dr Anna Good (, as we are keen to create and publicise more case studies.  

Human Learning Systems – A practical guide to doing public management differently

This article was originally published by the Centre for Public Impact.

Last year, we worked with several organisations to release an e-book – Human Learning Systems: Public Service for the Real World. This had one key message: if we want to achieve real outcomes in the world, then we need to do public management differently. That is, we need to plan and organise public service in a radically different way.

Back in 2016-17, when a few of us first began to explore this idea, this was a distinctly heretical position to take. The people that spoke to us for our first report did so on condition of anonymity. Fast forward five years. Now, not only do we have a good picture of what an alternative approach to public management looks like, we have over 50 case studies of that in practice from around the world. And those who have been at the vanguard of this practice, like Plymouth Council, are winning national awards for doing so.

At the same time, across Scotland’s health and social care system, there is a growing appetite to commission differently, to better focus on creating the conditions for people to achieve the outcomes that matter most to them. That’s why Healthcare Improvement Scotland and Iriss commissioned the Centre for Public Impact to create a practical guide for organisations who want to use a Human Learning Systems approach to public management. 

We’re excited that the guide, Human Learning Systems: A practical guide for the curious, is now ready for organisations to use. But, before we ask you to dive in, we wanted to share a little about the journey we’ve been on so far, the need for this resource, and what you can expect.

Recognising the complexity of our lives

Human Learning Systems begins with the recognition that real outcomes are created by the unique combination of actors and factors, and the relationships and interactions between them, that make up a person’s life.

Sturmberg, JP (2018) Health System Redesign How to Make Health Care Person-Centered, Equitable,and Sustainable. Springer, Australia. p238

The exact combination of relationships between actors and factors that create a desirable outcome in one person’s life will be different to another person’s. And, it will change over time, as our lives evolve, and the world changes.

Learning as a Management Strategy

Therefore, if we care about outcomes, we need a different approach to public management which recognises this complexity. We need Learning as Management Strategy. This is what our new guide to Human Learning Systems helps organisations get to grips with. Our guide enables those engaged in any aspect of social action or public service to organise themselves to have the best chance of creating genuine outcomes in the complex environments of people’s lives.

Learning as Management Strategy changes the focus of what can be planned and managed. Rather than trying to meticulously pre-plan and organise a programme of activity in someone’s life, it enables public facing workers to learn together with the people they serve. They can learn about the unique nature of each person’s life as a complex system – the key relationships and the driving factors in their life – and how all of those things interact. And then, when they have learnt together, it enables the workers and those being served, to explore and experiment together around what helps to produce better and different outcomes in people’s lives.

HLS Learning Cycle

All of this exploration and experimentation generates challenges for how systems at other scales are planned and managed – how teams, organisations, places and nations work. And so the managers at these scales need to undertake the same processes of learning and experimentation – to ensure that the action-learning which supports the creation of real outcomes happens rigorously, efficiently and effectively.

Human Learning Systems: A practical guide for the curious

All of these action-learning processes can be planned and managed.

Our new guide is designed to help people understand the practical actions they will likely need to take to plan, organise and undertake these action-learning activities.

The guide incorporates case study examples, written by Andy Brogan from Easier Inc, and Mark Smith from Gateshead Council, to illustrate the applications of the framework in real life. It draws on the richness of their experiences to explore the detailed methods they use, the obstacles they encountered, and how they responded to those obstacles, all while placing learning at the heart of their approach.

The guide was also tested with public sector and voluntary organisations across Scotland who supported us in further iterating and developing it so it can support experimentation in different contexts. 

How can you help?

This is just the beginning. We’re keen to keep testing and iterating the guide and keep asking the question: “what help do people need to adopt a Human Learning Systems approach?” We’ll be seeking feedback from everyone who downloads it – was it useful? How could it be better? Do write to us and tell us how you’re using the guide. With your help, we can truly create something extraordinary.

Explore the guide

We’ve worked with partners to develop a practical new guide to help you apply the Human Learning Systems approach to your work. Download the guide to begin your journey towards more human public services.

This article was originally published by the Centre for Public Impact.
Written by:
Toby Lowe Visiting Professor in Public Management

Chandrima Padmanabhan Senior Associate, Europe
View biography