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Argus Residence: Social Innovation in Action

The Argus Residence in Cambridge, Ontario is dedicated to preventing and ending youth homelessness. The staff and volunteers at Argus operate a number of programs which focus on prevention, emergency shelter, employment, and housing support assistance.

A few months ago, Argus began working with Innoweave, supported by the Government of Canada, on a small project designed to help them explore and experiment with new tools and approaches that could help advance its mission. With a challenge as complex as youth homelessness, there are any number of program and research areas where the Argus team could choose to focus. But ultimately, they decided to use this opportunity to work with coaches who could offer new approaches not to operations or programming, but to further engaging the Argus users themselves – youth experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

InWithForward is a leading International ethnographic and user research organization, also working to build social service providers’ capacity for research and development. With support from Innoweave and the Government of Canada, InWithForward spent 3 days in Cambridge coaching the Argus Residence team.

The InWithForward approach is hands-on, embedded interaction. Their team worked the full 3 days at Argus, getting to know the youth who were there, working directly with the residence staff, and undertaking a mini-internship with a former Argus user who had returned to offer his assistance.

The objective of the engagement was to help Argus better understand the user experience within their own system, and to leverage this knowledge into building more effective prevention approaches. InWithForward coached Argus team members in ethnographic research methods and in using tools that engage service users to share their experiences. Ultimately, this led to a visualization of at risk young people’s situation and created an approach and narrative that better speaks to young people’s needs, aspirations and concerns. InWithForward coaches engaged in  unstructured conversations with youth, and varied their interaction settings to help create more welcoming and comfortable conversations (naturally, some of this cutting edge research and design took place at the local Tim Hortons!)

At the completion of the work, InWithForward was able to offer Argus insights based on the deeply personal stories of the youth they worked with. This will allow Argus to show new users how their own goals can be served through the available supports. The InWithForward team also equipped Argus staff with new visual tools, which they may use in their future  intake process.

But, perhaps the most important realization for Argus from this work, is the value of dialogue and engagement. The fully immersive InWithForward coaching offered Argus team members a chance to reflect on their own work, and to see first hand how youth feel and think about accessing their supports. Building more space for reflection, and more youth-led dialogue, is a key objective for Argus as they move forward.

To learn more about this type of research visit inwithforward.com.