Megan @ Shelter
Megan recounts her 2018 placement with Shelter, a charity who campaign to end homelessness.
About the placement
Since starting my summer placement at Shelter, I have been made to feel very welcome and like a valuable part of the team. My role at Shelter is to provide evidence and information that the digital advice team can use as a starting point for creating content on the website that helps people to find solutions to housing problems. I have also been given a lot of independence to use the knowledge I have gained through my degree when offering insight into the people who need Shelter’s services.
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to visit the head office in London and meet people who work in all areas of the organisation. Through them I was able to learn how different roles within the organisation fit together and gained advice as to how I could best carry out the aim of my placement. For example, I met with policy researchers to learn about their approach and how I might apply their methods or resources to my advice research. They also showed me how I could apply the knowledge that I already had, and how the skills I have gained by doing a quantitative degree are used in a working environment.
So far during my placement, I have been introduced to other software and programmes that have built on skills I already have, or introduce something that is completely new to me. At Shelter, many people use Google Analytics to look at trends on the website, so I have been able to learn how to use this programme and how it can support my existing abilities. One new area I have explored is web content design, using a programme called Squiz which lets you edit and publish webpages. Having the chance to try new things like this has made the placement at Shelter both exciting and useful, since I am gaining skills beyond what I will learn through my degree.
Over 5 million people visit Shelter’s housing advice website each year, and the digital advice team in Sheffield produce and manage these pages that deal with issues from homelessness, eviction, bad conditions and benefits. My focus within this team has been on researching the private rented sector of housing in England and finding out what kind of problems people experience to make sure that the advice given is always as helpful as possible.
I have mainly worked with YouGov data, which is different from a lot of the data I have worked with before because the survey has been conducted specifically for Shelter to research this area. I could draw on a lot of demographic characteristics and find out more about people’s feelings and attitudes, rather than just their situation which is all that I would be able to find in publicly available government data.
Since I’m trying to find out who experiences certain issues in the private rented sector, I have used a series of logistic regressions to find out who is more likely to be affected by certain problems. I have found consistently that people with disabilities or illnesses that limit their daily lives and people with dependent children are more likely to experience problems, for example being harassed by a landlord. I have also looked at the differences in certain issues on a local level and made a series of interactive maps to demonstrate which areas have a higher proportion of private landlord evictions.
I feel like I have been able to help provide the digital advice team with evidence of what kind of problems people experience so that they can tailor their work to what people need"
While doing this, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in the advice team’s work in several other ways. I took part in discussions and plans for including infographics on the website, and I have found that thinking about infographics from another perspective has improved the way I approach data visualisation. I was also invited to join the ‘crit’, where people who write the advice pages share what they have written and the rest of the team offers their suggestions to improve the work. Being a part of this exercise made me feel like a valued part of the team and was a really interesting experience. While I’m not a writer, I got to offer my thoughts as someone who doesn’t know a lot about housing - like the reader, and it made me think more about how to adapt my work to whoever needed to use it.
Reflecting on the placement
Now that I’m at the end of my placement at Shelter, I feel like I have been able to help provide the digital advice team with evidence of what kind of problems people experience so that they can tailor their work to what people need and ensure they are delivering the right advice and information to the right people. This has been really rewarding because the information that they give is so helpful to millions of people in situations of bad housing, and I have been able to help ensure that this reaches as many of the people who need it as possible.
By having a lot of independence to complete this project in the way that I think is best, I have learned a lot about the way that I work best and how to use the skills I have gained at the SMI in practice"
I gave a presentation of my findings to people from the digital advice team as well as people from other areas, like the helpline and webchat advisers. When I showed my findings, they offered their own experiences and we were able to discuss what the reasons behind some of the results were. Several advisors commented that a lot of people that they support with these issues are from London. I was able to offer an explanation, saying that my results suggested that people were more likely to have these experiences in London because of factors like the younger average age and the fact that more people struggle to afford rent there. I felt that everyone seemed genuinely interested in my research so I appreciated the opportunity to share what I had found.
By having a lot of independence to complete this project in the way that I think is best, I have learned a lot about the way that I work and how to use the skills I have gained at the SMI in practice. Throughout my placement, I’ve also needed to convey my findings to people who are not familiar with the same methods and jargon that I might use when describing my work at the SMI, so I’ve had the opportunity to build on my communication skills.
As well as having learned a lot and being proud of the work that I’ve produced, I’ve really enjoyed my time at Shelter. Everyone that I’ve worked with has been extremely kind and welcoming – from regular tea and coffee rounds in the digital advice team to lots of friendly faces across the whole office. Overall, this placement has been such a positive experience and I’m really happy to have had the opportunity to do it.
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