Noisy Cricket: UX Design Sprint to uncover opportunity spaces for gainful employment of the homeless

Noisy Cricket

Manchester Homelessness Partnership in collaboration with Noisy Cricket

Georgia Byron, Kasper Burghout, Mia Kristensen, Melissa Ma, Miles Mayr, Nono Weinzierl

User research
Journey mapping
Workshop facilitation
Prototyping + Testing

BRIEF: How might we improve the systemic, cultural, and personal processes to enable those with lived experience of homelessness find gainful employment?


  • People who suffer from homelessness are subject to stigmatization when searching for reemployment.

  • It is difficult for them to climb out of the cycle and regain confidence and stability.

  • Issue is deeply rooted in complex systems and is a sensitive topic to address.

As a team, our role was to uncover solutions to help alleviate stigma from businesses to increase employment of people with lived experience of homelessness. There were three main areas to take into consideration:

1. Systemic: The key challenge is recruiting businesses to engage
2. Cultural:
The key challenge is preparing businesses to support people with vulnerable backgrounds
3. Personal:
The key challenge is matching the right person with the right role and business, and making sure that the individual is work ready.

Our first objective was to find out more about the current landscape of the issue and the stakeholders involved. We researched non-profits that were active in helping homelessness in Manchester and began setting up interviews with those in the industry so that we can gain useful insights into the problem. We also looked at current research regarding psychological stigma and the hurdles people with lived experience have to face when reintegrating into employment. The purpose of this initial divergent process was to provide an open-ended exploration and frame the problem. Doing so avoids the mistake of solving the wrong problem or becoming influenced by our assumptions.


The core of User-Centered design is to observe and speak with the end user. Doing so helps build empathy by allowing us to hear and experience their stories and point of view, ensuring a solution that solves for a user need. Due to the sensitive nature of the brief and ethical concerns in speaking with the homeless directly, we focused on working with experts who work directly with them and understand the issue at hand.

Our initial interviews were with various stakeholders as well as our clients. We spoke with:

  1. People who had previously been homeless and now work as consultants and professionals in the cause

  2. People working directly to help the homeless

  3. Nonprofits

  4. Businesses who have interest in hiring.

To take a deep dive into the information collected in our interviews, we set up an interview wall in our office. Here, we downloaded all of our findings on post-it notes and captured relevant quotes, things that surprised us, insights, and possible opportunity spaces.

In addition to our interviews, all members of our team did observational fieldwork around the city. We observed the behavior of those impacted by homelessness, and their interactions with those around them. We took notes on how the behavior of the public as well as observable insights on the culture of Manchester.


Throughout the process of research and interviewing, we began a parallel process of converging on our findings and piecing bits of the puzzle together to form a clear image of what we need to solve for. A few key consistent insights stood out to us:

  • People with lived experience of homelessness often lack professional and personal networks. A proper network helps open doors to jobs, create a sense of belonging, build confidence, and provide emotional support.

  • Since the impact of homelessness is often a great challenge, it is very important not to set our user up for failure. This necessitates a continuous and well-paced support system through the hiring process and after.

  • Due to the sheer size of the homelessness problem, people are desensitized to the challenges homeless people face.

  • People only see rough sleepers (the tip of the iceberg), which leads to a lot of stigma towards the homeless. They are not aware that the majority of homeless consists of people who could be their coworkers, friends, or daily acquaintances.

  • Stigma and lack of a clear process around hiring the homeless are preventing businesses from doing so.

At this stage, we centered in on our target user, and thus created two personas: ALEX (someone with lived experience of homelessness) and PAUL (business owner). Since stigma was such a big issue, we needed to tackle how to make employing ALEX an attractive prospect. This consisted of raising awareness so that businesses understand that they can be a part of the solution, and then providing the business with a system in which they can effectively hire and support ALEX. For ALEX, we needed to find a solution that helped him overcome the emotional challenges of homelessness, and build a support network that allowed him to become employable long term.


Once we had a clear idea of the problem, and armed with research and insights to back it up, we began the Divergent phase of our process. We tackled two main opportunity spaces:

  1. How might we create a sustainable network for ALEX and provide a framework in which he can overcome challenges and find gainful employment

  2. How might we shed stigma, raise awareness, and provide a system for businesses to hire those with lived experiences of homelessness.

Our team facilitated ideation sessions alone and together, followed by discussions about our possible solutions. During this stage we made sure to eliminate inhibiting factors and to shed our own assumptions or biases. Our goal was to generate as many ideas as we could, and then identify how we might make the impossible, possible. In order to build empathy and directly involve stakeholders, we facilitated a Co-Creation workshop with those we had interviewed. This small group included people from each of our main stakeholder groups. By incorporating the voices of people involved, we were able to build a deeper understanding of how a solution might impact the problem at hand.

After debriefing the findings and ideas from the co-creation session, we revisited prior ideas/insights and consolidated a few opportunity spaces in which innovation could occur. We used a tool called the 5- Whys so that we can dive deeper into the cultural and systemic roots of each issue. This was an important step to realign and ensure that we were not solving for the wrong problem. From this process, a few insights resurfaced and came to attention.

  1. Empathy played a crucial role in getting businesses to understand the experience of those who are homeless or have experienced homelessness.

  2. Building authentic, empathetic relationships is the key to breaking down cultural stigma and providing genuine regard for the well-being of ALEX.

  3. Social good for the homeless should not be treated as a CSR program for the public image of the business, because in this scenario, there lacks genuine empathy.

These insights, along with our body of research, helped us realize that true empathy needs to come organically or naturally, and not emulated or forced by processes. For businesses, this means that a supportive culture surrounding the homelessness issue can come only when the company is ready to proactively help and accept all the challenges that come with it. We started asking "what is Manchester passionate about?" since a problem ingrained deeply in the culture may be found in a solution that brought the culture together.

We created an Impact/Effort map that placed our favorite ideas on a spectrum of feasibility and effectiveness. Here, we took the opportunity to identify any patterns that emerged so that we could combine overlapping concepts. Afterwards, we dot-voted as a team to eliminate and pinpoint the ideas we were the most passionate about. During this stage, we were able to discuss as a team the highlights and shortcomings of each idea, and try to find ways in which we could improve them. We also created journey maps in order to look at the experience of our personas through each experience.


One idea that stood out during our Co-Creation session was the love of football in Manchester. In our research, we learned that many nonprofits were utilizing sport as a means of connecting people and building confidence. When someone who is homeless becomes involved in football, they begin building a network of friends and teammates. They are able to trust these individuals and gain a shared responsibility to attend training session and games. This helps them feel included and a part of something greater. We conducted interviews with people involved in such football programs to learn more and see what opportunity spaces there were for innovation. We learned two important things:

  1. Co-production was an important facet of a successful program. Co-production means that the user can be directly involved in the process, taking on leadership roles and becoming a contributor. This would serve to benefit both parties as it cuts down on cost and creates opportunities for people to grow.

  2. Even if they find housing, many people lapse back into the cycle of homelessness because they do not have a strong support system and cannot interact with others. This keeps them from resuming an ordinary life.

From these, we prototyped a stakeholder and journey map for a football program for the homeless, and interviewed stakeholders to test the validity of the idea. Since we could not directly speak with the user due to sensitivity issues, we talked to people who had prior lived experience of homelessness for testing.


Football League KICK OFF addresses the various stigmas around homelessness through shared experiences on the football field. KICK OFF will work hand in hand with already existing Football programs, and focuses on the opportunity for homeless who are work-ready to form a team with businesses. Since many businesses already form teams as a part of team building and recreation, the program is the missing link by involving both parties in a cultural sport. KICK OFF offers training and support for all members, and hope to organically create empathy through guidance and the passion for sport. Additionally, it strives to "level the playing" by immersing all parties on a team to work together to achieve a common goal. By being able to collaborate in teams with people like ALEX, businesses and their employees will build empathy and friendships, thus stripping away stigma and creating a network for opportunities. Businesses will be more likely to recommend a formerly homeless team member to other businesses, or employ the team member themselves. Getting to know the team member with lived experience of homelessness, and the challenges he or she is facing, will also make it easier for business to understand and support the team member on the road to stable gainful employment.  To make it attractive for businesses to engage in KICK OFF we will create an end of season match and networking event that will be backed by corporate sponsors and football and community stakeholders. The strength and scalability of the program grows over time, because through co-production, homeless players who have successfully completed the program can be hired for management and facilitation.



The next steps would be to test again with the help of professionals in the field by working directly with the user. We would need to design a process that ensures our user is not set up for failure. Through further iteration and testing with nonprofits involved, we hope to validate our hypothesis that KICK OFF will help those who are homeless build a personal and professional network, breaking down barriers to help them get gainful employment.