The power of people: a human geographer’s mission to end homelessness


Perhaps unsurprisingly for a conversation with a human geographer, one of the recurring themes in Beth’s interview with Professor Peter Mackie is people. They discuss the value of collaboration to bring about change; how people can shape data and systems; and the potential consequences of relationship breakdown.

This year’s conference theme is ‘Public data for resilience and inclusion: Using administrative data to inform policy and practice in challenging times.’ Societal challenges inspired Peter to study Human Geography to PhD level at the University of Swansea, a subject offering many different lenses through which to look at those issues.

Peter wanted to do more about the challenges faced by people experiencing homelessness. He took up a role at Shelter Cymru, a leading homelessness charity in Wales, developing research capability within the organisation.

In 2009, Peter was able to expand the scale and scope of his research as he joined Cardiff University School of Geography and Planning. He is now Co-Academic Lead in Housing and Homelessness for ADR Wales, and is recognised as a leading international expert in this field. He frequently serves as an advisor to governments and programmes such as Homewards, developed by Prince William and the Royal Foundation.

Collaboration is key to Peter’s work. He has huge appreciation for colleagues such as Ian Thomas, who works alongside Peter at ADR Wales, and others from academia, the third sector, and local government.

With homelessness prevention being at the top of Peter’s priority list, his personal career highlight is his influential research into Welsh homelessness legislation which led to the Housing (Wales) Act 2014. This has also been used in England and has informed policy debates in Scotland, Canada, and Australia.

Beth: You’re presenting at the ADR UK Conference 2023 on the theme of ‘Data linkage, methods, systems and technology: methodological developments.’ Why do you feel this is an important subject to highlight?

Peter: Like many others attending the conference, I am interested in the application and use of administrative data for public good. I’m primarily a user of these datasets and systems, trying to shape policy around preventing homelessness.

Working with administrative data, our ability to answer questions is entirely shaped by the data and systems available to us. My presentation is an opportunity to reflect on those data and systems.

There is huge variation, both within the UK and globally, in terms of what data is available and what the systems looks like. The goal of my presentation is to look under the bonnet; to critically reflect on those systems and how they’ve developed, exploring some of the factors that have shaped them. Often these are human factors, not just technical and methodological factors.

I hope that the presentation will unearth some of our shared frustrations around not being able to answer the questions we want to, and help us understand why that is.

Beth: Is there an aspect to this conference – or any conference for that matter – that you particularly enjoy the most?

Peter: There are two things I get from these conferences: new insights, whether they be substantive or methodological, and the opportunity to network. I enjoy meeting people. Conferences provide opportunities to talk and reflect with colleagues, and it’s those networking and reflection opportunities that you can only do in person. They’re often in the breakouts, over lunch, or in the moments after the conference. That is where a lot of my collaborations and ideas have come from. Where people come together; that’s where these things happen.

Peter explained how a conference breakout discussion with Australian colleagues sparked one such idea, based on the fact that relationship breakdown is one of the biggest triggers for people experiencing homelessness before age 21. Peter is now leading Upstream Cymru, a school-based intervention modelled on an Australian project, which responds to the challenge of youth homelessness in Wales by intervening far earlier in the lives of young people.

Beyond research and advisory work, Peter enjoys sport, a passion also shared by his two children who happily occupy much of his time outside of work.

Peter continues to seek new and innovative directions for UK homelessness research, learning from colleagues in the US and Canada and being supported by a new What Works Centre in the UK to introduce trial methodologies into homelessness research, including the use of linked administrative data.

About the conference

You can hear more from Peter at the ADR UK Conference 2023, which will take place in Birmingham from 14 – 16 November. The conference will bring together people involved in the use of administrative data for public good research, including researchers, data scientists, civil service analysts and those involved in making this data available for research.

Tickets are still available. To learn more and buy your ticket please visit the ADR UK Conference 2023 website.

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