Valuing Lived Experience

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The importance of listening to the voices of people who are living through it

"Nothing about us without us" is a slogan that is often used to summarise the importance of placing the views of the people a service or policy will affect at the heart of the development and decision-making process.

The slogan initially grew out of the disability activism movement. However, is equally applicable to any group of people impacted by service or policy changes.

The Scottish Government have placed great emphasis in recent years on the value of listening to those with lived and living experience and, as a result, the practice has become increasingly popular and formalised, especially across those groups defined within the Equalities Act.

Unfortunately, the criminal justice system is, in many ways, lagging behind other groups in respect of lived experience involvement. Although there are pockets of excellent practice, the views of people who have been involved with the criminal justice system are still seldom heard.

The reasons for this likely stem from a range of issues, including:

  • Societal stigma in respect of the value placed on the voices of those who have been convicted of a crime
  • The desire of many people to distance themselves from the criminal justice system once their required involvement has ended
  • Lack of resource within the criminal justice system

Regardless of the reasons, the value of the voices remains the same - people who have lived through an experience have so much to bring to the table in respect of nuanced understanding of the impact on their lives. Only when services listen to the impact on people's lives, both the good and the bad, will they truly be able to meet the needs of those service users.

Our plea is that the voices of people who have lived through involvement with the criminal justice system are actively sought out and placed at the very heart of service development, system change and resource allocation.

A table with examples of appropriate language use

How does it work?

There are many different ways of embedding lived experience into the heart of your service. Examples include:

  • Expert advisory panels
  • Lived experience positions on your Board / Management committee
  • Regular focus groups
  • Hiring staff with lived experience
  • Creating a Lived Experience Development Plan
  • Reviewing HR and other policies to ensure they aren't leading to the exclusion of those with lived experience

Whichever approach or series of approaches your organisation takes, you may find it useful to keep the following seven principles in mind:

  • Bring the perspective of our lived experience to the forefront
  • Include people with lived experience at all levels of the organization
  • Value our time and provide appropriate supports
  • Challenge stigma, confront oppression and promote dignity
  • Recognize our expertise and engage us in decision-making
  • Work together towards our equitable representation
  • Build authentic relationships between people with and without lived experience

Source: The seven principles for leadership and inclusion of people with lived experience of homelessness, developed by a Lived Experience Advisory Council in Toronto, Canada.

A table showing the notification periods for the various sentence types. Prison sentence of 30 months or more (including life), Indefinite. Order for lifelong restriction, Indefinite. Admission to a hospital subject to a restriction order, Indefinite. Prison sentence of more than 6 months but less than 30 months, 10 years. Prison sentence of 6 months or less, 7 years. Admission to a hospital without a restriction order, 7 years. Community payback order with an offender supervision requirement, The length of the offender supervision requirement. Any other sentence (e.g. a fine or admonition), 5 years.

A word of caution

Asking people to share their experiences is a big ask. Even more so when those experiences were in any way traumatic (which involvement with the criminal justice system is, for so many people).

It is therefore essential that you consider the impact on the individual.

Support mechanisms

The support mechanisms that you put in place for individuals sharing their lived experience may need to be different from those you would use for other staff or volunteers. Dependent on the role that the person is undertaking and the experiences they are sharing, more intensive support might be required. It's important to consider how support will fit within your current structures.

The right to withdraw

A common outcome of people sharing their lived experience is the development of case-studies. It is important that people have fully understood when and where the case studies will be used and their rights around the withdrawal of their consent.

Compensation for their time

Commonly, people sharing their lived experience are expected to do so for free. However, this approach can cause a number of issues:

  • Some people can't afford to give their time for free
  • Inequality, and therefore an imbalance of power, can exist between the paid staff and an individual who is giving their time for free
  • The person may feel that their input is not valued

There are various ways that people can be compensated for their time and contribution. In some circumstances paying a person is possible, in others vouchers might need to be considered.

Resources that may help

Pathway, a homelessness organisation, has developed a useful Best Practice Guidance / Evidence Review that could be used as a starting point when embedding lived experience into your practice.

Mind, a mental health organisation, has an excellent Lived Experience Influence and Participation Policy and a Lived Experience Policy, both of which you may want to consider when developing your own policies. Policies are important to protect both adults and children who are participating in sharing their lived experience.

Consider using consent forms for lived experience participants. This helps to inform people about how, why and where their contributions will be used. Again, this is important for both adults and children sharing their lived experience.

Example consent forms:

Last updated:
February 24, 2024
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