Engaging People with Lived Experience

October 27, 2022
Priya Shastri

Engaging people with lived experience of gender-based violence is central to WomanACT’s work. Survivors’ personal experiences of systemic barriers is key to creating solutions to overcome them. In addition, survivors’ stories, experiences, and ideas are powerful tools for education and advocacy. Understanding organizational value to engaging people with lived experience, and being open to learning and change, is important to creating organizational readiness to engage people with lived experience.

Improves service quality 

Organizations that incorporate people with lived experience into their service design and evaluation shows to improve program outcomes, including program quality and service user satisfaction. People with lived experience provide a personal perspective about how services and initiatives are received based on their own intersecting identities. Organizations can consider a range of opportunities for people with lived experience across all organizational structures to influence different types of decision making across service delivery, such as boards, proposal and program development or evaluation teams.

Increases organizational capacity

Creating collaborative spaces for team members and people with lived experience to jointly explore priority areas for community and system solutions encourages bi-directional knowledge exchange. It also increases the accountability of team members to improve program outcomes. For example, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has a program called From Surviving to Advising that aims to pair senior psychiatry residents with service users in recovery to promote mutual growth and understanding. Joint spaces have the added advantage of grounding decision-makers and humanizing discussions that may sometimes get lost in bureaucracy.

Builds trust with the community

Community engagement can be strengthened when facilitated by people with lived experience as they tend to prompt genuine and authentic conversations grounded in their personal experiences. Building trust takes time and can require frank and difficult conversations. For example, WomanACT’s AGES project, which working to improve access to services for senior women experiencing violence, engages senior women as advisors. The senior women also operate as a conduit between the organization and community members and use a snowball approach to engage senior women and community groups.  

Promotes trauma-informed organizational development 

Trauma-informed organizational development requires organizational processes to evolve from an individual hierarchical-driven approach to collaborative community approaches. Community approaches encourage organizations to intentionally consider how all structures (e.g., boards, leadership, HR, frontline) and services can include people with lived experiences. People with lived experience have insight into how power can manifest and what can be considered to reduce organizational power imbalances. Just as their engagement in community spaces promotes humanizing conversations and breaks down hierarchies, it also does so in organizations.

Survivor engagement with WomanACT

WomanACT engages survivors in advisory, researcher and participant roles across our work. We are often seeking women and gender diverse people with lived experiences of gender-based violence, housing insecurity and poverty to fill advisory and researcher roles. Survivors receive training and are compensated for their time. If you are interested in hearing about upcoming opportunities to engage in our work, please sign up to our mailing list.

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