Blog by Mariam Tuma, Participation and Development Officer, JustRight Scotland
More and more organisations throughout the world are adopting a coproduction strategy which relies on the incorporation of Lived Experience Panels into decision-making and organisational structure. The idea is that, by including the voices of those who organisations serve, organisations can make better informed decisions, increase their knowledge, share power, and improve their services.
Although this sounds great in theory, in practice, it is important to ensure that the Lived Experience model is structured in a way that is sensitive and aware of power-dynamics which operate in the background of these relationships. Creating a Lived Experience Panel for the sake of reproducing and justifying an organisation’s work can lead to exploitative, tokenistic, and extractive methods of engagement with members of a disadvantaged community. It runs the risk of re-traumatising individuals engaging with the panel and puts them in a position where their voices are used, and at times distorted, to increase the profile of organisations and their work.
This is why it is important for organisations to consult and share best practice models before embarking on the task of setting up a Lived Experience panel. The MPS Discovery Session: How to build in Migrant Lived Experience provided a space for exactly this, with speakers from a range of different backgrounds, organisations, and experiences. We were able to listen to several perspectives on the topic and engage with one another on important aspects of Lived Experience Panels. One extremely important perspective which was included was that of Sarah Anderson, who outlined the importance of listening to those on Lived Experience Panels and making sure that you are not using these panels to simply “tick boxes”. Members of Lived Experience Panels are individuals giving up time in their day to support your work; they are operating as consultants and using their own expertise to give you insight into topics you may or may not have considered. It is important to respect this.
At JustRight Scotland, we have created a platform for individuals with lived experience of migration called the Just Citizens panel. This panel serves as a space where migrants can come together to discuss barriers to social citizenship within Scotland; the panel uses the experiences, expertise, and skillsets of members to promote a fairer and more inclusive form of citizenship within Scotland. The Lived Experience model has not traditionally been applied within the field of migration; it has more commonly been used to develop policy input and service provision within support sectors engaging with poverty, homelessness, mental health and disability. This means that, although we can take best practice from these fields, the incorporation of lived experience groups within migration policy, advocacy, and service provision is somewhat underdeveloped. It does not form a core component of decision making or organisational development for most groups and platforms engaging with work directed to and for the migrant communities of Scotland. The views, perspectives, opinions, and experiences of migrants are therefore not central to work that is done to support these communities. This is problematic for many reasons and causes the third sector to reproduce unequal power dynamics which perpetuate the same harmful structures we claim to be against.
The MPS Discovery Session in April 2022 highlighted all these elements and dimensions of meaningful participation. It provided a space where we could openly discuss our roles as facilitators and provided a platform for those engaged with Lived Experience panels to highlight the importance of not just doing it; but doing it right. Meaningful participation is important, it provides the basis for power sharing and the dismantling of solidified power structures which form the foundations of inequality. Lived Experience panels are not the solution for socio-economic and political exclusion, but when they are done right they provide potential for the development of inclusive policy, advocacy and meaningful change in Scotland.