Giving Lived Experience A Voice Within Charitable Boards

With the concept of co-production being a popular topic of discussion, how can we ensure that the inclusion of people with lived experience within Charitable Boards is meaningful and productive, not just tick box and tokenistic?

Adding value to Charitable Boards through experience

Boards with trustees of similar life experience will often think in the same way, coming up with similar ideas. In order to prevent ‘groupthink’ and bring context to topics that may seem abstract to those without lived experience, it is logical to welcome people with direct experience to the Board.

The Centre for Charity Effectiveness (CCE) explains that ‘bringing in trustees with lived experience of the charity's cause can not only add insights that will fill gaps in collective understanding but, if these Trustees are enabled to voice their insights, will stimulate divergent thinking, leading to richer, more informed discussions, and thus more sophisticated, evidence based solutions’. (https://www.bayes.city.ac.uk/faculties-and-research/centres/cce/reports-and-research/lived-experience-on-nonprofit-boards)

What is it like to be a Trustee with lived experience?

In our Conversation on Co-production community, there has been common reporting of lack of diversity and representation within Boards. Our members have stated that they sometimes felt ‘judged’ and that other trustees had a misconception they were just there ‘to moan’.
Board meetings can feel ‘intimidating’ and ‘formal’, ‘difficult to follow’ and ‘filled with jargon’. There is often an unbalance of power within the board groups and members do not always feel they get included within co-production of documentation or gain credit for their input.

So what can Charitable Boards do to make a change?

Inclusion, understanding, reasoning and support should be the building blocks of any charitable board. It is clear there is work to be done to make people with lived experience not only feel welcome, but to be recognised as the catalyst of change.

Comprehensive induction to the organisation ensures all trustees feel supported and are in possession of sufficient knowledge. To aid understanding, boards should consider if ‘jargon’ is necessary and simplify the way things are explained and documented.

Power within boards should be evenly distributed and trustees should be encouraged to ask questions. It can be useful to present information in a range of ways to suit different learning styles.

It is important that boards recruit to values and see the member as a whole in terms of the skills and values they bring in addition to their experiences. When recruiting for trustees with lived experience, it is worth reaching out to individuals and groups who have used or are using services related to the charities cause.

Barriers to participation should be removed by considering what practical support can be given to trustees.

Purpose and Principles

Having explored the purpose of the inclusion of trustees with lived experience, we need to ensure that the work does not stop at introductions. Adopting strong principles promotes integrity in everything we do.

At Expert Link, we have three principles that guide us and our work. We believe that they are applicable to any individual or organization involved in co-production:

Principle 1: No one person owns the truth. The wisdom and power should reside in the collective
Principle 2: All stakeholders are afforded every opportunity to sit at the table equitably
Principle 3: We focus on the group purpose using a strengths-based approach

 

If you are wanting some pointers on getting started with co-production, check out Expert Links videos here.

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