At a time where national and local government, public services and the voluntary sector are all accelerating their thinking around the short and long term changes needed in response to the coronavirus, it is more important than ever that people with lived experience of multiple disadvantages have their voices heard.
But there is a challenge: as our voice becomes more important, old methods are becoming less viable. Face-to-face, in the short term at least, is not an option. The challenges of digital exclusion have become more stark.
Over the coming weeks we’re reaching out to people from our network and beyond to join us as we host online conversations on how together we can ensure that the world we are fighting for is one where people with lived experience of multiple disadvantages are treated as equal partners in decisions made about our lives.
We began some of that work this week, bringing together people from across England to discuss ‘value.’ Although times are changing, the need to value people, and for people to feel valued, will always remain.
Here’s our takeaway from five areas we discussed.
Making a difference
For many, to feel valued is to feel like we are making a difference, that the contribution we are making has a purpose, and that we are ‘giving back’ to society and supporting others that may follow in our footsteps.
Collective decision making can involve negotiating contrasting and contradicting points of view, and contributions that for some may be deemed ‘unrealistic,’ or not ‘on the agenda,’ must be handled with authenticity rather than dismissal. As equal partners we can reach agreement on what is realistic or unrealistic - using a football metaphor we can agree what is ‘offside’ or ‘onside;’ using the analogy of a ‘shoebox’ we can agree what is inside and a given, and what is outside and open to creativity.
People feel valued when their voice ‘is heard;’ where active listening is practiced and opinions respected. But prior to this, voices must have the opportunity to be heard. Spaces must be inclusive, welcoming people as equals but allowing people the freedom to leave when they want. This can mean supporting people with information before events take place so as not to rely on those who can process instantly but instead drawing on the talents of those who consider and reflect.
If we are tackling a local issue or a national crisis, for us to be valued means keeping us up-to-date with how our wisdom is being used; what changes are happening. This does not have to be a complete change in policy – it can be the creation of some research, a response to an inquiry, or a contribution to a debate. With policy change a slow burner, it’s important to be made aware of the steps and the small victories along the way, using the communication channels that work for us.
Crucially, our stories and wisdom can be deeply personal, and to value them is to give people the right to take them back. Consent should be sought before and after to ensure that this is respected.
Valuing people is to care about the ways we want to develop. Helping people meet their goals, beyond having their voice heard, can take many forms, from supporting people to facilitate meetings or note take, to learning more about areas of interest, to opportunities to use skills in volunteering or employment. Charities and the voluntary sector are particularly rich in this resource, and should harness this fully in the future.
And finally, people are valued where they are reimbursed for their travel and labour. Organisations can provide vouchers and finances which work with the benefit system (a couple of resources which could help your thinking are here https://judyscottconsult.com/ and here https://www.scie.org.uk/co-production/supporting/paying-people-who-receive-benefits). And some of the most important work in bringing groups together begins with breaking bread (or pizza) together.