I am Hattie, a Senior Consultant at Traverse, a social research company. Since I joined the organisation in July 2019, I have been learning from my colleagues and peers across the sector about what inclusive practice means. We have held two inclusive practice events and a co-production learning exchange which highlighted the progress that is being made, but also the enduring challenges that are faced when trying to make research more inclusive and collaborative. There is a real desire and openness in the research community to learn how we can work with people with lived experience as equal partners, rather than just participants whose experiences form the basis of our research. Following these two events, we published 10 recommendations for inclusive practice, a roadmap to inclusive practice in social research and co-production in health and care research.
However, we didn’t want to just publish resources to help encourage inclusive practice. We wanted to go one step further and practice what we preached. One of the common themes that came out of all these events was how do we share power with people with lived experience to shape how research is designed and delivered, so we can meaningfully and authentically embed inclusivity, equity, justice, diversity and co-production in our practice.
To do this, we sought internal funding to pilot a lived experience advisory panel (LEAP) to work with us to:
- Co-design great research that authentically shares power with people with lived experience;
- Provide a route out to networks and communities of people who might be interested to get involved in research projects as researchers and partners; and
- Influence and shape the market, funders and commissioners to realise the real value and importance of working in this new way.
We secured funding to pilot the LEAP for 6 months, holding 6 meetings over this time. While the group is active, the objective is that everything Traverse does in the health and social care space considers ways to share power in decision making and planning with the lived experience group. This is so our clients and funders understand the relevance and the importance of sharing power with people with lived experiences and the difference it makes to the research community and the wider community. This pilot provides an opportunity for us to openly try out a new way of working and share this within and across the research community. Our longer-term goal is for the LEAP to continue sustainably beyond the pilot period with commissioners, universities, funders and others paying to learn from and work with the group.
We recruited a brilliant group of 10 wise, knowledgeable, and hugely experienced people from different marginalised communities who have a range of lived experiences. We held the first LEAP meeting on 26th February 2021. Once the group has agreed what and how to share discussions, decisions and outputs together we will make these available to a wider audience.
In the meantime, and in line with our ethos of openly sharing this new way of working, here are some of the key things I have learnt from recruiting the LEAP. It has been a huge learning curve for me, and I can’t wait to learn more from the LEAP members over the next six months.
Think about inclusivity before you start
Before we started the recruitment process, we reflected on our inclusive practice to date and previous research with people with lived experience. What worked? What barriers were there? I am benefitting hugely from working with Philipa Bragman who has over 25 years’ experience of working alongside people who experience marginalisation and inequality, in accessible and inclusive ways. She has supported me to feel safe enough to really challenge my thinking and explore different ways of working starting with recruitment to the LEAP. As a result of this, we created an EasyRead recruitment flyer and an application process that gave people choice: they could apply in writing, over the phone, via voice recording or video submission.
No one is hard to reach; we need to try different ways of reaching them
We set a goal for the LEAP that we wanted to recruit a very diverse and inclusive panel of people with different lived experiences, taking into account the intersectionality of people’s identities – not just one aspect of someone’s identity that fit a pre-determined research brief. We wanted to hear from people with lived experience of the healthcare system, the care system, the mental health system, homelessness, the criminal justice system, the asylum system, people who are family carers, Disabled People, young people, people from Black and minority ethnic communities, people from the Gypsy / Traveller community and / or people from the LGBT community.
Using social media and reaching out to as many networks as we could, nearly 80 people got in touch with us and we received over 50 applications to join the LEAP.
We were able to reach people with hugely different lived experiences except for an experience of the asylum system. This is something for us to reflect on and explore with the LEAP and people with lived experience of the asylum system to understand what we need to do differently to include people from migrant communities going forward.
Dedicate time and resources
We were partly able to reach so many people by dedicating time and resources to the LEAP from Traverse. We set a three-week recruitment period and a small team of three Traverse members, plus our partner Philipa Bragman promoted the LEAP as far and wide as we could. This wasn’t just about firing off emails and posting the odd tweet here and there. It was about our passion and commitment to having conversations with people interested in applying, answering their questions so they could share the opportunity effectively and those interested could find out everything they needed to know before deciding if they wanted to apply to join the LEAP.
Keep asking, “Who’s decision is it to make?”
One of the objectives of the LEAP is to share the power between those who traditionally have it and those who don’t. This is a two-way process. In Traverse we are starting on our own journey as researchers of recognising our privileges and our power. We worked with Phil on some big questions for us all to think about as researchers, and share openly: What are our dreams for the research community? What are our dreams for Traverse around equality and diversity? How can we openly share our dreams with people who are thinking of applying to be part of the LEAP?
We also decided it is important that we pay people – all LEAP members are being paid for their time and contributions – but this is just the start. When thinking about the first session and how to work together, we asked ourselves, “Who’s decision is it to make?” What does inclusive facilitation really look like? How should we take notes? How many breaks should we have? How do we maintain confidentiality? Working together as a group deciding collaboratively on all these matters (and more) means we are all learning what true power sharing and real inclusion is and how we can start to embody new ways of working in Traverse and as a research community.
If you would like to find out more about the LEAP or are interested in talking to us about inclusive practice, please contact Hattie.firstname.lastname@example.org