As participation further embeds itself into practice, organisations are reflecting on their responsibility to compensate people with lived experience for their time and effort. In this blog, Shumela Ahmed (Resilience Learning Partnership) does just that and calls on others to engage in a conversation about how we value the expertise and labour of those with lived experience.
When we think about going to work, most of us don’t ever need to worry about getting paid. We turn up, we do our work and then at the end of the week or the month we get our wage.
Or at least you would think so. When I took up my role as managing director at the Resilience Learning Partnership (RLP) three years ago, one of our founding principles was that people with lived experience would be paid for the ‘work’ they took part in. ‘Work’ being the operative word here.
Running RLP has not been easy and the issue of ‘remuneration’ is one we deal with daily. I believe, as an organisation leader, we have moved beyond the point where the work going on within ‘projects’ and ‘initiatives’ across Scotland can still be completely regarded as ‘participation’ and or ‘engagement’. Individuals, young and old are taking part in huge pieces of work that result in policy design, delivery and implementation, the creation of learning and development tools and resources as well as the enhancing of practice and research in the process. These individuals are also making up a growing number of people within strategic meetings, boards, steering groups, committees and so on.
Many of these activities go way beyond participation and so should be treated like any other form of work. We would not dare bring a ‘consultant’ of any other kind into a piece of work without first considering our budget, their rates and if we could afford the time we required from them to complete our piece of work or research. Why then is it ok to not even consider these aspects when asking people with lived experience to be involved in a piece of ‘work’? These are the questions I ask other leaders every day and they are the questions you should be asking too.
I know what I am saying may seem controversial, and I also understand the complexities that can arise from paying people. We do it at RLP, so we understand how it can and does work. There will always be situations when paying people for their time is neither possible nor appropriate. We all (if we are privileged enough) give our time freely sometimes. I get my support and supervision externally, pro bono (by the most wonderfully supportive trauma informed and responsive Professor) and don’t need to pay a penny. I also give my time for free to some projects or other areas. Firstly because I can, and because I now earn a full-time wage and money isn’t a serious issue for me anymore. I also think that it’s important for me to give back. However, increasingly in these spaces the level of work, requirements and expectations can be a lot to take on. Reading papers, preparing for long two-hour meetings in the middle of a day and there is no provision for your time, can seem more than a little unfair at times. Every other person around that table working on that project or initiative who isn’t there as a ‘lived experience expert’ is on a salary. They get paid for the work they are doing – because of course! That’s what you do – you pay people when they work for you. It is really that simple.
As a co-author of the National Trauma Training Plan from NHS Education for Scotland (NES) I will never forget the conversation I had regarding the implications of participation within Trauma Informed Practice and its implementation across Scotland. Yes, it is agreed that remuneration may not always be possible or even right and in those instances, there are many other ways we can support the learning and development, recognition and social capital of individuals to ensure they are getting as much from the process as anyone. I now see those implications arising across the sector and I have an uncomfortable sense that there is still great reluctance in some parts to accept that this is how things should move forward. I am in no way claiming to have all of the answers, I just know that things need to change and people taking part in lived experience work must be compensated for their contributions in a much more meaningful and supportive way.
I think one of the ways we can begin to do this is by learning some lessons from those already doing it. I was recently appointed to sit on Each and Every Child initiative Management Board for The Robertson Trust. One of the many reasons I put myself forward for that role was because I was going to be remunerated for the work. Four or five years ago I would have been doing exactly the same as I am now on the management board, and I would not have been paid. That shows progress, yes, but it also shows the extent of what is going on within the sector, because the practice of asking people to be involved in such large pieces of work without remuneration is still widely accepted in Scotland.
I mention Each and Every Child because I see a change happening within the sector and that’s where the discussion has to begin. We need to start with those who have navigated the complexities of this and who can share what they have learned with those who are still to embark on the journey. CYCJ’s recent ‘Participation and Engagement Strategy’ is a beacon of light amongst the often ‘messy’ topic of remuneration and it was a delight to have it sent to my inbox a few weeks back and then watch the joy spread online as colleagues read it too. It’s leading the way, and CYCJ is taking it way beyond just being about ‘remuneration’. They have embedded lived experience throughout the whole strategy with it being co-created by people with lived experience too, giving it true authenticity and meaning. It talks of design, research, policy and much more and recognises that much of this work is actually beyond traditional participation and should be recognised as such. This strategy is something for all third sector organisations to aspire to. It re-balances the scales and treats people with the respect and value they deserve. It shows that threading and embedding lived experience within a strategy, policy or organisation is very possible, very real and very much needed.
We need to start a national discussion around where participation/engagement ends, and when we begin entering into something else. We have to get comfortable with the difficult questions it will bring up and the complexities that will arise. This issue isn’t going anywhere, and I think we can all learn a great deal from each other in how we move forward and support the sector to adjust. There will be many solutions and ideas and I predict in the long run it will mean better outcomes for all of our work. But we need to get it fully out in the open first, regardless of how uncomfortable that may feel. This is about all of us, not just some of us.
About our blogger
Shumela Ahmed is the Managing Director of Resilience Learning Partnership; an education and training provider specialising in psychological trauma and lived experience. You can hear more from her here.
CYCJ welcome blogs and inputs from anyone with lived experience of the justice systems. If you would like to share your thoughts please email Ross via firstname.lastname@example.org