Three key lessons for involving experts by experience in fund design

Published: 31 May 2022

Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash
Most people would agree that it makes perfect sense for those who use public services to have input in decisions about all aspects of how they are run. 

But while there is a growing movement in the public sector toward involving lived experience in service delivery and design, the same hasn’t been true about funding and fund design.

Social Finance is known for designing funding mechanisms. Despite this, our work to date hasn’t typically involved bringing in experts by experience at the early-stage design of funding mechanisms. This has perhaps had something to do with a notion that the earliest stages of fund design require more technical’ knowledge whereby learnt experience is valued above lived experience.

But we were wrong! We recently partnered with Revolving Doors and experts by experience for a fund design project for a central government department. This involved a set of workshops where we tackled tricky questions about priorities, principles, and target populations.

This created the space for insightful discussions which ultimately shaped our final recommendations. For example, we included recommended principles for service design in our final report – relational, person-centred, and well networked into local areas – and we were able to discuss why these principles are so important with the client due to the rich discussions with people with lived experience.

Here are our three key learnings from this approach:

1. Focus on aspects of design where everyone feels they can contribute meaningfully, and agree these together

We began by sharing the project scope and jointly agreeing on what topics we would focus on together. We heard that people with lived experience are sometimes pressured to comment on topics where they don’t feel comfortable contributing. When this happens, it can be overwhelming and lead to feelings of imposter syndrome. Agreeing topics upfront can help mitigate against this and allow everyone to contribute meaningfully. Feedback from experts by experience stressed the importance of sharing enough information to enable informed decision making, but not so much that it becomes inaccessible.

2. Understand where there is genuine scope for influence

There is value in assessing the role of lived experience at the outset of every project or programme. We should be realistic about the potential for participation and influence at different stages. This project gave Social Finance and experts by experience scope to influence the shape of the fund, but this was not a full co-production process where everything was on the table.

3. The earlier, the better

Input from experts by experience was invaluable in this project. However, on reflection, we should have started our co-design process earlier – we began approximately two months into a three-month project. Next time, we’d kick off the process earlier, allowing for a wider and more meaningful collaboration process. As our partners at Revolving Doors put it, the earlier, the better”.

Working with lived experience partners at the early stages of the design of a funding model is still new for us, but we are learning that the earlier, the better’ approach is something that we can bring into our other work with central and local government and communities. 

We’ll be working in this way again and look forward to opportunities for collaboratively testing approaches and developing best practices. Get in touch if you’re interested!

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