As governments, businesses and NGOs around Australia increasingly seek to incorporate lived experience, a new research project will explore how we can successfully bring the power and knowledge of lived experience to help shape solutions to societal challenges.

Recent inquiries and Royal Commissions in areas such as family violence, mental health, disability and aged care have underscored the critical role that people with lived experience can and do play in driving change, but many organisations are grappling with how to successfully integrate this into their processes.

Supported by the Paul Ramsay Foundation (PRF), the new research project, On Our Own Terms, will bring lived experience leaders together to explore strategies that embed this unique expertise in the social sector.

The project will be convened by Morgan Cataldo, in partnership with Kelsey Dole, a proud First Nations woman passionate about social change through the lens of lived experience; A/Professor Robyn Martin, Associate Dean, Social Work and Human Services at RMIT School of Global, Urban and Social Studies (GUSS); and Perrie Ballantyne, Director at Innovation Unit.

"People with lived experience are making powerful contributions to social change across Australia,” Ms Cataldo said. “This project is an opportunity to bring together advocates from across sectors to reflect on key lessons and challenges so far, as well as the opportunities before us.

“Through conversations with lived experience leaders, this project will offer detailed recommendations for sectors and systems to actively shape their responses and transform their operations. By incorporating and supporting lived and living experience, we can move towards more responsive and adaptive systems that are reflective of the needs and aspirations of their intended beneficiaries. Through ethical partnerships with people and communities possessing firsthand knowledge, we will bridge the gap between policy-making and real-world challenges.”

Associate Professor Martin said the project would identify how organisations can create the conditions to be informed and influenced by lived experience leaders.

“Many leaders and organisations in health and human services are committed to the involvement of people with lived experience, but are unsure how to operationalise these aspirations,” she said.

“People with lived experience have greater capabilities than simple involvement or contributing through consultation. This work will put their leadership at the centre and explore how it can be better supported and developed.”

PRF CEO Professor Kristy Muir said the project would bring a strategic lens to the experiences of lived experience leaders in the social sector, working towards a set of key recommendations which would support organisations as they increasingly sought meaningful engagement with lived experience leaders and advocates.

“Recognition of the enormous importance of lived experience means lived experience leaders are now in high demand in research, policy development, service design and delivery,” she said. “While this is encouraging and providing great insight, there have not yet been focused opportunities to bring emerging and leading advocates together to listen and learn from their experiences.

“We are excited to see how this project can better support, develop and enable lived experience leadership and partnerships that help Australia move forward in our responses to key challenges.”

The first phase of the project will run throughout 2023 with the potential for further project phases in response to emerging findings.

Media contact: Pia Akerman 0412 346 746