Five Best Practices for Engaging Lived Experience Stakeholders
What we've learned
Frequently in Intentional Futures’ consulting work, our strategists and designers engage with stakeholders to gain a multi-faceted understanding of the landscapes and communities they are researching. Not only do we interview and consult expert stakeholders (that is, those who have significant research, academic, and work experience), we often seek the input of and to co-design with “lived experience stakeholders,'' defined by Oxford as those with “personal knowledge about the world gained through direct, first-hand involvement in everyday events rather than through representations constructed by other people.”
Engagement with lived experience stakeholders in our work at Intentional Futures often takes the form of interviews and focus group sessions with members of the community of focus, such as students and teachers in pursuit of improved resource and process development. These folks are not easily categorized under the “expert stakeholder” umbrella, so traditional wisdom for stakeholder engagement does not apply in the same ways. We asked strategists on our Education team for their suggestions and best practices for engaging with lived experience stakeholders.
Utilize a diverse range of recruitment sources: Relying solely on your organizations’ network to recruit stakeholders will result in skewed results, limited diversity in perspective, or results where only the input of “power users” are included. Consider using services such as a User Research International to broaden your pool of stakeholders. If contracting with a firm, be as specific as possible about what communities your stakeholders are coming from.
Remind yourself and others of your position of power: The role of communicating stakeholder information and input to a decision-making entity is a substantial one. In the position of stakeholder engagement, consultants have the power to help formulate opinions for folks with, or with access to, millions or billions of dollars and a significant amount of influence. Taking a moment at the beginning of any interaction with a stakeholder to acknowledge that position of power and influence goes a long way to level the playing field.
Provide multiple opportunities for engagement in the process: This can appear in the form of allocating time in the process to have a feedback round with stakeholders on takeaways, having them give the final “okay” on a deliverable, or hosting co-design sessions where the individuals with lived experience are curating the deliverable with you. Ideally, these processes will be established before the start of the project, as they take time and planning. Planning ahead will also ensure an ample budget to compensate the stakeholders you are engaging with.
Leverage stakeholders’ wisdom as you make sense of data: Follow up sessions with stakeholders when data collection is involved can also help the collector understand the data in a more nuanced way, and ensure you’re interpreting and visualizing said data in a way that does not perpetuate harmful stereotypes about the stakeholders themselves.
Compensate your stakeholders: It is common practice to pay "experts" for their time, but less standard to pay stakeholders with lived experience at the same rate. Ideally, these stakeholders are paid by the hour and understand their time commitment from the start of their engagement. This is another reason why it is important to scope this process out from the start of the project, as this will require an understanding of the cost and the client can also have buy-in, in the process.
Follow-up: Instead of letting their work disappear into the ether, show stakeholders the final product and let them know how their input contributed to the work and how it will be used in the end product. Involve your stakeholders in the benefit derived from the work that is created in any way possible, especially if funded by a larger corporation or nonprofit.
Our strategists understand the importance of involving lived experience stakeholders in their work, from initial research to end deliverable review. While we do our best, we are constantly embarked on a learning journey to improve our processes, and humbled that we get the opportunity to do so, and learn from, a diverse and talented team and set of stakeholders in our work. While we do our best to implement these best practices, we are constantly engaged in reflecting and learning to improve. We are humble by the opportunity to engage and learn from a diverse, experienced, and talented set of stakeholders in our work as consultants.
Read more about iF’s education practice and their stakeholder engagement approach here.