Embedding Participation in the Work of the Poverty and Inequality Commission

Amplify the voices of experts by experience to make sure they are part of identifying issues, developing and designing solutions, and scrutinising progress.

This is the overarching principle in our Strategic Plan 2020 – 2023, and this blog is about our commitment and approach to embedding participation in the work of the Poverty and Inequality Commission.

Experts by Experience Panel

In August 2021 we established an Experts by Experience Panel as a way to embed participation in the work of the Commission. When we say ‘experts by experience’ we mean people who have lived experience of poverty and inequality. The purpose of this Panel of experts is to shape and support the three strands of the Commission’s work, developing and providing advice, scrutiny, and advocacy on poverty and inequality in Scotland.

This work to embed participation in the work of the Commission was shaped by guidance from members of the Poverty Alliance’s Community Activists’ Advisory Group and is supported by funding from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

I want to join the Panel to use my lived experiences to exemplify problems that exist, to assist policymakers in understanding these issues and to act as a critical friend.

– Panel member

The Commission wanted to establish a Panel of 15 – 20 experts by experience who were:

  • from across Scotland, based in cities, towns and rural areas
  • diverse in terms of their identity and experiences of poverty and inequality
  • from groups most likely to experience poverty in Scotland

Between July and August 2021, we worked in partnership with local and national groups, organisations and practitioners to identify experts by experience who would be interested in joining our Panel. We provided information about the Commission and the Panel through meetings, a video, and documents and invited people who were interested to apply. In August 2021, we established a Panel of 19 experts by experience.

You know, you think your own life is difficult but listening to other people’s experiences here not only shows you what other challenges are out there in the world but also really gets the brain going and thinking, where could the solutions be for this?

– Panel member

Since being set up, the Panel has been involved in identifying issues, developing and designing recommendations, and scrutinising government action.

Between August 2021 and September 2021 the Panel was supported to learn about the Commission. They also learned about legislative and policy context, and worked together to develop terms of reference and a group agreement.

From October to December 2021, over seven sessions, the Panel worked alongside the Commission to develop advice to Scottish Government on its Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2022- 26.

If Governments want to create a fairer and more just society for all, people with lived experience of poverty need to be given a voice. It is absolutely vital that policies are developed by consulting the very people that are affected by them.

– Panel Member

In 2022, members of the Panel have:

  • contributed to discussions on how we can best address the cost of living crisis in Scotland
  • developed a response to the Rented Sector Strategy consultation
  • contributed to consultations and discussions on the Low Income Winter Heating Assistance, Parental Transitions Fund and changes to the Scottish Child Payment
  • presented at our Annual Public Meeting
  • explored how the Commission and Scottish Government can apply an intersectional approach in work to reduce poverty in Scotland

Valuing lived experience

People with lived experience are the experts. Their voices need to be heard to ensure any decisions made are the right ones.

– Panel member

The Commission’s overarching principle about amplifying that voices of experts by experience demonstrates its commitment to listening and responding to those ‘embodied and affective ways of knowing, judging and acting that cannot be grasped by discourse analysis or by other objectivising approaches to “experience”’ (Kruks, 2014).

Our Strategic Plan makes clear that not only will lived experience be valued alongside other forms of knowledge, but that lived experience should be seen as central to all of the Commission’s strategic priorities.

I really enjoy the structure of the panel meetings and the way we discuss complex issues but can relate these to our own experience.

– Panel member

The role of the Commission is to support Panel members to share their experience. We also support Panel members engage with and analyse information and material in a way that is systematic but digestible. That will mean different things for different people, but applying an intersectional approach to the process means identifying and addressing constraints and barriers to equal participation from the outset, and making adjustments as the process evolves.

Different experiences, collective understanding

We have lots of different perspectives but also a lot of shared experiences.

– Panel member.

The Panel is about inquiry and sharing different experiences of poverty and inequality, but it is also about producing new knowledge and solutions based on collective understandings.

I have enjoyed being able to put across my views and experience of living in poverty as a disabled single parent. Also to hear the issues other people are facing and, collectively, to find solutions we can put forward as a panel to the Scottish Government.

– Panel member

The Panel is made up of people from across Scotland, with different identities and lived realities of poverty and inequality. Sharing and hearing individual stories means the group is continually highlighting the connections and disparities between their experiences, and the focus of discussions in a meeting can range from the very personal to the structural causes and consequences of poverty, transforming what C. Wright Mills called ‘private troubles’ into ‘public issues’.

From lived experience to social justice

For those interested in participation, it is an exciting time in Scotland.

In the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government 2021 – 22 there is a clear commitment to participatory democracy and to involving communities (of place, interest and identity), and the wider public in the development of Scotland’s policies, practice and legislation.

Without evaluating and critically engaging with participatory processes though, there is the risk that anything participatory is seen as good enough, as an end in itself, regardless of the impact it has. So how do we know when participation is meaningful? Is it enough to be given space to share our experiences?

Providing space for people to share their lived experiences is important but Freire, one of the key contributors to participatory theory and practice, argued that only by engaging critically with our personal and collective experiences could we understand and change things. It is through dialogue and collective critical thinking that people can move ‘beyond the present, soaring beyond the immediate confines of one’s experiences, entering into a critical dialogue with history, and imagining a future that would not merely reproduce the present’ (Giroux, 2010).

Equally, I would argue that, for participation to be meaningful, it must be underpinned by a commitment to social justice, to supporting collective learning and action with the aim of redistributing power, resources and opportunities in both the process and the outcome.

This chimes with what Panel members said when asked why they wanted to join the Panel. For them it was about having their voices heard, yes, but most were motivated by the potential for wider change, for fairness and for social justice.

I want to help shape future thinking and policy around poverty and inequality as it is something which has affected and influenced my life.

– Panel member

Poverty is a topic that affects many people, but is often very hidden and I am passionate about changing this and tackling the taboo, but also the root causes for poverty.

– Panel member

My reason for applying is because I am living in poverty. That horrible dirty word that makes you feel degraded and you are living in it. It is exhausting and it is soul destroying and my passion in life is to do whatever I can to try and make life fairer for everyone.

– Panel member

Embedding participation in the work of the Commission means we can ensure that experts by experience continue to work with us to identify issues, develop and design solutions, and scrutinise progress.

We are so grateful to the members of our Experts by Experience Panel for sharing their knowledge, views, experience and time with the us and we look forward to continuing to working together to reduce poverty and inequality in Scotland.

For more information on our Experts by Experience Panel, you can contact Órlaith McAree, the Commission’s Senior Participation Officer at orlaith.mcaree@povertyinequailty.scot

This was originally published on the Scottish Government’s participation and engagement blog on World Day of Social Justice 2022.

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