A Guide to Co-Creating with People with Lived Experience

By Lofaine Bradford, Learning Coordinator, APHSA    February 7, 2024

Human services organizations are increasingly recognizing the value of collaborating and co-creating with people with lived experience. This comes from the recognition that to better design programs and policies, people with lived experience navigating the human services ecosystem must be active drivers of change rather than passive participants. What does this mean in practice?

  • Centering lived experience means incorporating the experiences and perspectives of those impacted by human services systems.
  • Centering lived experience means understanding and embracing the viewpoints, backgrounds, priorities, and aspirations of the individuals who stand to gain from programs and services.
  • Centering lived experience does not mean tokenization.

To tokenize people with lived experience is to reduce diverse and complex individual narratives and identities into simplified and often stereotypical representations. Tokenization emphasizes the appearance of inclusivity without sharing decision-making power. Human services organizations must commit to equitable engagement to ensure that people with lived experience are centered rather than tokenized. This means actively learning from and responding to the perspectives of those directly affected by social systems, being open to examining harmful preconceived notions and biases, and being flexible in shifting approaches when necessary.

Having seen the human services system through a different lens, people with lived experience have a unique perspective they can use to identify processes and outputs that could ultimately lead to more impactful outcomes. However, whether individuals with lived experience are existing staff already working within the human services system workforce, or are serving in consulting or volunteer capacities, human services leaders need to be aware of how to help these individuals navigate both the professional and personal aspects of their roles.

Here's the good news. Human services leaders committed to centering the communities they serve through equitable engagement are in a key position to amplify the voices of people with lived experience both inside and outside of their organizations.

Here are twelve recommendations for ensuring equitable engagement when working with individuals who have lived experience:

12 Recommendations for Ensuring Equitable Engagement
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APHSA is committed to co-creating a new operating paradigm for public sector leaders that puts people and the community at the center of our work. Join us on our new e-learning platform THRIVE for interactive courses, microlearning, and online learning communities!

About the Author

Lofaine Bradford (full bio)

Learning Coordinator
American Public Human Services Association

A Guide to Co-Creating with People with Lived Experience

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