Thoughts for future change
At the heart of all of this is power and recognising where the power should lie. I believe charities and funders should recognise their own power but seek to share it - particularly with those who they are set up to serve. The knowledge people have needs to be treated and valued as expertise, not a deficit. The people who are going through the most traumatic times, that organisations call difficult to engage with or hidden, their voices are not being heard.
Charity structures and the models for decision-making date from a long time ago, a command and control system. Today’s world requires fundamentally different systems. The Expert Citizens model is one way of working. The organisation is formed of a network of people who have personal experience of a range of issues, such as homelessness, offending, substance misuse, who act as advisors to public policy in Stoke-on-Trent and beyond. They also act as a valuable support network to each other.
Sufina Ahmad from the Ellerman Foundation suggests that a way to involve people’s lived experience more effectively would be participatory grantmaking or for funders to work in ways with organisations that are far more focused on partnership. 'We need to assume that they have the expertise, we have the money' she told me.
Jude Habib created Sound Delivery which uses different techniques to help people tell their stories but also to create change. 'I wanted to show that you can tell difficult stories and that people who've experienced those difficult experiences with the right support and at the right time, would be happy to share their stories if they are supported.' She wants to make sure that the people who are experts in some of the big issues that we face are always part of the conversations when it comes to creating solutions. Jude’s work also focuses on supporting the sector to be more confident about telling first-hand stories but, importantly, she recognises the inherent responsibility of this work.
If the way we tell stories doesn’t change, then 'The people who have been the most invisible, will probably continue to be more invisible.' and that really doesn’t seem to be what charities should be working towards.