Meaningful engagement of people with lived experience is an essential principle and one that is increasingly recognised in service design, delivery and evaluation and also in grant making. It takes a bit of planning, but if you get it right, it adds incredible depth and rigor to the assessment process.
The Challenge Fund is all about shaking things up; supporting partners to shift to more preventative approaches and to help break down barriers for people accessing services for support with their alcohol and/or drug use; making sure they can receive the right support at the right time.
Round one of the Fund attracted applications from across Scotland, proposing radical, innovative projects designed to deliver change. Twenty-five of these projects were funded and over the last 12 months they have delivered impressive results.
The first round of the Challenge Fund gave us the opportunity to identify several areas where improvements could be made. The biggest and most exciting of these was enhancing the role of lived experience in the assessment of grant applications.
A significant challenge was pulling together a representative group of people with lived experience of substance use and recovery. Fortunately, there were three organisations who were able to facilitate this. The Scottish Recovery Consortium (SRC), The Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF) and Faces and Voices of Recovery UK (FAVOR) are all advocates for the involvement of lived experience in service development and planning. Together, they put me in touch with a diverse network of people in recovery, including those at an early stage of their journey. These individuals would become our Lived Experience Advisory Panel for the Challenge Fund.
Discussions with the three organisations helped us to plan for the meetings of the Advisory Panel and identify how we could recognise the value the panel members brought to the assessment process. Participation needed to be valued, and for our panel we did this through reimbursing expenses, providing a good lunch and giving panel members vouchers to thank them for their participation in the process.
We recognised that panel members had multiple demands on their lives and needed sufficient time to digest the paperwork sent to them. Each participant was contacted a month in advance of the panel meetings to ensure they understood the role and what was being asked of them. This also gave a chance to find out any additional requirements the panel members had and where they may need additional support.
Paperwork was sent to participants two weeks in advance to give sufficient time for each application to be considered.
When the date of the first panel arrived, we were delighted to see the group finally come together, but also nervous about how such a diverse group would gel. We needn’t have worried; the group quickly developed an easy rapport with each other, respectfully challenging any differences of opinion, but working together to reach consensus decision on the majority of applications.
The depth of experience and information the group brought to the process was astounding. They brought awareness not just of the approaches detailed in the applications, but what these would look like in practice and how they would be received by the groups they were designed to reach.
In addition to the benefit this group had for the assessment process, it was great to see the positive impact this process had for the panel members. We were told in no uncertain terms that this process was both valuable and appreciated. This level of engagement was seen as essential part of the grant-making process rather than an optional extra.
The findings of the lived experience panel were incorporated into the assessment documents going forward to our second advisory panel, who were people with particular professional expertise. The comments from the lived experience panel were deeply valued by the panel of experts by profession, and ultimately, there was consensus between both panels on which applications were recommended to receive funding.
We are truly delighted with how the Challenge Fund process of including lived experience in decision making went. All views shared by panel members will help Corra reflect and adapt how we work.
As part of Corra’s new ten-year strategy, we will be trying to help increase the extent to which ‘the power to create change rests with people themselves’. Lived experience panels have an important part to play in making sure that grant-making processes reflect this aspiration and the decisions that are made will be far better as a result.
The valuable insights shared by Challenge Fund panel members will be published in a learning briefing later in the year helping us continue to deliver the good bits and change things that didn’t quite work, ensuring that the way we include people in decision-making is even better the next time.