Lived Experience Matters

Amy McQuaid-England
3 min readMar 16, 2022

Creating content with those who have lived experience is a powerful way to engage the community. By amplifying their voices and using trauma-informed communications, you can build strong campaigns that make a difference. There are four principles to creating compelling stories with those who have lived experience to help drive community engagement Trust, Empowerment, Connection and Action. These principles should also guide any policy or framework you create when you approach, honour and value those with lived experience.

Trust

Building trust involves using empathy and respect. Asking people to share their lived experiences to further your organization’s mission or goals can be asking them to reopen the trauma they have faced. Always budget extra time for the interview and writing process. Give space for reflection and breaks if needed. Frame questions that are neutral and open-ended and never interject your thoughts or experiences.

Empowerment

Empowerment is the next principle in creating compelling campaigns. Appoint those with lived experience to your board and consult them when making your communication strategy or policy documents. It is vital to have decision-makers and contributors who have lived experience. Unfortunately, many expect those with lived experience to contribute their valuable wisdom for free. Instead, consider creating a budget and paying them fairly.

Connection

Once you have done the work to build trust and empowerment, it will create meaningful communications that honour those with lived experience and connect to your larger mission. Whether launching a new campaign or talking to political decision-makers, making long-lasting connections through authentic stories that resonate with your audience is imperative. Ask yourself how you will connect with your target audience and what communication channels are best to engage them in the process. Make sure to outline this plan with those who have shared their lives experience with your organization and are comfortable with the outreach plan. If they have reservations or concerns, you may need to pause or adjust your strategy. The end goal should never outweigh the impact it may have on those who have shared their experiences with you.

Action

The action comes when you share powerful stories with your target audience, and they can get involved or make a change to help others. Most campaigns call this a “Call to Action,” for example when you ask them to sign up for a newsletter, donate to a cause, write to decision-makers, etc. It takes your audience from learning and empathizing with the stories you are sharing and gets them to respond. Before you do this, you need to be clear what your end goal or intention with those who have lived experience. Make sure they understand and are comfortable with the result.

When working with those with lived experience, it is crucial to have a clear framework on how to engage those with lived experience while also honouring what they have faced in life. These principles can be used to create a policy within your communication plans to ensure that you work with people who have lived experience and not work against them.

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