Lived Experience on Boards

Cass Business school recently discussed the benefits of lived experience on trustee boards.
“The inclusion of those with experience of a charity’s cause gets straight to the heart of great governance”.

Here we speak to Ian Joseph, Managing Director of Trustees Unlimited about why we are increasingly being asked by our charity clients to recruit candidates with lived experience.

Having recruited trustees to boards for some fifteen years, I have seen a shift from the much and correctly maligned ‘token’ trustee to a more inclusive approach underpinned by the recognised value of having someone with lived experience on the board.

What is lived experience?

But what do we mean by lived experience? When I have worked with charities whose purpose is to work with people with learning difficulties, it can mean a person with learning difficulties or the parent/carer of such a person. In other cases, it has meant a beneficiary of a charity’s services or someone who represents the demographic of a service user. The problem is that the definition is open to interpretation and there is a strong case for not using it all; rather be specific about the type of person you want in any recruitment material.

Why lived experience is important?

There are very good reasons for having someone with lived experience on the board. These have been articulated superbly by the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at Cass Business School which has produced an immensely helpful resource on this subject. These include:

  • Being there from the start of generative strategic conversation
  • Remaining as a constant challenge as boards make evidence based decisions
  • Helping to scrutinise performance through the eyes of the beneficiary
  • Ensuring accountability to our community and wider society

How do you do it?

Recruitment is not a purely scientific endeavour. There is no magic formula for getting it right; one cannot simply pull a lever and expect a perfect outcome. Recruitment is messy and multi-layered and any board that is recruiting needs to think about:

  • The language used to describe the role and the organisation
  • The perception of the organisation and the leadership from those outside
  • Their own assumptions relating to the value of those with lived experience

A wise man once told me that you can learn something from everybody. He did not mean it in a patronizing way but rather with full sincerity and belief, and I have found it to be true. Some boards are stuck in their own echo chambers because the rationale of this aspect of diversity has not got through.

The challenge

For those who have not considered lived experience on their boards, I would suggest you make this an agenda item for your next meeting. For those who do it well, share your knowledge and experience so that together we will have a more inclusive, insightful, and impactful sector.

Our commitment to diversity & inclusion

Trustees Unlimited believes that diverse boards strengthen society. We will strive to remove the barriers that prevent people from applying to become trustees and help our clients to recruit and support people with a wide range of skills and lived experience.

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