#BetterTogether Community of Practice – Engaging customers with lived experience

Practical ways to engage people with lived experience in our communities with insights and learnings from TasCollab – a co-designed cross-sector collaboration pilot.

In a ground-breaking collaboration for the energy sector in Tasmania, Energy Charter signatories Aurora Energy and TasNetworks along with Hydro Tasmania and Tasmanian Council of Social Service (TasCOSS) have partnered across sectors to collectively implement TasCollab.

TasCollab is a new cross-sector collaboration bringing together community service and research organisations, businesses, and community members to explore innovative and tangible solutions to societal issues in lutruwita / trouwunna (Tasmania).

A key factor to its success was bringing the community voice to the table.

Dr Lucy Mercer-Mapstone, Stakeholder engagement and policy officer at Tasmanian Council of Social Services (TasCOSS) and TasCollab lead said: “People are starting to realise that old engagement methods are not the most appropriate, inclusive or authentic. Often the structures created in those methods unintentionally exclude people with lived experience and those that are most at risk and vulnerable.

For TasCollab, we wanted to include community members in a way that these businesses had not done before that truly centred lived experience in the collaborative process.

We started a Community Voice Partnership Program which focused on lived experience advocacy that recruits, trains, mentors, and pays community members with diverse lived experiences to work with us. These Community Voice Partners all had an equal seat at the co-design table.”

Practical ways TasCollab engaged with people with lived experience include:

  • Equal seat at the co-design table – proportionally equal representation between Community Voice Partners, community sector and business.
  • Process orientated approach – equal importance placed on the process (co-creation, collaboration and relationships) as outcomes.
  • Collaborative foundations – a lot of time (3-4 months) was spent building collaborative structures & relationships including principles, terms of reference, resources, decision making tools, guidelines for addressing unconscious bias and safe spacing for sharing vulnerability etc. to ensure the way we worked together on a project was inclusive and effective.
  • Distributed leadership model – rotating facilitation role across partners where people led small subgroups with the support of TasCollab facilitator Dr Lucy Mercer-Mapstone. This enabled all partners to take on a leadership role with topic areas they were interested or had skills sets in. This saw community members working with energy business staff to co-facilitate co-creation sessions for example.

“This was a really powerful example of collaboration across diverse identities and positionalities” Lucy said.

Through the extensive co-design process, the TasCollab pilot will focus on a new lived experience advocacy program named ‘Community Partnership Program’ that sits within TasCOSS . The program will create paid opportunities and training for people on low incomes to influence services, policies, procedures, and decisions that affect them This is a formal program where people with lived experience are recruited ethically and paid, receive formal training and ongoing mentoring to prepare them to:

  • Work in partnership with a community service organisation to revise or create a new service.
  • Collaborate on projects.
  • Sit on interview panels for hiring roles in community service organisations or financial hardship teams.
  • Sit on boards, governance groups or working committees.
  • Speak at business professional development or media events.

When asked, why does this kind of engagement matter? Lucy said:

“Fundamentally, it comes down to the question, can we really keep doing our jobs ethically if we’re not engaging people with lived experience of the services that we’re offering? For me, it’s time to acknowledge that we can’t really be doing our jobs well in the absence of the customer groups who use the services that we’re delivering. Ultimately we’re here to support them to lead good lives and they know best what that looks like.”

TasCollab is reaching its twelve-month milestone and will be undertake a review and evaluation. To learn more about the program email Lucy via email lucy@tascoss.org.au

The Energy Charter + Water Services Association Australia (WSAA) #BetterTogether Community of Practice enables the opportunity for collaboration, co-design and knowledge sharing, particularly through the energy supply chain and across sectors. To learn more visit #BetterTogether