By Jade Maloney
With the rise of co-design, co-production and co-delivery, lived experience is being increasingly valued in policy and program design and delivery. What does this mean for evaluators?
In research, there is a growing body of evidence about the role of peer researchers. Having someone with lived experience on the team can help to address power imbalances and enhance understanding, if they are well supported. The active involvement of a consumer researcher in all stages of the process can create powerful mutual learning.
In evaluation, we have collaborative, participatory and empowerment evaluation approaches, but these involve varying levels of stakeholder involvement and ownership and don’t necessarily involve people with lived experience as evaluators.
Recognising the value that diverse lived experience can bring to evaluation, alongside the need to evaluate their programs, and the barriers that their members face in translating their experience and qualifications into professional career opportunities in Australia, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre established the Lived Experience Evaluators Project (LEEP) pilot. This was the subject of an Australian Evaluation Society (AES) Seminar on 15 May in Melbourne.
What is the Lived Experience Evaluators Project?
The LEEP pilot was co-designed with Asylum Seeker Resource Centre members. It provides a six-month paid internship to selected members, who bring diverse experience and qualifications – from health service delivery to business.
The project has three components.
What is beyond the project?
While the concept of evaluators with lived experience is not new, this project has goals that extend beyond a project mentality.
As the internships come to a close, the focus is on supporting career pathways into the evaluation sector through site visits to evaluation teams and opportunities to find roles in the sector. The focus here is not just on people with lived experience of seeking asylum having access to paid, stable, fulfilling employment opportunities – which is important – but on the value that people with lived experience can bring to the evaluation sector. They can bring insights that others cannot and ask different kinds of questions.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre is currently evaluating the project, with the support of Clear Horizon, and considering the feasibility of scaling, with the support of Social Ventures Australia.
This project shows what is possible when thinking beyond the box as well as about who holds the box in evaluation.
What next for lived experience in evaluation?
If the enthusiasm of the Victorian evaluation sector is anything to go by, the future of elevating lived experience in evaluation looks bright.
We look forward to hearing more from the LEEP pilot and to continuing discussions about lived experience in evaluation at the AES International Conference in Sydney this September. Our teams will be presenting on engaging people with lived experience through two presentations.
We hope to continue the dialogue with other evaluators about how we can all grow engagement with lived experience evaluators.
 See for example: John Lammers & Brenda Happell (2004) Mental health reforms and their impact on consumer and carer participation: A perspective from Victoria, Australia, Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 25:3, 261-276, DOI: 10.1080/01612840490274769; Happell, B., & Scholz, B. (2018). Doing what we can, but knowing our place: Being an ally to promote consumer leadership in mental health. International Journal Of Mental Health Nursing, 27(1), 440–447. https://doi-org.ezp.lib.unimelb.edu.au/10.1111/inm.12404.
 Brosnan, L. (2012). Power and Participation: An Examination of the Dynamics of Mental Health Service-User Involvement in Ireland. Studies in Social Justice, 6(1), 45–66. Retrieved from https://ezp.lib.unimelb.edu.au/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=phl&AN=PHL2204526&site=eds-live&scope=site