National Lived Experience (Peer) Workforce Development Guidelines

Clarity: Developing understanding

Helpful resources


 

Policies and planning

At this stage, it is helpful to start to outline a Lived Experience workforce strategy that is suitable for your organisation or practice and the needs of your service users. The practical details will be co-developed in the next stage. However, there are advantages in starting to develop concepts that are viable for your service and committing to the overarching principles of workforce development.

Mission statements recognise Lived Experience work as core business

Create a foundation for change by identifying Lived Experience work as core business within the mission statement, strategic plans and other key documents. Frequent reference to the mission statement is a reminder of the importance of lived experience across all aspects of service delivery, including acknowledging the individual expertise of people accessing services. This emphasis increases recovery-orientation and assists better application of person-directed practice. People accessing services feel respected by this active valuing of their lived experience.

Financial commitment

Long-term, secure financial investment from sector and organisational leaders is needed to ensure the Lived Experience workforce is sustainable. Identify Lived Experience workforce development, including training for the whole of the workforce, as a recurrent budget item to be considered in all strategic and operational planning.

Review Human Resource policies for flexibility and workplace adjustments

An important area of Human Resource (HR) policy is flexibility for all employees. A whole-of-workforce approach starts with recognition that all employees experience fluctuation in their health and wellbeing and may require leave to attend to personal and/or family issues.

Flexibility is beneficial for all staff members. When organisations address flexibility on behalf of Lived Experience workers, this often has a flow-on effect to the whole workforce. Workplace flexibility enables employees to deal with unforeseen and changing circumstances. Organisations implementing workplace flexibility are likely to increase employee productivity, increase loyalty, and a higher quality of work/life balance for employees.

Many employees, not just people experiencing challenges with their mental health, or supporting a family member or friend, may need to seek workplace adjustments (also known as reasonable accommodations) and/or flexible work arrangements at some point. Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA), employers are obliged to make workplace adjustments or changes to the work process, practice, procedure or environment to enable employees, including those who experience mental health challenges, to perform their work with safety, optimise their efficiency, and give equitable opportunities for career progression.

Workplace adjustments must be easily accessible and openly acknowledged as part of the legal rights of all employees who experience impacts of disability, including mental health challenges.

A starting place for action is building the knowledge and understanding of the value of Lived Experience roles for Human Resources staff, ensuring that Lived Experience is recognised as a distinct discipline. Develop or enhance a whole-of-workplace approach to flexibility including acknowledgement of the need for self-care for all employees.

Lived Experience leadership roles

Lived Experience leadership/senior roles are important to guide and influence change. Lived Experience leadership roles are also invaluable to provide internal Lived Experience-led supervision, protect the authenticity of Lived Experience roles, and guide strategic planning. Lived Experience leadership roles may be developed in parallel with the growth of the workforce or they may be employed during the early preparation stages to embed understanding of lived experience perspectives and guide development of the Lived Experience workforce.

Lived Experience leadership positions require prior experience in designated Lived Experience roles and demonstrated, sophisticated understanding of lived experience concepts, as well as connection to the wider movement. Roles also often require skills in leadership, supervision and workforce development. Like any senior or leadership position, these are remunerated to attract suitable applicants. As with all Lived Experience positions, it is important to consider opportunities to grow Lived Experience leadership roles. It is important to ensure the Senior role is appropriately supported with supervision and access to training, workforce development, and has opportunity to meet and discuss Lived Experience work with people at a similar role.

Training and development

With widespread understanding, acceptance and support for the roles, Lived Experience work can be highly rewarding. To begin moving towards a workplace culture that values and embeds Lived Experience work, whole-ofsector and whole-of-organisational commitment is needed. Training to educate the whole sector/organisation on the uniqueness and value of Lived Experience work assists in achieving this goal.

Whole-of-workforce education about Lived Experience roles

Preparing an existing workforce before introducing Lived Experience roles ensures a smooth entry for Lived Experience workers. Whole-of-organisational training helps increase understanding, acceptance and perceived value of Lived Experience roles, which in turn encourages genuine collaboration. Importantly, providing an opportunity to ‘unpack’ any difficulties existing staff may have with the idea of Lived Experience work, increases engagement and ownership, challenging discriminatory or prejudicial beliefs. Without this training, there is a risk of disengagement from colleagues in non-designated roles, persistent negative attitudes and less effective Lived Experience work/outcomes.

Training is most beneficial when it is ongoing and revisited, rather than ‘once-off’. In organisations who already employ Lived Experience workers, periodic training is also highly beneficial as cultural and attitudinal change takes time and needs to be reinforced. With ongoing attention and effort, workplace culture will be less likely to revert to pre-existing attitudes and beliefs. It is also useful for training to include an explanation of how Lived Experience roles being ‘out and proud’ provide the most effective means of shifting discriminatory or prejudicial attitudes towards people accessing services. To impact the workplace culture meaningfully, training could be included in general orientation, as a team based activity or as ongoing or refresher training for all staff.

Lived experience perspectives support better understanding and implementation of recovery informed, person-directed service delivery. Training that explains the connection between Lived Experience work and better recovery understanding can assist colleagues to see how lived experience involvement is relevant and useful to their work, and benefits people accessing services.

Importantly, training to explain Lived Experience roles is always Lived Experience-led and delivered, to ensure consistency with lived experience values and concepts. Co-facilitators in non-designated roles may add to the training, but only where true co-production is occurring and lived experience perspectives are being respected and upheld. It is important this whole-of-workforce training and education is publicly supported by organisational management.

Other useful training at the preparation stage can focus on:

  • the organisation’s vision and plan for a Lived Experience workforce
  • definitions of Lived Experience work
  • origins and development of Lived Experience work
  • the evidence base for Lived Experience work
  • Lived Experience perspectives about boundaries
  • holistic approaches to health and wellbeing, e.g. viewing addiction, mental distress, services and interventions through a lived experience lens
  • trauma-informed practice and human rights.

Education and promotion of Lived Experience roles to people accessing services and families/significant others

Awareness and understanding of Lived Experience work are essential for people receiving services as well as their family, friends and significant others. Exposure to lived experience concepts and the benefits of support delivered by Lived Experience workers, allows people to make informed choices and to request access to Lived Experience roles. Lived Experience workers and allies play a central role in promotion and awareness of Lived Experience roles to people accessing services, families, and other stakeholders. To achieve this, Lived Experience work is routinely explained to all people accessing services as well as their supporters as well as workers from other organisations/sectors.

Education to increase understanding of the value of diversity

In the preparation stage, it is useful to provide training to help staff understand the value of diversity within the workplace. Recommended training includes cultural capacity building for all staff. This training must be designed and facilitated by people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities and/or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, depending on the focus. This could be revisited annually, rather than being provided as one-off training.

Training in cultural capacity building helps the existing workforce understand the benefits of proactively recruiting workers from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and other cultures. These benefits include:

  • increased retention of staff from culturally diverse backgrounds
  • a culturally safe and inclusive workplace
  • organisational support for reconciliation and community harmony.

Opportunities for co-learning with other organisations

At any stage it is useful for organisations to connect with other organisations interested in Lived Experience workforce development. At intermediate stages, a colearning process is invaluable, as different organisations have progressed in particular areas and each organisation has areas of strength and areas they are aiming to develop further. Participating in networks or a learning collaborative that specifically focuses on Lived Experience workforce development, assists with peer learning, sharing ideas and information, staying on track and effective problemsolving. Funding for ongoing formal networks/learning collaborative facilitated by people in Lived Experience leadership roles/Lived Experience-run organisations also ensures expert guidance and provides opportunities for deeper understanding and valuing of the work.

Organisations can reflect on what has been achieved, what is next to be progressed, and share their learning with other organisations and networks. At a systemic level, sector-wide evaluation and external auditing of Lived Experience workforce development assists to create a clearer picture of what has already been achieved and what remains to be done. It also assists to create standards of Lived Experience employment and to ensure standards are upheld.

Inter-agency networks provide safe places for conversations about how to maintain the authenticity of Lived Experience roles and how to protect from role ‘creep’ and co-option.

The first step in workforce development will be implementing or ensuring access to whole-of-staff training on the value of Lived Experience work, and on diversity, including cultural capacity building. All training should be led by trainers from appropriate lived experience and cultural backgrounds. Provide on-going opportunities to ‘unpack’ any difficulties existing staff may have with the idea of Lived Experience work.

 

Preparation actions

Table 4: Clarity and commitment action checklist for employers

 Areas of FocusWhat does it mean?
Leadership and workplace cultureLeadership understanding of Lived Experience workIntroduce leaders to Lived Experience work and perspectives to develop their understanding and broader perceived value of lived experience.
 Build whole-of-workforce commitment to Lived ExperienceLeaders understand the value of Lived Experience work and communicate it as core business throughout the workplace.
 Mission statements recognise Lived Experience work as core businessLived Experience work is identified as core business within the mission statement and other key documents to reinforce commitment.
 Build Lived Experience relationships and literacyBuild relationships and gain guidance from Lived Experience sources to improve understanding of roles/benefits and how to best support the Lived Experience workforce.
 Build awareness of diverse perspectivesBuild understanding of diverse perspectives to increase motivation to create a workforce that meets the needs of people from diverse backgrounds, experiences and identification.
 Build understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples perspectives and prioritiesBuild relationships and gain guidance from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sources to work respectfully and effectively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
Policies and planningReview HR and other policiesPolicies and procedures reflect lived experience concepts. Plan for increasing co-creation with Lived Experience workers.
 HR policies for flexibility and workplace adjustmentFlexibility and workplace adjustments are easily accessible and available for all employees.
 Review current levels of diversityDevelop awareness of the diversity of the current workforce, service users and local community.
 Outline a Lived Experience workforce strategyAt this early stage, start to scope the type and level of workforce development that will align with the organisations mission and service user needs.
 Financial commitmentInclude lived experience in strategic and operational plans and in budget estimates.
Training and developmentWhole of workforce education about Lived Experience rolesOn-going whole-of-workforce, Lived Experience-led training to strengthen understanding and acceptance of Lived Experience workers/work and reduce discriminatory and prejudicial attitudes.
 Education and promotion of Lived Experience roles and workPromote broad awareness of the value of Lived Experience roles to people accessing services, families and other stakeholders. Promote awareness of existing peer services in the organisation or available within the region.
 Education to increase understanding of the value of cultural diversityProvide training to help staff see the value of diverse perspectives and cultures within the workplace e.g. cultural capacity building.

Note: This summary represents key actions that any employer may take to develop and embed a Lived Experience workforce. Actions for organisations with specific interests, including regional and rural services, involuntary services, and service planning and funding appear in separate checklists throughout the National Development Guidelines.

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Acknowledgement of Country

The Commission acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands throughout Australia.
We pay our respects to their clans, and to the elders, past present and emerging, and acknowledge their continuing connection to land, sea and community.

Diversity

The Commission is committed to embracing diversity and eliminating all forms of discrimination in the provision of health services. The Commission welcomes all people irrespective of ethnicity, lifestyle choice, faith, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Lived Experience

We acknowledge the individual and collective contributions of those with a lived and living experience of mental ill-health and suicide, and those who love, have loved and care for them. Each person’s journey is unique and a valued contribution to Australia’s commitment to mental health suicide prevention systems reform.