Community Members as Experts
Historically, government has often functioned in a paternalistic manner, making decisions without partnering and engaging with the people who are impacted most. This has not always fostered positive community outcomes. To change this, we must partner with community members in decision-making. Community members are the experts in their own lived experience and know best what they need to achieve autonomy over their lives and thrive. Community members who give their time and energy to share their expertise and perspectives provide an invaluable lens into the inner workings of our systems and have critical insights into what must change to achieve better program outcomes.
Identifying Community Members with Lived Experience
State agencies should avoid repeatedly partnering with the same individuals on workgroups and participation in other community engagement activities. Each one of Washington’s over 7 million residents should be given the opportunity to participate on workgroups to achieve a more representative government that works for everyone. Relying on the same group of individuals for input is to the detriment of equitable policy development and outcomes. The following are key recommendations to achieve broader participation from community members.
Working Effectively with Community Organizations
One of the most effective ways a state agency can to solicit participation in a workgroup or other engagement activity is to ask for the assistance of organizations who have developed trusting relationships with historically underrepresented communities. Agencies should continue to grow their network of community organizations, and proactively look for emergent or previously unknown organizations active within a given community.
Agencies should be mindful of organizations who work with or on behalf of a population claim “lived experience” status when in fact their work is adjacent, not lived, experience. When seeking to partner with specific demographics, seek “for and by organizations” - organizations that have been established for the people and by the people most impacted.
Creating an application process for service on a workgroup, rather than simply soliciting recommendations from agency leadership, could be an effective way to overcome this often-sensitive dynamic. This could be true for agencies who are new to community engagement. An application could also open the door to applicants who may be interested but their lived experience, or existence, is not known to organizational leadership. Keep applications simple: the goal is to increase access, not add barriers.See the examples and templates section for an application example.
Communication is critical in establishing, growing, and maintaining relationships with workgroup members. Agencies should clearly communicate early and often about what workgroup members can expect in terms of the compensation process (amount, frequency, timing, method, etc.) Not doing so undermines trust with community members and may cause more harm, particularly for low-income workgroup members who could put the funds to use in their household.
The agency should establish the entire compensation process before workgroup members are invited to participate so that they can be paid in a timely manner. This means agency staff from accounting, budget, policy and other involved departments should understand their role in the community compensation process.
Agency staff should be available to support community members to welcome them and create an environment of belonging, answer questions about requesting payment and reimbursement, and troubleshoot problems as they arise. Community members should be given agency staff contact information in advance so they know who to contact when support is needed. Agencies should offer training for members on how the Public Records Act (PRA) impacts their privacy and availability of their written correspondence in the event that a PRA request is filed.
Agencies should consider developing and providing an onboarding packet for work group members. This packet would contain, in plain language, information about the agency, the project, applicable laws and policies to the agency such as confidentiality, public disclosure, non-discrimination, how to request accessibility supports such as language interpretation or hardware, and compensation and reimbursement instructions.