Toolkit: How to Engage People with Lived Experience

Federal agencies have often made decisions about programs and services based on “expert” consultation. Notably missing from the list of experts have been the very families and individuals the federal program is trying to serve. More recently, agencies have become more interested in seeking input from the people they serve to ensure their needs are being met. In other words, they are engaging people with lived experience. 

Lived experience is defined as Visit disclaimer page (PDF) “the experience(s) of people on whom a social issue, or combination of issues, has had a direct personal impact.” Those with lived experience are considered experts, and although their expertise may not come from formal education or training, they have firsthand knowledge and experience to determine what is best for them. 

Engaging people with lived experience can help child support and other human service practitioners inform and improve their programs and practices. It enhances understanding of the target population’s needs and can lead to solutions that serve them most effectively. It can also benefit individuals with lived experience—whose voices often go unheard—by giving them ownership over decisions that impact them. 

OCSE’s Division of Program Innovation worked with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation and ICF (a strategic consulting and communications organization) to host training webinars with child support and lived experience experts. These trainings highlighted successful strategies and models for working with lived experience experts and discussed how programs can integrate lived experience into the design and delivery of their services and policies. OCSE, ASPE, and ICF also held strategic consultations with webinar attendees to inform development of child support-specific resources for engaging individuals with lived experience.

These efforts led to a starter kit to help child support agencies, grant recipients, and other stakeholders:

  • Identify and recruit individuals with lived experience
  • Determine equitable compensation for people with lived experience
  • Engage people with lived experience respectfully and effectively

The starter kit is a useful tool for child support and other human service agencies interested in learning from the people they serve. It’s also a resource that complements and supports OCSE’s human-centered design projects, which seek to improve services based on feedback from state and tribal child support program staff and others who work with them. You can get the starter kit from the OCSE website (PDF). 

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