Using Personal Experience To Improve Human Services


The move­ment toward employ­ing pro­fes­sion­als with per­son­al expe­ri­ences with sys­tems is root­ed in both moral argu­ments and prac­ti­cal considerations:

  • Includ­ing com­mu­ni­ty voic­es leads to equity.
  • User feed­back is a basic prin­ci­ple of improv­ing any prod­uct or service.

“Our take­aways from this paper are straight­for­ward: When you bring per­son­al expe­ri­ence into pro­gram design, out­comes improve; and doing that work cor­rect­ly requires shifts in mind­sets, pow­er and resources,” says the paper’s authors Antho­ny Bar­rows, founder of the Cen­ter for Behav­ioral Design and Social Jus­tice, and Kalila Jack­son-Spiek­er in the report sum­ma­ry. ​“We hope this paper is a help­ful guide for any­one inter­est­ed in begin­ning or expand­ing their own efforts to let the voic­es of affect­ed com­mu­ni­ties lead their work.”

The report’s find­ings about engag­ing with peo­ple with per­son­al expe­ri­ence include:

  • Ser­vice providers improved their knowl­edge of — and empa­thy for — pro­gram par­tic­i­pants, which are cru­cial for design­ing bet­ter services.
  • Com­mu­ni­ty influ­ence on deci­sion-mak­ing increased, and net­works advo­cat­ing on behalf of the pop­u­la­tions they rep­re­sent grew stronger.
  • Shared design of ser­vices increased the qual­i­ty and effi­cien­cy of pro­grams in such areas as com­mu­ni­ty men­tal health and sub­stance abuse treatment.


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