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The value of lived experience in social change

Clore Social Fellow Baljeet Sandhu has published a report examining if, and how, social purpose organisations in the United Kingdom value lived expertise.

The Value of Lived Experience in Social Change shines a light on the social sector’s attitude towards, and engagement with, so-called service users and beneficiaries. Written as part of Sandhu’s Clore Social Fellowship, it was informed through conversations with eighty social sector leaders in the UK and US and twelve senior staff working in grant-giving and philanthropy.

The report unpicks the structures and implicit biases that reinforce a culture which undervalues the knowledge and expertise of those with lived experience and calls for a fundamental shift in attitudes. It also highlights the huge benefits that developing leaders with lived experience can have, both to social purpose organisations and civil society as a whole.


Calling for a change in attitudes, Sandhu highlights the need for a new style of leadership that is more “proactive, fluid, reflective and equitable… and recognises the vital role all key stakeholders play in the social sector’s ecosystem – including the people we serve”.

“To its detriment, the social sector often fails to recognise, cultivate and harness the insights, knowledge and lived expertise of experts by experience relevant to its work. The sector now broadly understands that lived experience is important, but still thinks of experts by experience primarily as service-users and informants, rather than drivers or leaders of change. There was general agreement that commitment to lived experience in our work is far from universal; that this is an underdeveloped and unsupported area and in dire need of better leadership."

Read the introduction to “The Value of Lived Experience in Social Change” below and access the full report and accompanying website.

This research was inspired by the simple notion that all members of society have the power to create positive social change in the world – including people and communities with direct experience of social or environmental issues our wider social sector seeks to tackle.

Indeed, history illuminates the power of individuals and communities who have worked to solve the social problems they have directly experienced. Consider the women’s rights movement; the civil rights movement; Alcoholics Anonymous; the world’s first safe house for women and children (Refuge), set up by a child survivor of domestic violence; the family from South East London tackling ‘institutional racism’ following the murder of their son, leading to far-reaching police service reforms – and the list goes on.

Throughout my own career in the social sector, I have and continue to be, inspired by the ingenuity, courage, compassion and leadership of ‘experts by experience’ who have ignited, designed and implemented significant social change initiatives on a local, national and global level.

The aim of this report is to explore how, today, the wider social sector currently cultivates, develops and evolves its social impact efforts through the work of such experts by experience, and how it can go further and do better to harness their knowledge and change-making capacity to lead positive social change now and into the future.

The full report.

Get involved in the conversation around "experts by experience" by using #livedexperience and Tweeting us @CloreSocial, or feedback to Baljeet, here.

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