A core principle underpinning work on a place-based approach is being socially inclusive and valuing the lived experience of people. This principle is closely related to being citizen-led, and requires an awareness of privilege, power and exclusion.
Social exclusion occurs where, “people, families or groups are somehow shut out of, or become remote or disengaged from, normal participation in some or all of the economic, social, cultural, civic and political activities and relationships available to a majority of people in a society of which they are part, [resulting] in a loss of status, power, self-esteem and future expectations”. (20) Social inclusion is defined as the opportunity for people to learn, work, connect with others and have a voice. (21)
Being socially inclusive is the act of bringing those who are excluded back into civic participation through a process of active, intentional engagement, and rebalancing of power. People with lived experience expertise are regularly excluded from mainstream society or processes. The people most severely impacted by the challenges conditional to their place are often least empowered to influence or respond to those challenges. The term ‘nothing about us without us’ encapsulates the thinking that counters this and emphasises that people are the experts in their own lives and have the right to have a say in what happens to and for them. They are more likely to know what is needed to improve their lives and improve the systems and institutions they use and are likely to be motivated to improve their community due to having ‘skin in the game’. People excluded from mainstream conversations come from a range of experiences:
- First Nations people
- people from a culturally and linguistically diverse background
- people with disability, mental health issues or other chronic or severe health issues
- people experiencing poverty, unemployment, underemployment and unstable housing
- people experiencing violence or recovering from trauma
- people with lower literacy or low educational attainment
- young people and older people
- one parent families
- lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities
- people living in rural and remote communities.
They may be excluded for a range of reasons: racism, prejudice and stigma, barriers to communication and mobility, lack of suitable employment, limited access to services, health care, housing, and so on. These risk factors all contribute to their difficulty participating fully in civic life.
Intentional and culturally sensitive engagement is necessary to effectively include the diverse groups that make up a community. This involves consulting and engaging with diverse parts of the community and actively working with people with lived experience or context experts to develop initiatives and make decisions. It involves including them in the conversation and making room for them at decision-making tables. Valuing existing expertise within the community ensures that the voice of lived experience is embedded in projects, policies and initiatives, and builds sustainability for the long-term.
Building capacity of context experts can be important to ensure they are effectively supported and can continue to advocate for themselves and their issues, and build sustainability of place-based approaches. This can include training in public speaking, media training, hosting community conversations meeting and engagement frameworks.
Lived experience / context expertise is the kind of knowledge someone has by having a particular life experience. ‘Context expertise’ stands in contrast to academic or ‘content expertise’. For example, a context expert might have experience living in a social housing estate; a content expert may have conducted research into the mental health impacts of living in a social housing estate. Lived expertise is as valuable as other types of expertise, but factors such as stigma, trauma and/or chronic adversity resulting from the lived experience and unbalanced power, can limit people being able to share this expertise and influence policy decisions.If you are looking to include people with lived experience, it is important to remember that people can only speak from their own experience. It can be useful to include a number of different people with a similar experience to avoid tokenism. Looking at multiple stories and discerning themes can be a useful way of reducing reliance on a single story and has the added benefit of providing support and empowerment to the context experts. It is also important to remember that while people may all have experience with a particular issue, they may not have the same perspective or be coming from the same level of disadvantage, and therefore cannot speak for all experiences. For example, someone may be a carer of someone with a disability, and therefore have great insight into the needs of carers and the needs of people with disability. But as they do not have a disability themselves, they cannot speak on behalf of people with disability.