Overcoming the barriers
Relish those who think differently, stimulate other trustees to up their game, and encourage trustees to build on each other’s ideas.
Overcoming the barriers
We have identified four essential elements that will help to overcome barriers to the inclusion and participation of trustees with lived experience of a charity's cause.
- Make it a strategic decision; top down
- Create structural and practical tactics and support
- Address recruitment and selection
- Set up alternative structures
Each of these four essential elements are explored in more detail below, including insights directly from our Lived Experience seminar contributors, further explorations of key themes from the CCE perspective, case studies and useful links:
Make it a strategic decision; top down
- Agree that the board will have x% of trustees with experience of our core work. As the board deliberates on the core skills and competencies it needs to be the ‘best board’ for this charity at this particular point in its development, with clarity about the part that lived experience of the cause plays in this. Ownership of this ideal by all board members helps to strengthen the recruitment process.
- In the organisation's governing document, include a requirement for there to be trustees with lived experience, reinforcing the importance of this requirement in all relevant documentation and in trustee induction.
- Make it part of the DNA – in the organisation's Values, and relate it back to Purpose and Vision. Shout out about the value it brings – e.g. at the AGM, in the Annual Report, in blogs and news items.
- Define and review the value the new and different perspectives bring (evaluate and measure it; say what is different/better), as part of a whole board review, not just those with lived experience, otherwise it ‘silos’ it even more.
- Have programmes to nurture people eg. young potential trustees being involved in the organisation’s leadership training programme; other access routes eg. women’s hub, youth council.
- Create closer links between the board and beneficiaries – meet, bond, communicate; meet outside the boardroom.
- Constantly ask ‘who’s voice are we not hearing?’
- Have clear and transparent policies and be clear about what is expected eg. the time commitment of trusteeship, the responsibilities of the role, the training that will be provided.
- Remember that the hard work starts when someone joins the board – everyone has to adapt their behaviours to create the conditions where the whole board can flourish.
- See the opportunities more broadly and implement as many different methods as possible – it doesn’t just have to be a board having board members with lived experiences, but other ways for people with lived experience to inform governance. This might include a specific focus on different issues from people at different points of time throughout the annual board cycle, or an advisory group that is comprised of a bigger, broader, more diverse group of people with lived experience of the cause.
A charity that sets itself up as a voice of the section of the community that it seeks to represent, arguably needs to do just that, represent! Funders and supporters often ask charities how they know what their beneficiaries and service users need; how they are accountable to these beneficiaries and users and the impact that their interventions have made.
Obviously one or two trustees are not representative of the whole population (and shouldn’t be expected to provide that representation) but their voice, personal experience and network of other people with lived experience of the cause can be a significant starting point and source of current thinking and upcoming policy changes, and importantly, can offer stories that can be told and shared that bring authenticity (and a degree of accuracy) to the charity’s reason for being and how it delivers its mission.
Avoiding ‘Lived Experience’ as a label
One or two trustees with lived experience of the cause does not immediately translate to 100% experience and understanding of the charity’s core reason for being, nor should a charity just use these trustees as a showcase for funding. Enriching and informing the board, adding value to strategic, evidence based decision making and the charity’s activities can help to manage these risks.
Combining lived experience with other core skills can be useful for all board members to feel that value is being added by all. The diversity of non-lived experience trustees working with others and exploring assumptions and attitudes on both sides can be a powerful asset in designing innovative strategies on how to raise awareness, challenge stereotypes and proactively advocate for policy change.
As Joe Saxton suggests in his blog ‘Race, gender, and disability are vital stepping stones when it comes to the real benefits of diversity’, “If diversity is the precursor to change in an organisation, then innovation is the means by which the ideas and challenges that come out of diversity are harnessed”.
The role of the Chair in creating the right meeting climate
We are looking once again to a combination of ideas from CCE practice together with concepts from Matthew Syed in ‘Rebel Ideas’, and Charlan Nemeth in ‘In Defence of Troublemakers’ (see also Benefits section for more on these sources). Each suggests ways in which the ‘leader’ of a group can create the right culture, ensuring that cognitively diverse team members (trustees) bring and share their insights, and reach conclusions independently:
- Create space for thinking before hearing what others think:
- Most senior person (the Chair) speaks last.
- Reading time - time for reflection – built into the agenda.
- Papers sent in advance with key generative questions (no suggested answers) included.
- Brain writing on cards rather than brainstorming (you offer your first ideas independently of each other).
- Chair to proactively invite and encourage different views to be spoken:
- Design specific spaces for generative discussion within the annual calendar and at each meeting, – where divergent thinking is encouraged and there is space for dialogue (consensus is important, but only after ideas have been opened up sufficiently – with proper time allowed for ‘Discover’)
- Create a climate where dissent is encouraged as views are aired; openly welcoming all, by word and deed, encouraging trustees to supplement their assertions with evidence.
- Relish those who think differently – use them to stimulate other trustees to up their game, develop their analysis, build arguments supported by evidence (and each confront the possibility that they may be wrong).
- Encourage trustees to build on each other’s ideas by managing the time, and not moving on until the time is right and better ideas have emerged; sometimes debate is merely a parade of speeches with no connection or ‘build’.
CCE have produced a guide to ensuring the entire top team (board and senior staff) have great conversations: Building Better Governance: developing the whole top team.
Make it a strategic decision: top down
The Association of Chairs has a range of great resources, including these on Working as a team.
Getting on Board offer Inclusion training to help boards think strategically about both diversity and inclusion, as well as adapt their practice to ensure they make the most of different perspectives and experiences.
Alex Hendra from Inclusion London offers practical suggestions about what might be learnt about trustee diversity from deaf and disabled people’s organisations (‘Nothing about us without us’) and the Young Foundation sets out the case for bringing the experiences of people deeper into social investment.
Michael Hagan from The Advocacy Project introduces an easy-read Good Trustee Guide from The Advocacy Project and NCVO, supporting more people with learning disabilities to become trustees, thereby ensuring that services and structures better meet the needs of those for whom they exist.
Create structural and practical tactics and support
- Hold board taster days, observe the board for a year, meet the Chair / SLT etc.
- Have a good induction programme to provide full training and get early commitment.
- Build in opportunities for new trustees to give feedback to the chair on their experience of joining the board.
- Enable people to ask for support; provide clarity on where to go for support.
- Have a buddy system – either another trustee and/or recruit in pairs so there is a buddy from the start. Ensure the buddy system is for every trustee, not just the ones with lived experience.
- Think about seating arrangements at the board meeting – organise it so that new people sit next to the Chair and so are in everyone’s line of sight.
- Invest in extensive support to prepare people – the papers, support in advance of meetings – walk through the papers and explain.
- Train the board around accessibility, language, format and size of board packs etc.
- Put in feedback loops so that everyone can learn and improve.
- Create time on the agendas to explore the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ and maximise the contribution of those with lived experience.
- Ensure that everyone claims expenses (not just the trustee with lived experience); make it an easy process.
- Educate the board: use trustees with lived experience as ‘consultants’ to help other trustees understand the wider piece.
- Provide regular development opportunities and explain these when advertising the role.
- Break up the agenda into chunks; reduce jargon; use more comprehensive agendas etc.
- Hold ‘Away Days’ for the board that focus on relationship building.
- Include bridging / debriefing sessions for board members (not just those with lived experience) so that it diffuses the ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality.
- Ensure trustees can access support to flourish within their roles, asking them about what support, if any, they may need. Offering the same to all trustees, rather than those with lived experience to reduce the ‘us and them’ mentality that can exist.
- Include an opportunity at the end of the agenda for reflections about the meeting.
Trustees with lived experience of a charity's cause report that they can feel ‘used’, especially if they feel that the only value they bring is to enable the organisation to tick a box that asks “how many trustees do you have that represent your target audience?” or if their view is only sought on issues directly relating to that experience.
Clarity about the ‘what?’, ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ of lived experience on a board can be useful in mitigating this risk:
- What is lived experience in this charity? (link to mission)
- Why do we feel we need lived experience of the cause on our board? (story telling/ strategic planning/ advocacy etc)
- How will we (the board/organisation) make best use of the lived experience and how will we know we are succeeding?
In our 'Address recruitment and selection' section on this page, the case study from ‘Together for Mental Wellbeing’ makes it clear, in how they recruit, induct and deliver governance, that theirs is not a ‘two tier’ governance structure (i.e. differentiating between those with lived experience and those without), and that whatever is introduced to candidates with lived experience is offered to those without and vice versa.
Call out behaviour that doesn’t create a climate for inclusion
You may find this checklist useful – it outlines steps to assess good practice and a process for addressing unhelpful trustee behaviours identified.
Address recruitment and selection
- Be really clear and specific about what you are looking for and why, and what support will be provided.
- People have to both have had the lived experience of the cause and be able to apply it – translate and use it (and be supported to use it), and also the ability to discharge their responsibilities as a trustee. This can be difficult, and the shift for a whole board could be to learn about how to work with, and alongside, people with lived experience within governance so that their knowledge and what they bring is equally valued to others.
- Look for a broad range of skills, including lived experience.
- Provide a mentoring scheme for those who might want to be trustees in the future to build confidence.
- Treat people the same. For example, when recruiting a treasurer, they ask about financial expertise, but when recruiting someone with lived experience, they will ask ‘but how much do they know about finance?’ when this isn’t the role. This puts a higher bar on an applicant with lived experience.
- Run some introductory knowledge building sessions about governance to increase recruitment and retention rates.
Keeping a close eye on the knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) required of your board members in the future is an important aspect of ensuring good governance, leading to high quality, evidence based decision making. Organisations would usually have a 'competency matrix' listing the specific aspects of knowledge, skills/experience, and behaviours (linked to the organisation's Values) that are important to have on the board. This would typically be tied directly to the organisation's future strategy, and be updated each time you refresh or review the strategy. Organisations would usually carry out gap analysis of the whole board whenever the base KSBs change; in order to plan trustee development; or when there is a need to recruit because of turnover.
When the Centre for Charity Effectiveness (CCE) supports organisations to build a Board Skills Audit, we work with board members to identify:
- Generic competencies (knowledge, skills, behaviours) that every trustee would be expected to have or develop
- Specialist skills, knowledge and behaviours (including lived experience of the charity's cause) that may not be required by everyone, but which are critical to effective governance and ensuring diverse perspectives; it's best to be specific and root these KSBs firmly in the future strategy.
This audit approach can be used in succession planning and trustee development planning (whole board and individual development) as well as in recruitment.
Case study - Perspectives on trustee recruitment at ‘Together for Mental Wellbeing’
Diane Swanton (Board Secretary), and trustees Sarah Morton and Lisa Goodwin, of ‘Together for Mental Wellbeing’, talk about their different perspectives on the recruitment of trustees with lived experience of the organisation's cause.
Diane Swanton, Board Secretary, talks about the recruitment process:
Together’s stated and active commitment to service user leadership creates an environment and culture that attracts people who feel their experience can make a difference – and evident when Together successfully advertised for new trustees in 2020. The Board was clear about the skills and knowledge gaps it needed to fill and wanted to attract candidates who would also bring lived experience of mental distress.
Much care was taken in preparing a recruitment pack to clearly set out the description of the role, and to provide context such as background information on Together and its values. The pack was reviewed by the Nominations, Remuneration and Governance Committee, CEO, Director of People, and a current trustee with lived experience.
It was decided not to use recruitment consultants and instead to advertise widely including social media, internal networks such as Together’s National Service User Steering Group, the Guardian, charity job websites and informal promotion amongst SLT and Board contacts.
22 high quality applications were received, shortlisting five for interview. The Chair and CEO had an informal discussion via phone with each shortlisted candidate prior to interviews. The Board Secretary held informal discussions with those shortlisted ahead of their interview. The selection panel included a former trustee with lived experience of mental distress. Three trustees with lived experience were appointed.
Together has reflected on the recruitment process, considering what else might have been done such as including a welcome note from a current trustee with lived experience in the recruitment pack. The current area of focus is now on enhancing the inclusiveness of the Board, so as to bring the lived experiences of newly appointed trustees to the work of the Board in a meaningful way.
Always front of mind is that the Board is a collective, not a two tier structure and whatever is introduced to candidates with lived experience should be offered to those without and vice versa.
Presenting your whole self – reflections on the recruitment process by Sarah Morton, Trustee
Together made it clear when advertising for new trustees last year that successful candidates would have lived experience of mental distress as well as matching the skills gaps they were looking to fill. Everyone I came in contact with made a real effort to help me feel comfortable and I appreciated an informal meeting with the Board Secretary when I was shortlisted.
The formal interview – three on the panel so not too many people in the room - was a bit nerve wracking as you were presenting your whole self; but the interviewers were really sensitive – not asking direct questions - and making it clear that I didn’t have to share anything that made me uncomfortable.
I could feel Together’s values informing how everyone behaves from my very first engagement with the organisation e.g. the welcome I received from reception and that’s evident too in the Boardroom: service user leadership runs through everything including its governance practice.
I joined when Board meetings were virtual and I’ve felt welcomed and included. Another trustee with lived experience reached out and shared what it was like to be on the Board which I appreciated. Everyone has their own experience of mental distress and we respect each other. That’s just how it works at Together.
Lisa Goodwin, Trustee, considers the importance of the Chair
I’m now one of the longest serving trustees and have come to see how important the Chair is in enabling the Board to be inclusive. Our Chair really listens – makes a point of going round asking everyone for their view – and because she listens, everyone else does too.
I’ve seen a few lightbulb moments in the Boardroom after trustees with lived experience have spoken. The presentation by service users at the start of each Board meeting brings the experience of those with mental distress right into the room and sets the scene for the meeting.
Trustees support other trustees; we now have a Senior Independent Director to whom we can go if we have any concerns that we can’t or don’t want to raise elsewhere and although we may never need to take this up, it’s reassuring to know it’s there.
I had phone conversations with each of the three new trustees with lived experience joining in 2020 as part of their induction and keep in touch to answer any questions they may have. Having lived experience myself means I have some understanding of how it feels to join the Board.
Recruitment and induction of trustees with lived experience
Reach and Getting on Board have worked with a number of other partners to build this great Trustee Recruitment Cycle website. It provides guidance, inspiration, tips and downloadable templates to help you with every step of the process, from thinking through the skills and experience you need, to inducting your new trustees.
Additionally, Reach offers a trustee recruitment service (free to charities with a turnover of under £1m). You can post up your trustee vacancy and also approach potential trustees to encourage them to consider your role.
Getting on Board have a range of brilliant, simple and practical resources available to help support charities to open up recruitment, not just to those with lived experience of the cause. They offer free guides, templates, a free recruitment service, training for charities to improve their board recruitment, plus signposting to a range of other organisations you can go to find trustees with specific skills and experiences.
An interesting blog from Asif Afridi on inclusive leadership recruitment that is relevant when thinking about recruiting board members with lived experience particularly relating to problems with traditional selection methods.
Set up alternative structures
- Examples of parallel structures/second or shadow boards / advisory groups to enable people with lived experience to take part in strategic/generative discussions without having responsibility for fiduciary matters; introducing reverse mentoring (by those on the second or shadow board of main board members). See also our case study from Shelter on this page.
- Rotation of meetings, to hold them in spaces that are most comfortable for people with lived experience.
- ‘Learning spaces’ immediately before board meetings, for board members to hear from, and be with, people who use their services so that trustees are hearing from the people they serve immediately before board discussions and decisions take place.
- Rearrange the agenda so that it prioritises lived experience for a period of time.
- Chair (or alternative nominated trustee) to provide additional briefing / debriefing opportunities for people with lived experience to contribute to board discussions.
Case study - Improving trustee involvement at Shelter - Darren de Vally, GROW Programme Co-ordinator & Co-Chair of LGBTQ+ Network,Shelter
Darren de Vally, GROW Programme Co-ordinator & Co-Chair of LGBTQ+ Network at Shelter discusses their approach to improving trustee involvement
Shelter has been working on a project to improve involvement of people with lived experience of homelessness in the governance of the organisation. It was recognised by Trustees and the Executive leadership team that we had been lacking representation of people who need to access help and support from Shelter and those who we campaign on behalf of.
It was important to make sure that any approach we took wasn’t just as simple as placing people with lived experience on the board as that could be seen as tokenistic – however this still may have been an option on the table after co-producing solutions.
Firstly we undertook a range of consultations with a range of stakeholders – people who had accessed shelter services and also GROW (Getting Real Opportunities at Work) trainees and other staff members with personal experiences of homelessness and related issues.
These were completed with people in England and Scotland and helped us to then identify key people we needed to invite to workshops.
We hosted a couple of workshops (in Manchester and Edinburgh and prior to Covid lockdowns) looking at exploring solutions. One key suggestion that came up was for a two-way mentoring project. This involves people with lived experience being paired up with ether a trustee or director – importantly the power dynamic had to be as equals and learning from each other is key.
Just after the workshop in Edinburgh, lockdown and home working became the reality. However we made sure people were involved in the design of the mentoring agreement and documents to support this.
Since then we have been testing out the project in three locations – one with the Board Chair paired with someone involved in services in Scotland, and two with GROW trainees paired with our Director of Services and our Director of Income Generation. These have been set up as six month mentoring partnerships and we have been collating feedback from those involved to be in a position to launch the project more widely in the near future.
Case study - The importance of trustees with lived experience at 'People First Dorset'
A member of the Management Committee, a manager, and a trustee at People First Dorset, give their perspectives on the importance of trustees with lived experience.
‘It's our voice that counts’ – a view from the Management Committee (MC)
Before the current arrangement, our contribution was largely unstructured and chaotic, only sought occasionally and felt tokenistic; now it’s meaningful: we’re accountable, engaged, our voices are heard and there’s a sustained involvement with key decisions – we’re not just channelling ideas up to the Board but have sign off on major issues - like the vision, mission statement and strapline - and were consulted on changes to the Articles.
It’s a work in progress – we’ve tried various ways for the Board and MC to interact - attending Board meetings didn’t work for us. Now two Trustees attend up to four of our eight MC meetings which take place annually, which keeps the communication between us open and productive.
It would be good if more funders recognised and appreciated the value of lived experience at a governance level and supported organisations (financially) to develop effective models.
‘It's their voice that counts’ – a view from the Manager
We want our members to be meaningfully engaged in all aspects of our work, including governance. We believe being user led is crucial; this means their ownership of decisions relating to future direction and necessitates users engaging in conversations; it’s much more than being consulted and more than voice – it’s a basic right in a user led organisation. Equality is also important to us – the need to be holistic: it’s not them and us – we’re in it working together; it needs to feel true, feel real, feel the right way to run an organisation.
To meaningfully engage people with learning disabilities was challenging for some when they formed a large proportion of the board with the previous arrangements (pre 2015); one described this as ‘walking on a tightrope without any net’. We now have a parallel governance structure, with a Board and a MC: the board deal with the fiduciary matters, and the MC provide input on strategic and generative topics.
The ebb and flow of information from MC to Board depends on priorities and their agendas. For example – the MC were heavily involved in reviewing and redesigning the vision, mission statement and strapline.
A two- way street has been created so that as and when occasion arises the communication channels are open for either to approach the other. This is a dynamic process and reviewed regularly. For example, last year it was agreed it would be most effective for all if our trustee with a learning disability attended the MC meetings and fed back key messages between trustees and MC, outside of the joint meetings.
‘It's their voice that counts’ – a view from a Trustee
The parallel arrangement of a Board (overseeing the fiduciary) and a MC (feeding views into policy and strategy) works really well but we’re not complacent and the model continues to evolve as we learn more together ('how can we do this better?’, ‘are we doing as well as we can?’, ‘how do we ensure our MC members feel equal?’, ‘how do we ensure that the MC is representing the views of the wider membership?’). The independence of the MC - determining their own way of working and how they work with us - is key.
The original governance structure - a traditional Board including people with learning disabilities was largely tokenistic; there was some concern that those supporting Trustees with LD could theoretically ‘take over’ and the actual views of those with LD lost.
The Board now directly hears the voice of people with a learning disability without filter so our strategy reflects what those with LD want and ‘money and blue sky thinking come together’; and consults on key changes (e.g. when changes to the Articles including reviewing the Objects was envisaged in 2017).
Having a Board and MC in tandem works well – neither dominates - even though the Board holds the final accountability. Members of the MC now take a lead when we recruit new Board members; this sends a really good message about how things will be right from the start should they join the Board. We plan and run the AGM together. We have co-chairs; the MC oversees the election of trustees and gives a report on the charity’s work.
Case study - Piloting a shadowing experience - valuing lived, learned and practice experience at The Smallwood Trust
The Smallwood Trust’s purpose is to enable women on low incomes to become financially resilient. It provides grants to organisations and individuals and works with selected partners to help women overcome financial adversity and improve their social and emotional wellbeing.
The Trust wants to increase diversity in its governance and hear the widest range of voices around the Board table and to be able to demonstrate how lived experience expertise is valued just as much as expertise drawn from learned and practice experience. It wanted to do something practical to start that journey and has begun a pilot Board Shadowing Programme to enable women with lived experience of poverty to see what being on a board is all about by providing opportunities to shadow a Trustee, Dr Ambreen Shah, one of the Trust’s newer Board members.
Some of the programme activities that are being delivered include:
- Opportunities to attend Smallwood Board meetings and sub-committees/Grants Panels as an Observer
- Opportunities for pre-meetings and de-briefings with Ambreen Shah and/or Paul Carbury, CEO before and after each Board meeting (including monthly check-ins with Ambreen)
- Opportunities to learn about the grant-making process
- Opportunities to visit (in-person or remotely) funded organisations
- Attendance at external events (eg. Report launches/webinars etc)
Each participant will receive a training budget for personal and professional development related to the programme aims plus any out-of-pocket expenses. Although not the main motivation, the scheme also has the potential to provide a pipeline for future Board positions (although there’s no expectation that the shadowees will want to take up the role or be offered a place on the Board). Simple selection criteria were formulated and the shadowing opportunities were circulated via a call out and information on the website, LinkedIn and through networks. Those interested were asked to email Ambreen or Paul Carbury, the CEO, explaining their motivation for being interested in the opportunity and what they would hope to learn from the programme.
Sixteen people, including one man, got in touch, all with varying motivations as to why the shadowing was of interest. One early and important learning from the entry process is that next time, it may be better if the criteria are included as a drop-down menu (ie. checking ‘experience of poverty’ where relevant etc.) to avoid people interested in the role having to relate their lived experience and disclose difficult accounts of poverty or trauma etc. - a potentially triggering experience - when expressing an interest. Three women have been invited to shadow Dr Shah and induction meetings have been organised. A description of the role and responsibilities of a shadowee was drafted and Ambreen is arranging for there to be opportunities to meet other Trustees and access documentation. The shadowees will observe upcoming Board meetings including an away day. Ahead of and after observing each meeting, the shadowees will meet Ambreen to encourage reflection on the experience and clarify any emerging questions.
The Trust is keen that the pilot will encourage an exploration of new ways to help strengthen its approach to equality, diversity and inclusion and support its purpose of enabling more women to be financially resilient as well as helping to demystify the trustee role. In support of the latter, it invited all those who expressed an interest in the shadowing opportunities to a meeting where speakers from Getting on Board, Prospectus and Ten Years’ Time aimed to dispel the often ‘exclusive’ perception of trusteeship (‘that it’s not for me’) exploring motivations, clarifying the role, offering links to practical tools and support. This case study will be updated as learning from the pilot emerges. See also below for some reflections from inaugural board shadowees.
Board shadowees reflect on their experiences - The Smallwood Trust
Six months after the start of the Smallwood Trust's Board Shadowing Programme (see the case study above), the inaugural shadowees were asked about their time with Smallwood to date. Read this summary of the inaugural board shadowees' reflections on their experience.