Agencies serving homeless individuals and families can also benefit from incorporating opportunities to engage consumers by establishing a Lived Experience Advisory Board (LEAB) for their agency.
Listed here are some best practices and documents that can help guide you to forming a Lived Experience Advisory Board in your community.
Determine the Goals and Purpose
LEABs can be utilized for a variety of purposes including providing input on the agency’s services, advising leadership how to best meet consumer needs, providing a channel for feedback and concerns about policies from other consumers, and advocating for people experiencing homelessness within the agency and in the broader community. LEABs should have significant and meaningful input into the operations of the agency. However, LEABs are often not decision-making bodies but instead act in an advisory role, working in partnership with the agency’s leadership.
Get Buy-in from Board Members and Senior Leadership
For the LEAB to have a meaningful impact on the agency’s programs and policy, support from leadership is needed. In addition to recognizing the value of developing and maintaining a LEAB, a member of the board of directors should regularly attend LEAB meetings and report back to the board. Agencies seeking to elevate consumers’ voices further can include consumers on the governing board. Multiple current and former consumers should be included to avoid “tokenism” and ensure that consumers’ input is heard.
Provide Staff Support
Organizational support is essential to the effective operation of a LEAB. Agency staff can support the LEAB by providing a place to hold meetings, assisting with organizing meetings, taking minutes, and providing reminders about upcoming meetings. Agency staff can help set agenda items for LEAB input, such as proposed policy changes or implementation of new programs, but should also include opportunities for members to raise issues for discussion.
Ensure the LEAB is Representative
Consumers participating in the LEAB should be people currently or formerly experiencing homelessness and be current or former recipients of services from the agency. The LEAB should also be representative of its constituency and consider the different preferences, needs, and experiences of individuals. Depending on whom the agency serves, this could include members of families, individuals, people with physical disabilities, and those utilizing mental health or substance abuse services. Other considerations could be age, gender, sexual orientation, or veteran status.
The size of a LEAB can depend on the size of the population to be represented. It is recommended to start small and add members, if necessary, to be representative of the population of consumers the agency serves. Odd numbers, potentially seven or nine members, are suggested to prevent ties on issues that may require a vote.
Recruit and Orient New Members
LEAB members can be recruited in a number of ways including nominations from staff or other program participants, or drawn from other programs within the agency. New members will need to be introduced to the purpose and functions of the LEAB and provided guidance. Orientation materials should provide an overview of the organization, its basic structures, and a breakdown of programs, employees, volunteers and clients.
Some organizations may find it difficult to recruit LEAB members. To cultivate a pool of potential members, agencies can develop a “ladder of engagement” for consumers to take on an increasingly active role, if desired. For example, clients could move from low-commitment activities such as participating in surveys or focus groups to more active engagement such as LEAB membership.
Formalize the Role of the LEAB and Responsibilities of Members
Once the LEAB has established goals and roles, these should be formalized in writing, including member expectations, such as meeting attendance. Meeting frequency, potentially quarterly or monthly, should be determined as well.
Remove Barriers to Participation
Meetings should, to the extent possible, be held at the same place, day of the week and time each month, that is accessible to homeless participants. In addition, special consideration should be made to accommodate participants with disabilities and language translation should be offered to ensure that participants with limited English proficiency can fully contribute. Members can also be encouraged to participate by providing financial incentives, such as gift cards and transportation costs, or by serving meals and providing childcare during meetings.