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How to Identify a Credible and Trustworthy Lived Experience Expert

Navigating the world of mentorship and community support is a delicate task, especially when it comes to selecting a Lived Experience Expert (LEE). My latest article dives deep into the nuances of identifying a credible and trustworthy LEE, a crucial component in any mentorship or community outreach program.

A.I. generated photo of young men and women standing together

When considering how to approach and invite individuals with lived experience, you first must think about compensation. It is important to pay them for the work and that the wage encompasses both their lived and professional experience. Second, it is important to understand what it means to be a quality lived experience expert.

A.I. generated image of a black woman in a hat and sunglasses walking out of a building holding cash

To vet a quality lived experienced expert you should consider the following although they do not need to fit all of these to be considered:

  • Removed themselves from any toxic lifestyle that they were involved in previously. Gangs, drugs, criminal activity, street hustling, etc. There is no particular amount of time that needs to be between the individual and the past toxic lifestyle and should be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

  • Taken a course or courses on self-improvement or currently enrolled in an educational institution.

  • Received counseling or currently receiving counseling.

  • Worked with another mentoring organization or similar program. This is helpful because you can request a reference letter or contact the previous employer to gain insight.

  • Have the individual volunteer with your organization in a less demanding position to get a feel for them and know them better before you place them directly in charge of activities involving youth.

  • If you are familiar with an organization or community group with a good service track record in your area that already works around or with your target population consult with them on your recruiting efforts. Ask their advice on accessing individuals with lived experience. They may oftentimes know these people and would like to have them hired themselves but for whatever reasons could not. They could even be potentially current or former clients. Ask them for permission to post a description of the project in the lobby of their offices if applicable or to share it with staff and potential clients who may be interested. 

A.I. generated image of multicultural men and women in the street getting served food

Always remember why you want the LEE on your team. Really take time and consider the “why” that drives this position: check in with yourself and ask if recruiting a lived experience expert is simply to mark a checkbox or if its purpose goes beyond that. Addressing this question up front will help in your decision making. Just because an individual is of lived experience doesn’t mean that they are fit for the job of mentoring youth or being a part of the team delivering this curriculum. You may be doing more damage than good by bringing on a mentor just because it’s suggested. Some individuals may still have unhealed trauma or may still be dealing with other trauma and even criminalistic issues that may be detrimental to the program that you are operating.

Connecting potential LEES through focus groups can be helpful. Since there are established consulting firms and businesses that are LEE led and founded, partnering with them and bringing a group of already established LEE to a focus group to then talk about best practice questions and training necessary to effectively impact mentoring. Connecting with the people who offer those trainings and then offering the opportunity for those with or without mentoring experience but with lived experience to come on board but be required to sit through said established trainings to all be on the same level of professionalism and trauma informed approaches needed to properly mentor and take care of self in an effective and supportive way. From there these best practices and approaches can be spread throughout other organizations.

When hiring a LEE you should offer additional training, coaching, shadowing interventions, supportive and consistent supervision. It is important to note that the lead facilitator does not have to solely bear the responsibility of conducting the training, coaching, and shadowing interventions for lived experience experts. This is a team effort, and the lead facilitator may also require additional training, coaching, supportive and consistent supervision in order to effectively support and guide the other facilitators. 

A.I. generated image of people in a classroom around a table collaborating

 Open and honest feedback from participants, and peers, core competencies development aligned with a coaching plan. Look to see if they have gone through training such as Trauma-Informed Care, Group Crisis Intervention, and Post-Traumatic Stress Management. Also shadow and observe—it’s important that people who are traumatized don’t end up being re-traumatized.

By following these steps, you can effectively connect with local leaders, groups, and organizations and lay the foundation for meaningful partnerships. Additional considerations can be further explored in the “LEE Selection Process” section.


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