Building with, not for

These insights have been compiled and written by Felix Litzkow, Venture Studio Manager at the Venture Studio from Crisis.

Without it, we build solutions that fail to deliver. Without it, we build solutions that undermine people’s dignity. Without it, we unwillingly manage homelessness, rather than end it.

The importance of user testing and involvement is obvious in a commercial setting. Your customers will use your products in different ways than you expected, and without listening and responding to them, your company won’t thrive. Somehow thinking and talking in these terms still feels new and uncomfortable in the social impact world. We’re changing this.

Getting it right isn’t easy. But that’s no reason not to do it. It takes time, skill, and resources. But the benefits have been well established. The recent report, Nothing About Us, Without Us, published by The Young Foundation summarizes them as:

  • The user is the best person to understand their own experiences, their own contexts. If you listen and respond to the people that you serve, you are more likely to be effective in your work.
  • Involvement and participation has positive benefits for people.
  • Lived experiences insights legitimize interventions for the wider community.
Learn more about the report findings here.

In the Venture Studio from Crisis, we employ numerous strategies to build a team, community, and network with inclusion at its heart. We have committed to embedding lived experience into everything we do, and this is how we’ve started:

  • Lived experience is represented on our Strategic Advisory Board who challenge and support us in shaping the strategic vision of the Studio
  • Before making our investment decisions for our portfolio, all shortlisted startups are assessed for feedback with a panel of lived experience experts

I was really interested in taking part in the Venture Studio project. As a young person who has experienced homelessness and I feel that I can give a good contribution towards the cause and learn new skills along the way. — Anonymous panel member

  • When a startup joins our portfolio, panels with lived experience are hosted to co-produce new solutions and offer valuable insight and feedback to the startups
  • We are building a Peer-Support Network using co-production principles, connecting entrepreneurs with lived experience of homelessness on our Changing Lives grant-funding programme with entrepreneurs in our Investment Portfolio and wider ecosystem
  • Our team are developing a process to ensure that grant-giving decisions for our members applying for Changing Lives grants are made by the Changing Lives alumni community, those with lived experience of homelessness who have founded their path to self-employment

Our north star is the ladder of co-production; it’s an adaptation of Sherry Arnstein’s ‘Ladder of Participation’. It sets out co-production as part of a continuum: as you go up the ladder, power is shared more equally between people providing and using services, and you get closer to co-production. The ladder is helpful in this respect because it appreciates that all organisations, including ours, have a starting point and that moving towards co-production is a journey, not something that is achieved overnight.

The Venture Studio is still in its early stages of development and our processes around investing and supporting ventures to end homelessness are shaped by what we’re learning works best. And yet the power of connecting those with lived experience of homelessness with entrepreneurs trying to end it is abundantly clear. How are you involving experts by lived experience in your context? We’d love to hear from you.

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