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Involving Experts by Experience in awarding funds

By Ged Cassell 30 January 2024 5 minute read

In this blog, Ged Cassell, Funding Policy and Evaluation Manager at Barnwood Trust, shares what the Trust has learned from giving Experts with lived Experience a genuine voice in decision-making and awarding funds.  

At Barnwood Trust we believe that Gloucestershire will be a better place when disabled people and people with mental health conditions are equal, empowered, and their rights are upheld. And we want people with lived experience to be a part of shaping that change with us. 

In July 2022, we were awarded £409,603 to six projects aiming to deliver Short Breaks activities in Gloucestershire. These projects all provide meaningful and rewarding experiences for disabled young people, ensuring that their parents and carers are given a proper break from their caring responsibilities. This represented an important investment by Barnwood Trust, supporting an identified area of community need. This was the Trust’s second funding programme involving Experts by Experience, with participants playing a key role in our decision making and in the award of this funding. 

Barnwood’s Engagement Team works extensively with disabled people and people with mental health conditions through our membership programme, Barnwood Circle.  Over the past two years, there has been much learning about effective co-design methods with Experts by Experience for project work, such as themed funding and award panels. 

Here’s what we’ve learned so far: Involve a mix of people with relevant lived experience: For the Digital Inclusion Fund, we recognised the need for people with lived experience of disability, and experience of digital project delivery. For the Short Breaks Fund, participants were either disabled young people with experience of Short Breaks provision in the county, or parents or carers of young people. In both cases, combined experiences came together well, with each panel member valuing and building on the input of others. 

Invest time and resources: For an effective co-design process and an equitable panel experience, we recognised a need to invest time and resources to build panellists’ skills and confidence. It is no small role to aid the Trust in its decisions to award significant sums. 

Create an environment of collaboration: As our Experts by Experience grew in confidence, they proved willing to stretch and challenge Barnwood Trust’s Funding Team. Creating an environment of collaboration enabled this level of honesty, and the Trust benefited enormously from the critical thinking of the group. 

Set out a clear purpose and role for participants: The co-design process for the Short Breaks Fund included: setting the application criteria, agreeing the scoring and weighting scheme, and devising the questions for the application form, culminating in participants making recommendations for the allocation of funding. These outputs were identified and communicated to the group from the onset. 

Be clear what is not expected from participants: It’s also worth noting that the group neither needed nor wanted to be involved in every stage. For example, our funding process includes a due diligence check, where we review the applicants’ financial sustainability and their approach to safeguarding. This is an important part of assessing their suitability for funding but not part of deciding to fund one application over another. Experts by Experience were not involved in this part of the work. 

Offer support to remove barriers to involvement: For both the Digital Inclusion Fund and Short Breaks Fund, there were Experts by Experience who offered invaluable expertise and experience but who were unable to take part in the group process. Engagement Team staff were able to offer a parallel experience with those participants, feeding ideas and panel scores into the overall project.  

Be adaptable and flexible: There were some practical considerations for the process of the panel, such as providing copies of the applications several weeks ahead of the meeting. This extra time was needed to give time for people to consider each application in detail. Funding Team staff were on hand to give guidance and Engagement Team staff were able to spend time going through scores to prepare for panel day, as needed.  

Involve Experts by Experience early on: The greatest piece of feedback following our first co-design award panel was to involve participants sooner and to work collaboratively on developing criteria, not just on application scoring. We did this for our second project and found that the funding round was better for it.  

Remove potential conflicts of interest: Before circulating funding applications to our experts by experience, we removed organisations’ names and any identifying information. This was to avoid potential conflicts of interest for participants and create a fair and accountable decision-making process for the Trust. 

Reflect on collective achievements and challenges: We like to give time to celebrate, value, and learn from the process as a co-design group, to understand how we can continue improving our approach in future.  

Involving disabled people and people with mental health conditions in the award of funding has been a valuable experience for Barnwood Trust.  

Overall, it’s been a highly positive experience, both for the people who participated and for Barnwood Trust’s Funding Team and other colleagues. We’re now looking to build on this success by investigating how best we can provide a significant role for Experts by Experience in our other funding programmes. 

To find out more about involving Experts by Experience in the development and awarding of funding, get in touch with the team at Barnwood Trust. 


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