Phase One was focused on establishing the role of lived experience in the reforms. During the second phase, the focus has been refining, expanding and improving this approach. The Valuing the Lived Experience report, as well an internal participatory evaluation with Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council (VSAC) members, provided some important insights that have helped strengthen the VSAC model and inform the next phase of government’s work with lived experience.
Critical insights from the VSAC Model
Family Safety Victoria (FSV) has gained important insights from an internal evaluation with the first Council, the Voices of Hope report, the Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor’s reports, and the Family Violence Experts by Experience Framework. FSV shares these lessons to assist other jurisdictions and communities to learn from these experiences. These observations helped FSV to gather critical insights to support people with lived experience to continue as leaders in this emerging field.
There were a range of key insights, including:
- developing allyship between members, promoting healing and building new skills are vital to ensuring that people with lived experience feel supported to work in partnership with government
- developing a trauma-aware approach is important to ensure people with lived experience and public servants feel confident and supported to work together
- the importance of valuing the leadership of people with lived experience by using consistent and transparent approaches to remuneration and engaging early in the design phase of government’s work, not at the end of processes
- co-designing practical engagement guidance for the government workforce and principles to guide our work together will help to create cultural change
- investing in members’ learning and development can be healing and lead to greater levels of influence and leadership
- being open to testing and trialling new approaches to partner with people with lived experience will build the foundations for lived experience leadership, including engaging in facilitation, designing training opportunities and being involved in shared decision making.
Critical elements which have helped strengthen the VSAC model
VSAC members spoke of being an ally to each other and stated that this was the foundation of the group’s achievements. This strengthened the groups’ collective impact and ability to influence government. Members learn about different experiences of, and perspectives on, family violence and find significant common ground. They carry other members’ experiences with them, advocating for change on a collective basis, for the needs of a diverse community. They learn from each other which leads to shifts in their own belief systems.
“I’ve learnt a lot from the other council members about their own issues. Now I have a greater understanding from other perspectives. When I speak now, I don’t just talk from my perspective, but from other perspectives. I have learnt from the other members so much.”
VSAC promotes healing for members. Members talked about how the healing process was reinforced when government identified how their insights had impacted individual projects or larger system-wide reform work. Many members spoke about how they had previously felt shame and stigma about being a victim of family violence. Being asked for their expertise returns a sense of legitimacy, intelligence and worth. Once members felt safe and supported, they are better able to work in a strengths-based way and build leadership skills.
“Four years ago, I felt like I was under something so heavy and I didn’t know how I was going to get out from underneath it. Now [after being part of VSAC] I stand on top of it. What was on top of me before, I now feel I stand on top of.”
Developing new skills
VSAC members spoke of the skills they develop through being on the Council. This includes influencing skills – through direct experience in speaking to senior public servants and ministers, as well as participating in training delivery. It also includes an increased understanding of government and politics. Being on VSAC also builds personal qualities, including confidence, patience and a tolerance for discomfort in challenging conversations. They commented that opportunities to be part of a team with government employees is satisfying and rewarding.
“I was so set in my thinking about my own experience and my beliefs. Dropping those walls, by listening to other members and their point of views, changed me. It was really hard but when I came out the other side - I felt really good to have worked through that.”
Opportunities for growth and development
Alongside the focus on allyship, healing and recovery and developing new skills, VSAC members have built on their strengths and leadership skills through structured learning and development opportunities.
- support in delivering the functions of their VSAC role, including media training and an understanding of government
- briefings on priority areas of family violence reform to build expertise to provide informed advice
- facilitating access to career guidance, including coaching, mentoring and support with job applications and interview preparation
- leadership training for the Chair and Deputy Chair
- many government staff and VSAC members benefit from mentoring, particularly focusing on how their different perspectives inform a specific policy area. FSV has met one on one with members to discuss their personal goals for VSAC and beyond in support of their individual transition out of Council membership at the end of their tenure.
Creating the foundations for lived experience leadership
FSV is partnering with people with lived experience to trial and evaluate ways to increase lived experience leadership opportunities, influence and share decision making.
- There have been several trials to engage with a diverse range of victim survivors outside of VSAC, including partnering with family violence sector agencies to engage with people with contemporary experiences of family violence
- Over the course of the first and second Councils, a range of VSAC members have been offered placements and casual employment within FSV, contributing to the development of strategies and initiatives
- VSAC members are part of the family violence reform governance structure and represent the Council on various advisory and working groups alongside government staff, contributing a lived experience perspective to key reform initiatives
- In 2021, VSAC members were embedded in a range of projects, including the FSV strategic plan, work on perpetrator accountability and prevention, as well as prevention initiatives. VSAC members have worked across government, including with Victoria Police and Respect Victoria
- In 2021–22, there have been trials to build capacity and awareness of victim survivor needs among government and community sector employees through mentoring from victim survivors.
A trauma-aware approach
For many people in government and victim survivors, working together to design policy and services is new. For government workers, it can bring fear and uncertainty around managing risk and re-traumatisation. For people with lived experience, there is uncertainty around stepping into environments that can be rigid and hierarchical, managing trauma and being exposed to unfamiliar jargon, concepts and processes. Having opportunities to contribute in ways that go beyond recounting stories and experiences is important and healing.
FSV and VSAC had several co-design workshops to understand what is important to people with a lived experience of family violence. An important part of this process was recognising what it means to be trauma-aware in the context of government staff working with people with lived experience.
- The importance of using plain language and clear communication
- The importance of trusting in the leadership, skills and abilities of people with lived experience
- The importance of being clear about the negotiable and non-negotiable elements of each engagement: including what participants can influence and what has already been decided
- The importance of taking time to provide people with lived experience with information on the context and history of a specific piece of work.
- the importance of taking time to ensure the engagement is conducted in a way where people with lived experience can provide meaningful feedback aligned with their strengths
- The importance of engaging with an intersectional lens to ensure policies and services are meeting the needs of everyone. This includes engaging with people from diverse communities and ensuring engagement is inclusive, accessible, and responsive
- Understanding that public servants inherently occupy positions of privilege and power. Engaging in critical reflection can help public servants to ensure their work with people with lived experience is genuine, respectful and meaningful.
Based on these insights, this strategy creates practical guidance for government staff that supports them to engage with people with lived experience of family violence in a purposeful way, which is strengths based and trauma-aware.
This research and practice wisdom from both government and people with lived experience was collated into a government workforce guidance resource which will be implemented as part of this strategy. The workforce guidance was co-designed with VSAC. It will enable increased reflection, capability and confidence for government staff seeking to embed lived experience into their work and support the cultural change required to move through the phases of this work. In particular, the guidance will provide a deeper understanding of how to work with people with lived experience, including being sensitive to victim survivors’ trauma, building on strengths and expertise and upholding victim survivor agency and choice.
The guidance includes:
- a tool to help government workers clarify the purpose and context of the engagement, ensure the engagement is trauma-informed and inclusive
- a self-reflection tool to assist government staff to challenge their assumptions and biases so they can understand how they might unconsciously contribute to power imbalances with the people they are engaging
- advice to acknowledge and manage power dynamics and communicate effectively
- a template to support government staff to ‘close the loop’ following an engagement, to clearly demonstrate where insights have been used.
 Lamb K, Hegarty K, Amanda, Cina, Fiona, and the University of Melbourne WEAVERs lived experience group, Parker R. (2020) The Family Violence Experts by Experience Framework: Domestic Violence Victoria. Melbourne, Australia. https://safeandequal.org.au/resources/family-violence-experts-by-experience-framework/