The Step Change Consortium works in Greater Manchester and has an EBE group that is an integral part of the consortium, involved in many aspects of the work, contributing to advocacy efforts and participating in strategic decision-making.
The Step Change consortium is a 3.5-year programme supported by the Lottery Community Fund which brings together eleven asylum and refugee support organisations and an Experts by Experience (EBE) group working in Greater Manchester (GM). The joint purpose of the consortium is to develop a joined-up and sustainable ecosystem of support for refugees and people seeking asylum in Greater Manchester. The EBE group is an integral part of the consortium, involved in many aspects of the work, contributing to advocacy efforts and participating in the strategic decision making of the consortium.
In June 2023, facilitated by our learning partner, merl (Who we are — MERL (merlservices.org)) the consortium came together for our annual reflection workshop, the outcome of which was the Step Change Year 2 learning report. This report highlighted four main development areas in relation to EBE:
- Group evolution: How is the EBE group evolving and changing over time?
- Campaigning and decision-making: How do we ensure the EBE group is meaningfully involved in decision-making and strategic processes?
- Communication and relationship building: The importance of relationship building and good communication.
- Training and opportunities: Providing opportunities for putting skills and knowledge learnt into practice.
In order to dive a bit deeper into these themes, Tandy Nicole (merl research associate) led a discussion with 9 members from the EBE group, Patrick Masebo (EBE Coordinator), and Monica Reeves (Programme Manager) about their experiences this past year.
Disclaimer: Pseudo-names have been used to protect EBE group members' identity.
TOP 4 TAKEAWAYS
Co-production is important from the very start of working together: develop key guiding documents and set expectations early; be clear on the groups’ priorities and to what extent they are involved in each area of work against the co-production ladder; use clear and simple language and avoid jargon so people can participate meaningfully; find a way to track how EBE input is being used to ensure transparency and accountability
Ensure meaningful EBE involvement in decision-making: People with lived experience of migration should be at the heart of service design and delivery and campaigns for change. Ensure you are clear on where and when decisions are being made and have something in place to monitor how the group is contributing to the work of the wider programme to prevent risks of tokenistic engagement
Create a safe and comfortable environment: where people can share their views, feel listened to and let people build relationships in the ways that work for them
Be flexible, adaptable and value-centric in your EBE work: Ultimately, the work itself will change over time but the work should be centred on key values around inclusion, participation and being human-centred. Understand that bringing your personal experience to an EBE group is a very different experience to what you may bring in a professional capacity as staff/volunteer
EBE GROUP EVOLUTION
TN: What have been some important moments for you in the group's development?
Everyone agreed that the EBE group is progressing positively, and that its development should be considered a process with ongoing reflection and adaptation, rather than aiming for a specific end goal.
“Change is a process, every day we have new ideas. I think it’s important to bring up issues and talk about them. For example with the financial policy, we had to discuss a lot of things - but now with the changes, we own it.” Kroma
Members also considered their membership as a valuable opportunity to gain new skills and knowledge about life in the UK and how the support system works in GM.
“It’s a learning process for me, to understand the work of the organisations here…it’s a good opportunity as an asylum seeker who doesn’t have the right to work.” Madia
“Last year we went to London for a Right To Work Campaign and I learnt a lot from one of the asylum seekers who was talking about their experience about the opportunity he got to develop his skills. I learnt a lot from that event.” Ahmed J
From the coordinators:
“I notice that people are more committed than before and they can see how meaningful the work is to them. This is because people are able to express their concerns and share their thoughts with me and Monica” Patrick
“From my experience this year supporting the development of this group, we should not be viewing this work as aiming to have a ‘final product’: meaningful involvement should be considered a constant, evolving approach. In practice this means there should be regular check-ins, feedback, and asking ‘Is this working, if not, shall we try this?’ An example of this could be the financial policy that aims to recognise the contributions of the group - it wasn’t working, so we kept trying and now I think we have something that works. Another example could be our list of priorities for the group, this also changes over time based on how the external environment is shifting and the needs and priorities of people seeking asylum change” Monica
CAMPAIGNING AND DECISION-MAKING
The EBE group has been actively involved with campaigns and advocacy part of the programme, however, up until recently, the EBE group reported they felt less involved in the strategic decision making spaces of the consortium. Some EBE members now feel more involved in this area, whilst others feel there is still some work needed in this especially around clarity of information and decisions. The newly developed ‘accountability tracker’ was noted as a useful tool in recording EBE feedback and input and ensuring it is not only heard but acted upon and integrated into consortium working.
TN: You previously told us that you have been actively involved in campaigns and advocacy work, but you didn’t feel included in decision-making processes and strategic planning in the consortium. Do you feel more involved in decision-making processes compared to before?
“More or less we didn’t know how our input was going to be connected to the bigger picture. We are now starting to see how our feedback is being used and this is nice to see. It’s not that we didn’t feel valuable but now we are feeling more valued…because we see the action plans you can see that we’re part of a bigger picture” Shazar
“Recently we did a case study and before it was published, we read the report and saw our work in the report. We gave a go-ahead to publish the report and this was a good input and involvement from us” Shazzar
“Involve the EBE Group in all steps and the work you do, especially in the decision-making or things that they are good at. This group is important, especially for those seeking asylum who can’t work - it makes you feel you are part of something important” Fertma
From the coordinators:
“The emails have too much jargon and lots of information, so members do not read this information. The information should be broken down so that people don’t feel overwhelmed” Patrick
“One of the key learnings this year for me is realising that when you’re in a position of leadership, you’re making decisions all the time in informal spaces, sometimes without realising. One of the things we did this year was to identify and name the main decision-making spaces so everyone was on the same page and we weren’t falling into informal decision-making traps so easily” Monica
RELATIONSHIP BUILDING AND COMMUNICATION
TN: How are your relationships with other EBE group members and consortium partners evolving?
As a programme where much of the work is done remotely, it can be quite challenging to work on strengthening relationships and keeping the work human-centred. The EBE group recognised the role that good relationships play when working together, how it allows trust to build, to hold each other accountable and to ultimately enjoy the process of working together. They also noted that there is a strong relationship with some consortium partners, but others still need some work - especially in relation to awareness of EBE input, activities and opportunities.
“In the beginning, we didn’t know each other. We didn’t understand what was supposed to be happening, things were slow and everything was overwhelming. The more we met over Zoom and in person, we started to become familiar with each other. Now at meetings, we recognise each other and we share our problems. We find opportunities and solutions together. Patrick helps me a lot in different ways. We see each other as family, we are one family.‘’ Shazar
"When we went to organisations in the consortium to visit, they offered for us to volunteer" Jemima
"It’s good that we can talk about anything, and we feel listened to" Shazar
From the coordinators:
“People with lived experience of the UK asylum system face different needs and issues. You need to take this into account when building relationships. Human relationships are so important.” Patrick
“Ultimately whilst it’s important to have structures and mechanisms in place, these should be constantly changing as the group feeds back on what is working and what isn’t. What I've learnt this year is that what should be at the core of the group is its values - values such as transparency, inclusion and valuing input.” Monica
TRAINING AND OPPORTUNITIES
TN: At the learning workshop you mentioned appreciating the training but also feeling a lack of opportunities to apply the skills practically. Have there been improvements in creating opportunities to apply the skills gained since then?
The group agreed that the trainings so far had been good, and were interested in the future plans to chair meetings and create work placement and volunteer opportunities to enhance employability skills - opportunities to put this learning into practice.
“Just today we were talking about work placements or volunteering opportunities with Step Change partners - like for us to be given priority of opportunity. Especially when you are in the asylum process, you don’t know when you will get your leave to remain, so this is a way to build our skills, confidence and UK CV” Dilek
"In the last meeting we had with Patrick, one of the suggestions that Patrick made was that people should use what we have learnt. In the next meeting one of us is going to chair the meeting and that way we can utilise what we have learnt from the public speaking training and other training. We are about to implement it but we haven't done it yet." Shazar
From the coordinators:
“For me, I witnessed the impact public speaking training had on people. I can see how people are starting to speak out. Another example is parliamentary training which was beneficial for people. Now people understand how campaigns and decisions are made. And this is important for the group because they are active campaigners and advocates” Patrick
FINAL COMMENTS AND FURTHER RESOURCES
A last note from the coordinators was a recognition that making connections with other people who are doing EBE work is extremely helpful. If you are interested in speaking to Monica, Patrick or an EBE group member about our work, please feel free to reach out to Monica on MonicaR@refugee-action.org.uk.
If you are interested in learning more about setting up and working with EBE groups, you can learn more through the Refugee Action EBE Guidance.
Merl is the our learning partner who we have been working with since October 2022 to support and facilitate the learning and reflection processes and co-develop learning products with the consortium and EBE group.