At the launch of our Lost Voices report we met some incredible organisations interrogating their digital campaigning practices to better include the voices of lived experience. One of these organisations was Safe Passage. Safe Passage help unaccompanied child refugees and vulnerable adult refugees find routes to sanctuary. They run a number of campaigns calling for children to be reunited with their families, encouraging people to write to their MPs about opening legal routes for refugees, and organising #refugeewelcome campaigns. I caught up with Michael Hamilton, Digital Communications Officer at Safe Passage to understand how they want to  centre the voices of lived experience in their digital campaigns.

Could you talk a bit about the work that you’re doing with lived experience and why you were interested in the Lost Voices project?

MH: I feel like a lot of the refugee movement – and the media – speaks on behalf of refugees. We rarely hear their individual stories. At Safe Passage we try to involve refugees in our work. Some refugees we work with have been writing to the Prime Minister, and others have met with their local MPs. I was interested in this Lost Voices project because we can see firsthand the power of the voices of lived experience in influencing decision makers, but we need to see how we can do what we do on a bigger scale.

SCA: Our research revealed that the voices of those directly affected by issues are some of the most powerful voices for decision makers to listen to. The lack of an individual story, or viewing one story as a story for a whole group of people, takes away from the nuance of the issue and is much easier for the decision maker to ignore. For more information for how to influence decision makers centering the voices of lived experience, take a read of the Building relationships with decision makers of the Lost Voices report.

What challenges to do you face in including the voices of lived experience in your digital campaigning?

MH: With vulnerable adults and children, there’s always the issue of safeguarding. At Safe Passage we’re very aware of the trauma that many refugees go through, and often we don’t wait to risk unearthing that trauma just for a story. If a refugee did choose to speak out through our platform, we fear we don’t have the adequate capacity to protect them if something was to happen. However, I think that this fear has limited quite how much we centre the voices of refugees in our campaign. Safeguarding is a real challenge, but involving these voices is crucial if we want to see those with lived experience at the heart of our campaigns.

SCA: In our interviews and surveys with over 35 charities, the issue of safeguarding arose time and again. Many organisations working with vulnerable people felt uncomfortable taking these stories without knowing if they could provide the adequate support after their story was out in the public. Many organisations have rigorous safeguarding policies to mitigate against this. Yet there are also alternative methods to centering the lived experience. Take a read of the Lost Voices report, paying lip service to lived experience to find out more.

After attending the Lost Voices report launch, do you feel you have a better idea about how you could include the voices of lived experience?

MH: Yes. What would be really useful for us is if we ran an internship programme for refugees. That means that our team can train them and provide them with the necessary skills to to take ownership of campaigns. It would be brilliant to nurture the voices of refugees from within our organization, so that they feel safe and protected enough to use their voices.

I think the Lost Voices toolkit will be key for an organisation of our size. Unlike some larger organisations that may already have a framework for doing digital campaigning, we’d really benefit from having a framework like this to work through as a team.

SCA: An internship programme would allow Safe Passage to work closely with those with lived experience. It would be a mutual exchange of skills and experience. It would allow the communications team to better understand the lived experience and it would assist in rooting the organisation in the lived experience. A brilliant idea!

What’s the one thing you think you’ll commit to changing as a result of this report/toolkit?

MH: I want to educate everyone in my team about the Lost Voices project and see how we can use the toolkit to involve refugees more in the digital campaigns directly. In particular I want to ensure that refugees are front and foremost of any digital campaign. It’ll be useful to think through where in the advocacy journey envisage including these voices, and whether they should in fact be included in the very planning of the campaigns.

SCA: Many people with lived experience that we spoke to felt that their voices were used predominantly as ‘case studies’ rather than as genuine partners. Thinking about where the lived experience voice lies in the advocacy cycle is a brilliant way to pinpoint these voices and bring them out to become more central features of a digital campaign.

What’s the one challenge you think you’ll come up against in implementing this change?

MH: As I’m sure this is the case with many organisations, our biggest challenge is always time and capacity. It takes time to train people with digital skills and the relevant public affairs knowledge to be able to campaign effectively. But the end goal would be so powerful, having refugees speaking for themselves, campaigning for the rights of other refugees, and providing the nurturing space for refugees to speak to their MPs.

SCA: Resource and capacity are often the reason that smaller organisations cannot work to the scale that they desire. The element of including the lived experience at the heart of campaigns is something that charities of all sizes are working on. So perhaps a collaboration is a possibility here. Take a read of our Lost Voices report, Collaboration to find out more.

Thank you to Safe Passage for speaking to us. If you’d like to learn more about the Lost Voices project, you can download the report here and test out the toolkit here.