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Empowering peers to thrive


A lived experience workers Community of Practice pilot project  |  Brisbane 2019

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What did we discover?

Campfire Co-op and Red Thread Stories Australia Inc were engaged by Brisbane South PHN to develop and test a community of practice for lived experience workers in the region, and create a framework from what we learned in this pilot project. Workshops with participants / members were held from March to June 2019.


Our key stakeholders were people with a lived experience of mental health who are working (paid or volunteer) in the Brisbane South region - focussing on those working in small organisations without lived experience support.

Here is the final summary of what we learned during the project, and the framework we discovered to support other Communities of Lived Experience Workers - or any community of practice.

Project design

Purpose: Develop and test a community of practice for workers with lived experience of mental health issues to support each other and learn together

Our guiding question: How can we best guide the co-creation of a lived experience workforce community of practice that supports people to flourish?


Tangible harvest (outcomes)

  • A sustainable Community of Practice

  • A Community of Practice framework

Intangible harvest (outcomes)

  • Capable and confident Community of Practice (CoP) members

  • CoP members have stronger connections and relationships

  • Engaged, motivated and inspired participants

  • Participants enjoy a good experience of participatory process

We connected to almost 100 organisations, communities and individuals from the community sector in Brisbane South region through email and phone contact. We also used social media, and face to face conversations to invite participants, promote the project and bring awareness of the importance of better supporting lived experience workforce.

Six workshops were held in different community locations across the Brisbane South region.

Our approach

We had a clear intention of the way we approached this work:

  • We would design the first two-day workshop, discover what participants needed and wanted for the next five events, and respond to that

  • We used, modelled and encouraged highly participatory methods, with self organising and shared leadership principles, and taking a living systems approach to building a community. 

  • We would use multi modal approaches to cater for diverse learning styles in the workshops - including conversation, play and games, visual harvesting, storytelling, playback theatre and more, choosing approaches that best suited the purpose. 

  • We had a core team of three, who co-designed, hosted, harvested and reflected upon each stage of the project. This is not work to be done alone. We called in others within our organisations to support as needed.


Core frameworks and practices we used were The Art of Hosting and Harvesting Conversations that Matter, Sociometry and Action Methods,  Playback Theatre, Groundwork and associated mental models, methods and tools and practices. 


For the overall project, we used the Chaordic Stepping Stones to co-design and Groundwork to build the structure for the project, paying attention to all aspects of creating a good foundation for future sustainability.

We evaluated and themed the data we received from participants in the project, as well as our own reflections and learnings. We also took a developmental approach, embedding learning into the project design. Participants co-created their community throughout the workshop series, and developed capacity and skills along the way. 


We also created and shared ‘harvests’ from each workshop to share with participants, their organisations and more widely, through newsletters and the project website, and a digital story completed at the end of the project, to sit alongside this summary, and the final report.

The workshops

1. Exploring what our community could be

23 participants connected and shared stories, discovered what was needed to inform the next 5 workshops, and named their Community of Lived Experience Workers: CLEW. They learned skills and information about participatory leadership and games and activities for connection and engagement.

What will you take with you from these 2 days?

  • Deep connection with people

  • Proud of myself

  • Confidence building

  • Friendships

  • I don’t feel alone

  • It’s okay to be me - it’s okay to be you

  • Amazing ideas

  • Knowing support is here changes everything

  • Excitement to continue my participation after today

  • Proud to be part of the seed group

  • I feel valued by each and every one of you

  • Being understood by others

  • More confidence in speaking

  • Group work with lived experience peers. Funner and easier to explore ideas together.

What might you do differently as a result of what you learned at this workshop?

  • I will be more inclined to speak up and express my opinions and share ideas. I  will be more open to others opinions and ideas and I will have more confidence Nazira

  • To be more confident about bringing my whole self to work and advocating for mental health awareness and support at work, knowing I have an external support network. I will also for the first time actively contact external colleagues made here, to support, share and ask for resources.

  • Communicate with my supervisor about my needs. Lara

2. Co-designing our community

In this first three hour workshop, eight lived experience workers visioned their future CLEW, and using the Groundwork framework, developed strong foundations - our purpose, who we are and how we work together, what we hope to create and some key priorities for the future.  

How are you leaving today?

  • With a sense of warmth and security. I feel like I belong here, I’ve made friends. And I’m excited

  • A lot more confidence and direction. It’s bolstered my faith that we can keep this going

  • Definitely feel we are going forward and I’m excited!

  • I’m feeling way less confused and a bit more optimistic that this will work

  • Feeling reassured. I feel a sense of belonging and that I’ve been heard

  • I’ve come here without a clue, now I have one! The combined intelligence and creativity for this group’s purpose has been overwhelming

  • I’m feeling excited and blown away. A lot more clarity. We’re a support group for workers who support others.

I attended the workshop wanting clarity around CLEW will look like and what tangible and intangible outcomes might be expected. I left the workshop feeling I had the clarity.

I am not employed as a lived experience worker, but with CLEW I now feel more confident to bring my whole self to work and identify as one. With CLEW, I feel that my status as a lived experience worker is valid and valuable, and that I can reach out for support in relation to this when needed. With CLEW, I feel supported to not just attend work but to thrive at work. As a result, any workshops for CLEW are useful and I’d highly encourage other lived experience workers to attend them.

I enjoyed learning about the (Groundwork) framework, it made a lot of sense to have the need and purpose at the centre. I found it useful to consider the ideal culture of what you create, the who before working on the structure, what and how. This is not a process I have previously adopted. I strongly believe this is  framework will be useful for me to adopt in current and future projects in my work place such as establishment of Diversity Advisory Committee.


3. Speaking up

In a safe, supportive space 13 participants shared stories, learned new skills and grew in confidence to speak up at work and in our lives. 

How are you leaving today? 

  • Inspired and excited to be here today

  • More energised

  • Reconnected and strength to go forward

  • Comfortable

  • Trust in good people

  • Learning to live in this community

  • Feel hopeful

  • Confident and motivated

  • More skills to be centred and grounded

What am I learning?

  • It was awesome how we worked together because we trusted the people

  • I learned about letting go of control and trusting whoever is there

  • I sometimes ask myself 'How can an individual like me do this work?' Then I realise that I can do this!

Quote of the day:
'If you don't have a CLEW, then you don't have a CLUE!'
4. Designing projects

Eight participants came together to practice co-design with two projects: CLEW comms - keeping connected, and Taking care of the CLEW crew: the wellbeing of the group.

What has been your biggest learning today?

  • It can be hard to work in teams, different opinions and points of view

  • Sometimes we don’t know where to start, and we get going, and end up somewhere

  • InCLEWsion is more about listening than talking

​What did you find most useful?

  • Project planning and cycling the concept through groups

  • Clearer purpose

  • Communicating with others

5. How to host a participatory meeting

In a safe, supportive space 13 participants shared stories, learned new skills and grew in confidence to speak up at work and in our lives. 

"The simplicity of how we made decisions, how it just worked out.
Thumbs up, it was funny. It doesn’t have to be so complicated." Clare
6. Celebration and storytelling

Eleven participants (nine CLEW members) shared stories, experienced Playback Theatre with Red Thread Stories, celebrating where they had come from what to take forward. They also made clear commitments to CLEW going forward.

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What's your greatest learning from CLEW?
  • There’s more to life than mainstream things

  • Other people have the same passion, and I have people to connect with

  • How supportive and welcoming a group can be even when I come late. The importance of a support network

  • To be back in a group of people and be relaxed

  • This is really nourishing work. Authenticity lives here

  • Organisations are starting to see the value of Lived Experience Workers and are putting resources behind it

  • Realising a network existed for Lived experience Workers!

  • It’s so much better not to work alone

  • That people are so willing to connect. The diversity of people, of Lived Experience Workers we’ve seen here - that excites me.

  • My journey started today. My eyes have been opened to a lot more jobs

  • A lot more skills that I realised, and this has helped to bring those skills forward

Jen Barrkman, Mel Geltch and Pam Burley of Campfire Co-op and Red Thread Stories. We work in collaborative and creative ways to help people work together on things that matter.

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This project is funded by Brisbane South PHN with funding from the Australian Government through the PHN Program.

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