Who’s at your decision-making table?

By Mark Jones, CEO ImpactInstitute


Australia’s march towards a referendum on the First Nations Voice to Parliament reflects a belief in the power of lived experience. 

 Advocates for the “yes” vote know that decisions are inevitably better when people with lived experience are meaningfully included and have a seat at the table.  

 And by “lived experience” we mean people who are the intended beneficiaries of a policy, service, product or intervention. People who have a unique awareness of how decisions affect them and their community.  

 For example, First Nations and Torres Strait Islander people cannot be truly understood and have needs met without their voice heard and respected among the corridors of power. Their perspective is essential to measure and shape existing and future policies.  

 The point is this – lived experience is an enormously powerful teacher. It offers invaluable, rare insights that can provide a counterpoint to entrenched bias, assumptions, and stereotypes.  

 It’s an idea top of mind for the speakers, facilitators and attendees getting ready to explore how we can work, together for good – this year’s Social Impact Summit theme. 

 We’re just two weeks out from the event and our team is buzzing with the energy sparked by pre-event briefings with speakers and facilitators. We invited a diverse collective of 62 social impact leaders to speak, listen and symbolically bring lived experience to the table across two days.  


Decision-making dilemma 

The trouble is, decision-making in business, government and the social sector isn’t always aligned with the true spirit of lived experience. Leaders are not always grounded in lived experience.  

 For example, Members of Parliament routinely accept responsibility for portfolios well outside their lived experience. Career politicians without any commercial leadership experience are given decision-making power over defence, education, and infrastructure. 

 CEOs, board members and senior executives likewise end up in positions of power without the lived experience. Career CEOs can switch between sectors that serve customers in healthcare, finance, technology and so on – and they can’t always claim to empathise or understand the lived experience of those they serve.  

 It’s a true dilemma, because decades of leadership and management theory has prioritised the value of business metrics, data, and sales mindsets. We know that failing to see complex social issues from multiple viewpoints increases our blind spots and often results in reductive or simplistic interventions. 

Applying leadership skills through the lens of lived experience is a bonus.  


Ways forward 

For our part, we began the Social Impact Summit journey by inviting an inspiring group of people with lived experience to join us on an Advisory Board.  

 We invited critique of our approach, the editorial agenda, and who best to include in the program. And critique they did, calling for a greater focus on First Nations, diversity, youth, and workplace issues, among many.  

 A big shout out to Anna Sheppard, Dr David Cooke, Dr Katherine Trebeck, Elfa Moraitakis, Kristene Reynolds, Lee Tonitto, Mel Harrison, and Shelley Ware. Check out their bios on the speakers page and connect on LinkedIn. 

 Of course, it’s just the beginning of our imperfect, uncomfortable journey. Uncomfortable because the combination of qualifications and experience can challenge the status quo. Imperfect because that’s life. But ultimately, it’s exciting to lean in, listen and learn.   

 What about you? Who’s sitting at your decision-making table?