Download our lastest report here: Learning to Listen Again: Deepening our understanding of how to amplify seldom heard voices through positive listening

For the past year, we have been on a journey to understand how to listen to the seldom heard voices in our society. In Autumn 2020, we published our first report alongside the Centre for Public Impact, Learning to Listen Again. We heard about people’s experiences of the pandemic and their experience of being listened to – within their communities, by public services and by wider government and how they would like to be engaged in the future.

“I’d like to see as many places as possible embrace listening – it allows things to evolve and creates opportunities to change practice.” – Listening project participant

Our latest report focuses on the lessons from a second phase of listening, which took place between October 2020 and March 2021 as the UK went through regional lockdowns and a third national lockdown. We ran ‘listening conversations’ with people across the north east of England, who are facing the most challenging of circumstances, including poverty, homelessness, domestic abuse, addiction, sexual exploitation or involvement in the criminal justice system, and gained a deeper understanding about their experiences of good listening.

Our research shows that:

  • People felt most listened to at the level of their community
    As we moved from this very immediate space to statutory services, local government and national government, people felt less and less listened to
  • The best listening can come from support workers and peer supporters
    Participants felt the best listening often came from people who had “’walked in their shoes”’, demonstrated empathy, and challenged in a supportive way
  • Silos were seen as a key barrier to good listening
    Participants described experiences of not feeling seen or treated as a whole person within services and the community
  • An urgent need for more mental health support was felt by many
    Participants observed that authorities were relatively effective at meeting physical needs – for example, by providing food packages – or addressing physical problems through GP surgeries and other NHS resources, and there needed to be something equally effective in place for mental health
  • Our approach to listening worked well

Participants enjoyed taking part in our listening and sensemaking sessions and felt their voices had been heard. Changing Lives staff also appreciated the approach and saw listening as a core part of their role

Underpinning all of this was the message that government and public services must prioritise ongoing and genuine listening to seldom heard groups if we are to build back effectively from the pandemic.

The implications of these findings are wide-ranging. When seeking views from different seldom heard groups, how often do government and public services recognise the crucial listening role that support workers and peers supporters can play? How well are different government actors and public service professionals able to reach across organisational silos to listen to people and address their concerns holistically? Is the government doing enough to listen to people and understand their emerging needs before they reach a crisis level? 

Our second report highlights key questions for government, professionals, and civil society to ask themselves when considering how to build listening into how public and voluntary services are designed and delivered, and how to better learn from and respond to what is heard.

“Listening is a powerful tool for change and it would be foolish to discount it.” – Listening project participant

Where we want to go next

We do not believe this journey is over, in many ways it is just beginning. These are some questions that we are keen to explore further:

  • How can we make listening and sense-making sessions more inclusive to strengthen the voices of a wider range of seldom heard groups?
  • How can we build deep listening and sense-making into standard practice in different organisations, in a way that connects with key decision and policy makers to ensure the organisation is able to respond to what has been heard?
  • How can we break down silos between different public and community services, to support good and trusted listeners to listen more holistically to seldom heard groups, and to respond effectively to a wider range of issues?

We are only beginning to understand how to listen to the seldom heard, and we need others to join us on this journey. This work is an open invitation to government, professionals, and civil society to join us in this exploration and make listening part of daily practice permanently. Only by hearing all voices can government truly have a positive public impact for people everywhere. Collectively, we can and must build back a Britain that enables everyone to thrive

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