Lived Experience Workforce – Tanya Mackay, Head of Research and Involvement, McPin Foundation

How did your journey

start into Lived

Experience Work?

I had been working as a social worker but had always been passionate about research. So, when I experienced burn out related to my work and mental health I moved into academic research. Initially I identified as a researcher, and I was working on a lot of different projects. I was invited to work on a mental health focused study and learnt from other lived experience experts I worked with that it was okay, and beneficial, to use my lived experience in the research process. After that project I become passionate about lived experience roles and focused my work on this area. I also did some advocacy and storytelling work using my lived experience. My first official lived experience role was as a lived experience/peer researcher, and now I work as Head of Research and Involvement at The McPin Foundation, a charity dedicated to championing lived experience expertise in research.

What have been the

biggest challenges,

and rewards?

The biggest challenge for me has always been feeling frustrated with how slow systems change even when we have innovative research or new interventions that evidence the changes needed. It can also be really draining to have to keep arguing the value of lived experience, although this is getting much better. I believe there is still space for increased, sustainable funding for lived experience led research that reflects time and support needed to do this work well.

The biggest reward has been the ability to reflect on how my own lived experience impacts my work – to better understand that and to mentor others to do the same. I also find making space for more, and diverse lived experience voices a key motivator for me– we can’t push forward change unless that change has impact for, and is led by, the most marginalised in our society. In my current role, the most rewarding aspect is seeing more lived experience leadership in the research process.

What advice would

you give to

someone who may be

interested in taking

on the same position?

For my current role, as Head of Research and Involvement, my advice would be to make sure you are constantly reflecting – lived experience leadership is critical to epistemic justice. But like any other leadership role the most important part of the job is supporting your teams and organisation to grow and develop. It requires reflection on your own biases and experiences, and how these might drive your decisions and approaches in your work. Asking yourself, for example, am I ensuring I’m collaborating here, not operating on a top-down basis and why.

Reflection is more than just having a think about something. You need to spend time considering why you did something, what informed that decision/approach, what was the result or impact and what could you change to improve (or when things go well what would you do again!)

What learning did you have from your personal

experience that you carried to your professional


For me it’s resilience- good research involves hearing challenges and people having different views. The resilience I gained through my personal mental health and physical health experiences means I am better prepared emotionally for spaces where my ideas and biases are challenged, I am open to hearing and learning from others and feel safe and comfortable to sometimes get it wrong and still move forward.

Click on the link to the McPin Foundations fantastic resources! These ten resources will explore how to use lived experience in the workplace; reflect on our public involvement and peer research; look at our ongoing journey towards antiracism; offer guidance on neurodivergent-inclusive meetings and more.10 for 10 | The McPin Foundation

Do you want to write a blog for us? Great! Our blogs on the Lived Experience Workforce follow this format (but we are open to free form submissions too 🙂

How did you start your journey into Lived Experience work?

How did you start your journey into the Lived Experience Workforce?

What have been the biggest challenges, and rewards.

What advice would you give to someone who may be interested in taking on the same position?

What learning did you have from your personal experience that you carried to your professional experience?

If you’d like to contribute, we can support you by listing your webpage or service contact on the page when we go live (not long now!), growing your reach and mutually aiding.

Submissions can be sent to

(you will be asked to fill in a well-being questionnaire about sharing your experience, and consent form which can be revisited at any time)

Please indicated if you would like to remain anonymous on the blog

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