About the Author

Graham Brown is the Lead Investigator on the W3 Project.

Graham has moved from ARCSHS and is soon starting a new position at the Centre for Social Impact at UNSW. Before he moved, ARCSHS invited him to reflect on his 20 years of collaboration with community and peer-led organisations.

Graham will continue his work with the W3 Project in his new role.

COVID-19 has demonstrated once again that — while viruses may not discriminate — we are in a world where transmission is highly discriminatory. Responses to viral pandemics are regularly medicalised, and individuals criminalised and stigmatised. But viral epidemics are, by their very nature, social and community based.

Scratch the surface of the COVID-19 pandemic and we see a mix of system-level factors, such as insecure employment and housing, gender and health inequality, racism, and structural neglect. Systemic issues such as these not only enable an epidemic, but also mean a mobilised community and peer-led response has to work so much harder for so much longer. This means undertaking research to find solutions in collaboration with affected communities requires more time, commitment, and investment.

When I was asked to present on what I had learnt during my 20 years of research with peer-led organisations responding to HIV and hepatitis C, it was navigating and responding to system-level issues that came to mind.

Peer organisations continuously adapt with their communities to improve the health, wellbeing, and the rights of their communities. All the while, they navigate stigmatised and politically volatile environments. It is this insight about the reality of their community’s experiences that underpins any collaboration between peer organisations and researchers.

Image of Graham Brown in front of a Hep-C Community Summit banner.

When I thought about when my research collaborations began, I realised that they actually started well before I was a “researcher”, when I was young peer worker at the Western Australian AIDS Council in the 90s. At the time, I was navigating with my community systemic barriers of stigma and bigotry, advocating for a peer-led response, and trying to collaborate with research. A lot has happened since those days — and I have had the privilege to have learnt many lessons.

In preparing for the presentation (below) I had the opportunity to reflect on what I have experienced and learnt from two decades of collaborations and relationships with peer led organisations. In parts of the presentation, I draw directly on our experiences with the W3 Project and the PozQoL Study.

W3 and PozQoL are examples of where peer staff and researchers undertook simultaneous roles of research drivers, participants, analysts, and advocates.  My experience is that research collaborations that value the strength and commitment of peer-led responses and invest in sustained, trusting, and resilient relationships are the best able to navigate systemic barriers and create real change.

Introduction: 0.00-5:50 | Presentation: 5:50-33:50 | Questions and Discussion: 33:50-59:32

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