Replacing “believing” with evidence: A first look at the impact of W3

Over the past two years, peer-led and community-based organisations across Australia have been busy piloting the W3 Framework and tools at programmatic and organisational levels, and in some cases, at system-level and in their relationships with funders.

This extended period of piloting and implementation signalled the need for an interim analysis on how organisations are using the W3 Framework and what impact this is having in their organisation.

The W3 Project Team is excited to release the What Works and Why (W3) Project: Impact Analysis which explores the way that peer-led and community-based organisations are using and adapting the W3 Framework.

Early Findings News and Events Systems Thinking Update W3 project W3 Stage 2

Five surprising things we’ve learned about peer based programs

Daniel Reeders and Graham Brown

A young woman, Jess, stops in briefly at a needle and syringe exchange, where she chats to the peer worker putting her ‘fit pack’ together. He commiserates about the lousy strength of the product available and asks a couple of questions, nothing heavy. From her answers, the worker learns that she normally uses with her partner, who scores from his mates. He wonders if her partner might use a bit with them on the side. ‘Maybe next time we could outreach to you,’ he says, ‘drop off some kits, save you making a trip after work?’ Pretty soon, the service is in regular contact with Jess, her partner and his friends. Its reach within networks of people who use drugs has increased. This creates new opportunities for practical education about safer use of drugs, and helps Jess and her friends to manage the risks and avoid harm.

This vignette is based on a scenario we discussed with staff from a peer-based needle and syringe program (NSP) participating in our project. We invited participants to think about what Jess might experience at their own service compared with a non-peer approach in a community or hospital based service. One of the more striking findings was how participants were able to spot needs and opportunities that we didn’t even know about in a narrative we wrote. For them, encounters with clients like Jess are not just about meeting their immediate needs in a safe and welcoming way – they’re also a strategic opportunity to build the organisation’s knowledge and reach.

This post details five things we’ve learned so far about peer approaches – things that might come as a surprise if your only knowledge about them came from published research.

  1. ‘Peer’ is more about skill than just sameness
  2. Peer approaches are not about disseminating information
  3. Peer programs can be an asset to organisation strategy and policy advocacy
  4. Peer services might let lower quality non-peer services ‘off the hook’
  5. Prevention might be an emergent effect within the systems (networks, communities and cultures) that peer programs engage with
Early Findings W3 project