The Power of Peers – Stage 2 of the W3 Project under way

ARCSHS, Living Positive Victoria and Harm Reduction Victoria have signed a new 3 year collaboration agreement as part of the What Works and Why (W3) project.


Signing of the W3 Project Collaboration Agreement between ARCSHS, Harm Reduction Victoria and Living Positive Victoria

Back row – Graham Brown (ARCSHS), Steph Tzanetis (Harm Reduction Victoria), Brent Allan (Living Positive Victoria), Front Row – Charles Henderson (Harm Reduction Victoria) and Tim Krulic (Living Positive Victoria


The What Works and Why (W3) project has been a ground breaking study to investigate the role of peer-led programs and their influence in their community, policy and sector systems. In stage 1 (2013-2016) the project worked with 10 community and peer-led organisations to develop a new quality and evaluation framework for peer-led programs.

In stage 2 (2016-2019) the W3 project is working with Harm Reduction Victoria (and Living Positive Victoria to apply the framework at an organisational level. This will include the development of practical tools and approaches to evaluate and improve the impact and quality of programs as well as share real-time knowledge with the broader sector and policy response.


“What I’m passionate about is ensuing that affected communities are enabled and equipped to articulate their voices and lead the HIV response. Living Positive Victoria is investing in W3 because building our community research capacity is something that will drive the kind of systemic changes that will make this happen in Australia”said Brent Allan, Living Positive Victoria


“The role of peer-led programs in our community, right here right now, is critical if we are to build trust and enhance access to the new treatments and cure for hepatitis C. Collaborating with the W3 project will support us in strengthening the PWID (People Who Inject Drugs) peer voice and demonstrate that peer engagement is fundamental to achieving successful BBV (Blood Borne Virus) outcomes ” said Charles Henderson, Harm Reduction Victoria


“We know that peer-led programs and leadership are the key to maximising community engagement with the HIV response. That’s why we’re collaborating with the W3 Project. To enhance the work we do, to challenge stigma, to enhance engagement with treatment options, and to make the most of the opportunities that working in HIV at such a critical time present” Timothy Krulic, Living Positive Victoria

This is an exciting time for the W3 Project as we translate what we have developed into on the ground tools and strategies that enhance the evidence base for peer led programs but are also sustainable within community organisations.

The W3 Project is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health.

Peers, Drugs and Politics: Role of peer insights in harm reduction

W3 at the SiREN Symposium

W3 presented at the 2016 SiREN symposium – a showcase of innovations in research and responses to sexually transmitted infections and blood-borne viruses in WA.  You can watch the W3 presentation here:

Peers, Drugs and Politics: Role of peer insights in harm reduction programs and policies for people who use drugs

W3 Stage 1 reports released

The W3 Project took on the challenge to build a deeper understanding of the role peer led programs and their leadership in the response to HIV and hepatitis C. As we move into Stage 2, we have updated the W3 Project blogsite and created two new sections

W3 Project – Stage 1 (2014-2016) which includes:

W3 Stage 1 Reports: providing an overview of the project and the W3 Framework, feasibility trials of the indicators and tools,  detailed methods, and copies of selected tools.

System Diagrams: the detailed descriptions of the system logic diagram and draft indicators developed with the W3 Project partners.

W3 Project – Stage 2 (2016-2019) where we will provide updates as they emerge of the new work with our collaborating partners.


We have also added a section to more clearly house the earlier research work which led to the W3 Project

Thank you again to everyone who has played a role in the project in Stage 1 and we look forward to Stage 2 as we continue to strengthen the role of our peer led programs and leadership

Sex, Drugs and Politics at PowerToPersuade

W3 Project presented at The Power to Persuade 2016 Symposium, and were invited to write an accompanying blog on the role of peer programs and leadership in the HIV and hepatitis C response

Sex, Drugs and Politics: Enhancing peer-led health promotion’s influence in community and policy systems

W3 Project Stage 2 Funded

We are excited to announce that due to the outcomes of W3 Stage 1(2014-2016), the Commonwealth Department of Health has funded W3 Stage 2 (2016-2019).

Full reports and resources from Stage 1 will soon be uploaded to a revamped W3 website. However, in the interim – here is a summary of what we have achieved so far

Summary of W3 Stage 1

(For the downloadable reports on Stage 1 click here)

The Australian HIV and hepatitis C response is undergoing the most rapid change in decades.  Community and peer-led programs needed a better way to demonstrate their unique role and contribution to achieving the goals of the National strategies, their capacity to adapt with the rapid changes, and the role of the HIV and hepatitis C partnership in supporting this role.

Working in collaboration with ten peer-led community organisations, the What Works and Why (W3) Project used systems thinking and participatory methods to develop a better understanding of how peer-based programs work, formulated a framework to evaluate the role and contribution of peer-based programs, and developed quality and impact indicators and tools to best capture and share insights from practice. This involved a series of 18 workshops ranging from one to two days each with the ten peer-led community organisations working with gay men, people who use drugs, sex workers and people living with HIV. Some workshops were with single organisations and some with up to four organisations, and over 90 people were involved across the workshops.

W3 Framework

We found that peer-led programs are operating within and between two interrelated and constantly changing sub-systems – the community system and the policy (or sector) system. We found there are four functions that are required for peer-led programs to be effective and sustainable in such a constantly changing environment:

  • Engagement: How the program maintains up to date mental models of the diversity and dynamism of needs, experiences and identities in its target communities
  • Alignment: How the program picks up signals about what’s happening in its policy / sector environment and uses them to better understand how it works and to achieve better synergies
  • Adaptation: How the program changes its approach based on mental models that are refined according to new insights from engagement and alignment
  • Influence: how the program uses existing social and political processes to influence and achieve improved outcomes in both the community and the policy/sector.

The combination of these functions is required for peer based programs to: demonstrate the credibility of their peer and community insights; influence community, health, and political systems; and adapt to changing contexts and policy priorities in tandem with their communities.

See our W3 Framework walk-through video for more detail

Feasibility Trial of Indicators and Tools

We worked with nine of the W3 project partners to develop tailored indicators under each of the four functions, and then piloted a range of different tools for gathering insights against the indicators and functions with peer-led projects within seven organisations. The main aim was to identify what would be feasible within the resources of community and peer-led organisations.

W3 Phase 2

The next phase of W3 will build on and extend this work by trialling and refining the W3 framework at an organisational level. We plan to recruit two peer-led organisations in HIV and hepatitis C to implement and trial the W3 framework across their entire organisation. This will include the development of practical and sustainable tools that use data and insights to improve the impact and quality of programs as well as share real-time knowledge with the broader sector and policy response.

The W3 project continues its aim to support community and peer-led organisations to demonstrate their quality and impact, adapt their programs to the rapid changes occurring in HIV and hepatitis C, increase their value-add to the overall sector response, and strengthen the evidence base to guide investment in community and peer-led health promotion programs.

Sex, Drugs and Politics – Understanding community and peer-led health promotion as a complex system

The W3 Project is presenting in London on January 21

We will be providing an overview of our journey in the development and trialling of the W3 framework with our community partners, and discussing what we have learned. If you are in London come and join us. Thank you to our friends at Sigma Research.

Date: Thursday 21 January 2016
Time: 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm

Hosted by Sigma Research
Venue: Jerry Morris B, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 15-17 Tavistock Place, London, WC1H 9SH, UK

Full details about the seminar are at the following link

Investigating combination HIV prevention

This article discusses the need for systems thinking to support HIV prevention policy and research to be more aligned to the complexity and messiness of the real word.

Brown, G., Reeders, D. Dowsett, G.W., Ellard, J., Carman, M., Hendry, N., and Wallace, J. (2015). Investigating combination HIV prevention: isolated interventions or complex system. Journal of the International AIDS Society, 18:20499. (Open Access)

Introduction: Treatment as prevention has mobilized new opportunities in preventing HIV transmission and has led to bold new UNAIDS targets in testing, treatment coverage and transmission reduction. These will require not only an increase in investment but also a deeper understanding of the dynamics of combining behavioural, biomedical and structural HIV prevention interventions. High-income countries are making substantial investments in combination HIV prevention, but is this investment leading to a deeper understanding of how to combine interventions? The combining of interventions involves complexity, with many strategies interacting with non-linear and multiplying rather than additive effects.

Discussion: Drawing on a recent scoping study of the published research evidence in HIV prevention in high-income countries, this paper argues that there is a gap between the evidence currently available and the evidence needed to guide the achieving of these bold targets. The emphasis of HIV prevention intervention research continues to look at one intervention at a time in isolation from its interactions with other interventions, the community and the socio-political context of their implementation.

To understand and evaluate the role of a combination of interventions, we need to understand not only what works, but in what circumstances, what role the parts need to play in their relationship with each other, when the combination needs to adapt and identify emergent effects of any resulting synergies. There is little development of evidence-based indicators on how interventions in combination should achieve that strategic advantage and synergy. This commentary discusses the implications of this ongoing situation for future research and the required investment in partnership. We suggest that systems science approaches, which are being increasingly applied in other areas of public health, could provide an expanded vocabulary and analytic tools for understanding these complex interactions, relationships and emergent effects.

Conclusions: Relying on the current linear but disconnected approaches to intervention research and evidence we will miss the potential to achieve and understand system-level synergies. Given the challenges in sustaining public health and HIV prevention investment, meeting the bold UNAIDS targets that have been set is likely to be dependent on achieving systems level synergies.