Collecting information

Getting a clear picture of the landscape you will be working in is essential.
You explore what’s needed, what can be done, where others players are involved and how they could contribute. This process of collecting information is often called a ‘needs assessment’.

A needs assessment is very helpful in order to start find out needs, conditions or gaps in services or knowledge that you would like to address.  A needs assessment is an investigation of problems:  a systematic process to acquire an accurate, thorough picture of the relevant issues, problem areas, resources, contacts and networks.  It is a process that collects and examines information on community issues and then utilises what is found to set goals;  to determine priorities, outcomes and a strategic plan;  and to allocate funds and resources.

A thorough and well thought-out needs assessment involving the target community will not only provide information which you need to start, it will also help build a trusting relationship with members of the community.

Key areas that you will need to explore
in a needs assessment are:

  • The public health and social landscape in the area (or region) that you are exploring.  A good picture about the current policies, laws and regulations is important to understand the general context in which things happen.  Ask other players in the field (such as other grassroots initiatives, health and social services, law enforcement agencies and religious leaders), search the internet and draft a picture about the landscape in which you plan to work.
  • Get to know and understand the local community.  Find out the specific needs (of various groups) in the community.  The best way to do this is simply to talk directly to (key) members of the community.  Who are they?  What are they doing?  What is their knowledge?  What are the practices?  What are the health needs?  What are the specific human rights issues?  What are common complaints?......and so on.
  • Get to know, communicate and learn from other actors (‘stakeholders’) in the field who may be supportive or critical of  a peer initiative.


Use all kinds of methods to complete the picture of the needs:

  • hold meetings and interviews with (key) informants in the community
  • hold group meetings and focus group discussions
  • make use of observations in relevant locations in the community
  • hold meetings and discussions with agencies and initiatives
  • collect and review existing information (such as research studies and reports, newspaper articles).

Remember, a needs assessment is an instrument to get started.  It should be as large or small, complex or simple as you think is required, to give you a good overview in order to make up your mind what to do.



Choose the methods of peer involvement

There are a wide variety of options available in terms of ensuring peer involvement:

  • Self-organisations
  • Hiring peer workers
  • Conducting focus groups
  • Creation of client advisory councils
  • Training courses and workshops
  • Community mobilisation; stimulation group participation.

Some activities can have a local direction or individual focus, while others can be more wide-ranging (such as addressing political issues).   The choice(s) depends on your goals and your resources and will be guided by your:

  • needs assessment
  • described objectives
  • and available resources (people and funding).

The resources available are important when turning your plans into activities:

  • Workers/colleagues: the qualifications of the involved drug users and/or professionals (and the availability of professional support) is decisive for what can be done.
  • Funding: the availability of funds limit what you can plan to initiate.  Money and other resources and contributions are always an issue, so they will need to be spent wisely. 
    ‘In kind’ contributions from agencies and individuals (free use of a meeting room, workshop training, coffee and tea, etc) should be considered, and an internet-based activity is cheaper than conducting workshops or outreach.




The next stage is planning your activities. This can be accomplished by:

  • a brief description of the overall project idea (project plan)
  • then a more detailed description, including concrete activities (action plan).

Project plan

The project plan is a specific description of the initiative.  It includes the background (based on the needs assessment), the chosen approach to be used and how the initiative will successfully accomplish its objectives.

The overall plan should be begin with details of the target group, their needs, the suggested activities, and a description of the roles of the co-ordinating agency, coalition partners, peer workers and the community.

The first version is not always set in stone.  It is usually a working guide that should be flexible.  It is best to not make it too big or complicated:  a couple of pages will do.

In most cases, the project plan is also the starting point for explaining and communicating your plans with community members and other key stakeholders.

Action plan
An action plan translates the project plan into practice.  Once the above steps have been completed and resources are secured (enough people and funding), draw up an action plan.

An action plan is simply a practical method of working out a design to carry out the project. It includes:

  • the project’s objectives
  • the communication strategy for keeping everyone involved
  • the implementation strategy (the work that will be done)
  • realistic and achievable target dates (‘timeline’)
  • a description of the roles of those involved in each action step.

An action plan is also a tool to describe your activities in sufficient detail to check if your plans are on track keeping with targets and criteria, but be precise and not too wordy.

Make your action plan SMART: Specific, Measurable, Acceptable, Realistic, and Time specific:

  • Specific: describe as exactly as possible what you want to accomplish through the chosen activities.  General goals (such as ‘improve the health of the community’) are not specific enough. (Such as ‘reduce the number over street-based overdoses in Kreuzberg- district in Berlin by the end of next year.’)
  • Measurable, which allows you to assess if the chosen goals have been reached
  • Acceptable to the population and target individuals
  • Realistic:  your plans should be achievable.  It is very important to get a clear picture of what can be realistically achieved in the actual plan.  Do not make your goals over-ambitious in order to appear glorious and inspirational.
  • Time specific:  this part of the plan identifies how much time it will take to accomplish each task.

With peer-based projects, it is especially important that the action plan is flexible and takes into account variability in activities. The need for flexibility arises out of working with dynamic individuals who have a wide range of interests and needs:  unexpected situations may arise among them that cause setbacks or barriers to becoming involved in the initiative  (such as arrest, illness, chaotic drug use).

Flexibility is also needed because others involved in the project may have second thoughts:  for instance policymakers may have new priorities.

Thus, peer work should be viewed as an ongoing process requiring periodical reassessment, rethinking and re-planning.