How can agencies support peer involvement?

Agencies can play an important role in initiating and facilitating peer involvement.  They can build a ‘culture of empowerment’, consisting of various requirements, insights, services and means of communication that are aspects of an organisation’s recognition and efforts to facilitate the meaningful involvement of people using drugs.

“Support is essential  to empowerment, including financial support and capacity-building for drug users to mobilise and advocate for access to services, or to challenge police violence or punitive drug treatment. Support is also part of an effective approach to the prevention of HIV among people who inject drugs.”

International HIV/AIDS Alliance  Developing HIV/AIDS work with drug users: a guide to participatory assessment and response







Some areas where organisations can stimulate a culture of empowerment are:

  • educating the board members and staff of organisations about why the involvement of people who use drugs is important
  • incorporating peer involvement into organisational planning, including staff recruitment
  • including peer involvement in the indicators and outcomes used to evaluate an organisation’s work, in order to measure the participation of people who use drugs in activities
  • supporting the development of groups of people who use drugs.

Source: HIV/AIDS Alliance, Good Practice Guide



Ways to involve peers

Very practical and useful strategies in involving peers in planning, implementation and decision-making are described in International HIV/AIDS Alliance’s Good Practice Guide.

Some ways to involve peers are:

  • Use participatory methods to assess drug use patterns in your site. Use people’s actual knowledge and expertise.
  • Invite drug users to elect representatives onto programme advisory committees, providing transport and other expenses, training and mentoring, and support to consult with other drug users.
  • Support people who use drugs to be spokespeople, and put in place privacy safeguards so they have control over disclosure of their drug use.
  • Build capacity among drug users via organisational development, programme management, peer education and evaluation.
  • Set up a leadership development programme:  identify people who use drugs who are potential leaders and help them build a network and capacity.
  • Set up focus groups of drug users to evaluate programmes and services.
  • Support drug user groups/networks to provide peer support, advocacy and peer education, and to develop information and education materials.

An example of how an agency can incorporate made meaningful involvement in their guiding principles

HIV/AIDS Alliance, Good Practice






Support to self-organisations

One approach to community activism is by agencies supporting the creation of a user group or other user-driven advocacy group. This type of initiative allows drug users to drive the agenda and identify campaigns that reflect their priorities.

Whether an agency decides to support or even initiate a user union or take another community-driven approach to advocacy, it will be essential for community members to be involved in the planning process and that their voices and concerns remain front and central in the new plans.

“Our experience in the peer project INPAR shows us that the contributions of the peer work can serve as a lever to the realisation and continuity of other peer initiatives. It reduce the stigmatization of the drug users and, at the same time, give back to the drug users a sense of self-esteem, self-efficacy, by turning their life experience into useful competencies/learning’s.  So, we can demonstrate that it works and give examples to the organizations/professionals of what they can win with the peer work”.

Susana Peixoto, APDES, Portugal