This topic talks about capturing insights from your everyday practice as an HIV peer navigator. These insights can be captured and shared through individual and group reflective practice. This can happen anytime, including during team meetings and informal debrief sessions. When these insights are captured, they can be used to adjust how programs and services are delivered. They can also be used for policy advocacy around unmet needs and emerging issues. As we respond to these issues, we improve our engagement with clients and communities, and we get better insights in future. Everyday evaluation is therefore important for achieving the social justice goals of our work.
The content in this topic is based on findings from the W3 (What Works and Why) project, which began at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society in 2014. You can find out more about the project at w3project.org.au.
In the W3 project, we learnt that peer services have a dual role. There is providing a service to meet someone’s needs. For example, a peer needle and syringe exchange program (NSEP) provides a fit pack (containing fresh injecting equipment) to clients who need them to inject safely.
However, through peer skill, workers in these programs also learn about the changing needs, experiences and environments of people who use drugs. Peer skill refers to the workers’ ability to use their own personal experience to communicate and work effectively with people who may have different experiences from their own.
A skilled peer worker is always learning. Their observations in practice can contribute insights into the changing needs, identities and experiences of clients and communities. However, these insights need to be captured.
Insights are captured when individual reflections are shared with the group of workers engaged in a program. This enables the workers to share and compare their own observations on the same issue. Ideally, these reflections will be written down, for example in brief notes on meeting minutes. Writing them down makes it possible to find them later, when a program leader asks ‘what are we seeing about issue XYZ?’
We are not capturing insights for the fun of it. We can only say a program is learning if it changes its approach based on the insights it captures. We can use those insights to change our approach and improve our engagement with the community and our ability to meet the needs that clients present. We can also capture further insights that will tell us whether the changes we’ve made have had the intended effect.
Insights from peer practice don’t translate directly into policy advocacy. For instance, they always come with a perspective attached — from the person and the situation the insight came from in the first place. We need to look at the issue or experience from multiple perspectives — which is why it’s so important to discuss insights with colleagues. Then we need to see what the research suggests, and what other agencies/services are seeing on the same issue. Then, program leadership package up all these aspects into considered policy advocacy on the issue. This can take time.
The W3 project has developed tools that can be used to capture insights and promote group reflection.