Peer work and peer involvement is beneficial for agencies, peers and their communities.  Peer work can benefit enormously from collaboration between actors with different experience and expertise:

community-based organisations are in a position ‘par excelllance’ to involve members from the populations they work with, to advocate for inclusive policies and effective services.

  • and agencies exist for the sake of the target group:  they are there to support with direct services and advice.

Ideally, the interface between agencies and communities is the area for beneficial involvement.


We can identify two different sort of collaborations:

  • a joint venture where independent agencies and communities work together on a special issue.
  • the formation of a mixed group of people with different backgrounds and expertise.

“Our involvement in peer work began because we started to feel frustrated when implementing our first outreach team. We couldn’t really achieve, by ourselves, professionals, the defined goals, towards a more effective intervention: we weren’t reaching the hidden drug users groups and we couldn’t contribute more to change their risky behaviours. So, on a team meeting, we decided to do something about this and we started to explore ways to involve peers. Almost at the same time, one of our colleagues, talked to us about a drug user activist she had met at a international meeting. That was when we decided to invite him to develop workshops with professionals, decision makers and drug users. The objective was, apart from others, to motivate Portuguese drug users towards the constitution of a drug users association. After this, CASO, the Portuguese drug users union, was born.”

Joana Marquez, APDES, Portugal

I see a difference in the field, talking informally with the drug users. They listen and collaborate because they know that I have the experience of drug use. On the other hand, professionals are starting to recognize peer work and call for us to represent drug users in seminars and workshops. I can give the example of this network that called for us, CASO, to assume the role of mediators for homeless drug users: they ask for our presence on the meetings!

Sergio Rodriquez, CASO, user organsiation in Portugal








Joint ventures

A joint venture is the cooperation between a community group and an agency on an equal basis.

There are a range of advantages attached to this type of collaboration:

  • It combines the benefits of being independent (such as freedom and flexibility to chose directions and methods) and the benefits of an embedded initiative (like practical and logistical support, and links with other colleagues and networks).  The benefits of both are then present, without the disadvantages of each.  If peer work can be integrated, where possible, with community health and development initiatives, it will increase its impact and sustainability.
  • Peer workers might be more comfortable in a joint venture because, due to stigma, they might prefer being perceived as general community health educators rather than being ’junkie-peers‘.
  • Collaborations provide mutual benefit: the swords cuts both ways. Collaborations benefit the overall programme and give direct value and direct benefits to the involved peers.
  • Collaborations build on the strengths of both methods and might lead to new insights and new activities that can’t be developed in isolation.  The dialogue and interaction between communities and agencies can be very fruitful:  learning from different cultures and perspectives can lead to completely new directions and initiatives.  The cross-fertilisation at the interface between community-based initiatives and professional agencies, building on experiential and professional knowledge and skills, can open up new directions and ways of action.


Mixed groups

Another option is a mixed group, involving a diverse range of people:  members have different backgrounds, but work together on the same initiative on an issue that affects them all.  Such an organisation embodies the mixture of cultures and styles of working and the variety of people, professions and experiences can serve as an instant fertiliser of creativity.

Two examples of mixed groups with a diverse background are:

  • The organisations in which community members and professionals are equal partners. An example is the MDHG (medical-social service for heroin users) initiated in 1977 in Amsterdam and comprising drug users, parents of drug users, social workers and other interested people.  Some of MDHG’s most inspiring ideas in harm reduction (such as the syringe exchange programs in 1984 or community-based HIV outreach in 1988) were the products of this type of collaboration between people different professions and backgrounds.
  • The organisations in which people can be said to be from the same community, but have different backgrounds. This is the case in the organisations fighting against HIV/AIDS, like ACT UP Another example is organisations from the party scene, LINK WHERE?/Nightlife  in which members identify themselves first as sharing the same musical and cultural movement rather than as drug users.  Groups like these may include people with complete different background (from students and academics to full-time activists and hard-core ‘party animals’) who simply share and focus on one common interest.