Peer support for clients and families of the disability sector is of paramount importance because it has the potential to hasten clients’ outcomes achievement. This is however a complex issue because of the highly specific nature of the help that each person needs.
I tackle this challenge with two ideas – peers and technology.
The idea is to orchestrate the meeting of people and knowledge via a multimedia peer-learning system accessible online and via mobile devices, thus distributing the right learning experience for the right audience, at the right time.
We harness an age-old idea: enrol people with lived experience to help newcomers into the system. Peer support stories carry much more than information:
They carry: Information + Relevant Experience = Tacit Knowledge.
Targeted peer stories have the potential to accelerate the adoption of patterns and choices that will first benefit their mentees – and ultimately the system as a whole! Engaging the help of early adopters as champions provides them with a great opportunity to contribute on two levels: micro and macro. Helping a peer achieve great outcomes is very satisfying and could event strengthen the mentor’s own decision-making ability. Additionally, and this is less frequently mentioned, those peer-supporters who volunteer will benefit from contributing to the greater good, by giving back to the system that has helped them originally.
The new experts
Traditionally health systems viewed professional staff as the experts, entrusting them with all powers. Face-to-face encounters between clients and professionals have been the prime method to transfer relevant information. We have to let go of these past information transfer patterns, however, because our health systems face staff constriction rather than growth.
In the context of making decisions to orchestrate a Good Life for the disabled person, this balance of power is changing, however, with the recognition that the person with the disability and their family/allies know what is best for them. If so, a peer disabled person or peer family member gains the status of a more appropriate expert than a professional. All parties involved should welcome such a shift – that will free up time and energy for professional staff to focus on other parts of the system where their input is crucial. As a bonus, an extended audience of professionals and policy makers accessing the stories will have direct access to the voices of the consumers of the sector.
Research repeatedly shows that clients of the disability sector need more information... but in fact there is an information glut. What these clients need is tacit knowledge (targeted information with added value). Whilst governments hold the responsibility to provide basic information, the exchange of knowledge and experience via peers can be done through stories. Stories carry Tacit Knowledge, because their nucleus is a prime vehicle for a learning point... Our next challenge is to design systems and distribution channels to make them accessible for clients, parents and families.