Peer Support Groups

What is this Tool?

  • Gatherings of neighbours, friends, colleagues, or other peers who may not have previously known each other.
  • Participants meet regularly for a period of time to support one another in taking the desired actions. When they come together they meet as equals.

Why Would You Use It?

  • Peer support groups can provide ongoing opportunities and support for applying most of the other tools of change. The tremendous potential of such person-to-person approaches has been well demonstrated for other topic areas by groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, and for environmental citizenship by the Global Action Plan (GAP).

Note for health promoters.

When Would You Use It?

  • Consider using peer support groups when barriers to change are particularly high, or the actions you want to bring about are numerous or complex. One example is used, Global Action Plan, which was founded in 1989 to preserve the earth's environment by helping people adopt "green habits."

How Would You Use It?

1. Structure the groups so that people take turns playing leadership roles. Provide adequate support for the leaders.

Examples

HoMBReS asked each intervention soccer team to elect one group leader (navegante). They were respected by their peers because they were chosen by them based on their community reputation, good judgment and levels of care and discretion.These navegantes were then trained to provide STD/HIV prevention education and prevention information, service and resource referral to their teammates. They not only served as sources of information and referral, but as opinion leaders to change risky behavioral norms. Each navegante received a resource manual to maintain, refer to and supplement with information over the course of the intervention. Upon completion of the training, each navegante received a graduation certificate and was compensated $50 for each training session.

Members of Global Action Plan's (GAP) EcoTeams took turns leading their meetings, with support from a GAP-trained volunteer coach who had already been through the program. The coach attended the group's first and last meeting, and provided telephone support in between for each person leading a group meeting. In turn, each person who led a meeting supported other group members in making changes related to that meeting.

A workbook led the group step by step through its activities. In addition, a Topic Leader Guide specific to each meeting's topic was provided to each of the group's leaders.

Your Program

What support can you provide your group leaders?

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2. Design group meetings so that all participants apply what is being discussed to their own households.

Examples

Global Action Plan (GAP) participants analyzed how their households made use of resources. Then, using the workbook as a guide, they adopted specific actions each month at home.

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Peer Support Groups image
This portion of a Topic Leader Guide illustrates the level of support provided to the leader of each meeting, as well as the support provided by these leaders to the other members of their group. For further excerpts see Global Action Plan in the Case Studies.

Your Program

How can you ensure that participants apply what is being discussed within their own households?

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3. Make sure that the groups are the right size.

Examples

Global Action Plan (GAP) advised having 6-12 people per group. Organizers were told: "If there are too many people, there is not enough time in the meetings for each person to talk. If there are too few, the group is too small to generate the excitement and motivation that a larger group can create."

Your Program

What size groups do you want to create?

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4. Set up the groups to meet at least six times, no more than two to three weeks apart.

Examples

Boston's Challenge for Sustainability held monthly meetings and networking opportunities. 

HoMBReS ran its soccer team meetings either before or after practice.

Global Action Plan (GAP)'s EcoTeams met eight times, two weeks apart.

Your Program

How many times will your groups meet? How frequently will the meetings take place?

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5. Provide group members with ongoing feedback and encouragement.

Examples

Global Action Plan (GAP)'s feedback methods allowed each participating member to see how their actions were affecting the environment positively. The activities of each EcoTeam were recorded and sent to a central and community database. These reports were translated into information about the amount of realized savings that each member of the EcoTeam had achieved. This information was fed back to the EcoTeam at the end of the program.

Information on the collective accomplishments of all EcoTeams was also tabulated anddistributed in the EcoTeam newsletter, Stewardship. This newsletter provided past andcurrent participants with information on global EcoTeam accomplishments and helpedmaintain behavioural changes in those members who had completed the program.

A Web site also provided feedback information. Other methods within each communityincluded newspapers, TV, bulletin boards, computer networks, and awards.

Your Program

For step-by-step suggestions on doing this, please see the Tool Feedback.

6. Build in a sustainable process for recruiting new groups.

Examples

In the final sections of GAP's Neighbourhood Lifestyles Program, members were encouraged to initiate at least two more EcoTeams and were provided with a standard recruiting script used to invite their neighbours to an informal introductory event at their homes. This introductory event educated neighbours about the program and helped them to decide whether they wanted to join a team.

Participants were prepared for this recruiting stage during their introductory event when GAP was described as a program for developing sustainable lifestyles and then helping others to do the same. At the first EcoTeam meeting, participants were introduced to the recruiting process and then asked: "Are you up to attempting to create two more teams at the end of the program?"

A 1996 study of recruiting in the U.S.A. found that 40 percent to 50 percent of individuals who were approached to attend an introductory event agreed to do so, and 85 percent of individuals who attended the introductory event joined EcoTeams.

Your Program

List some ways of helping participants recruit new groups.

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How might you prepare participants for this role?

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