Research Synthesis: Lived Experience, Peer Support and BC’s Community Social Services Sector

SPARC BC

At SPARC BC, we’re committed to building a just and healthy society for all. For over 50 years, we have worked in partnership with individuals, organizations and all levels of government to meet the social development needs of people and communities.

Peer support and outreach—enhanced by lived and living experiences—can have profound effects in the delivery of community social services (CSS). When those in need of support reach out, peer support workers can leverage shared experiences to listen without judgement, gain trust, and help people navigate processes and systems that may be unfamiliar or difficult to access.

Much of what we know from research about the impacts and key factors relating to lived experience and peer support have focused on its application in the fields of mental health and addictions services. Studies have found that in these settings, peer support workers can provide practical, emotional, and social supports to community members who often view authentic shared experiences as important to their recovery processes.

Peer support workers also help other staffing groups, including management and professionals to enhance their work and improve outcomes to service users, although integrating peer support into traditional and/or dominant frameworks of service provision can be challenging.

Peers are pivotal to the delivery of effective overdose prevention services that are acceptable and accessible to people who use drugs (PWUD). Services which integrate peers are more likely to reach vulnerable groups and integrate into communities. Peers’ lived experience increases levels of trust, safety, and comfort for the PWUD who utilize these services… Involvement in overdose interventions can also have positive implications for the peers themselves, such as feeling empowered, contributing to skillsets, and improving quality of life.

—Mercer et al. 2021

However, far less is known about the broader applicability and value of peer support and outreach from those with lived and living experience in other areas of community social services—and even less insights specific to British Columbia (BC). The implications of understanding how lived experiences and peer support work can enhance other areas of social service may inform scalable solutions for improving the uptake in service utilization by hard-to-reach groups, increased efficiency in service provision, and greater impacts on the health and wellbeing of British Columbians. This synthesis report attempts to take an incremental step towards informing these implications. To do so, each contributing community-based research project is briefly described before exploring how lived experiences and peer support in BC have taken shape, identifying the key factors relating to peer support in these cases, and finally discussing some implications of the findings and strategic opportunities.

To learn more about this research project and its findings, view the entire body of work here:

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