More Effective Peer-Support Groups Through Human Centered Design

Peer support is all about empathizing and working through life problems with the knowledge and lived experiences of other group members. Despite this fact, some peer support groups insist on creating an atmosphere in which a select few hold an unequal amount of decision-making power over the themes and topics that the group discusses. Over the years, the Self-Help Resource Centre has found that groups in which members play a large role in choosing exercises and topics of discussion tend to have a stronger sense of community and higher rates of members reaching their goals.

We have found that by adapting a decision-making process initially intended for use in the industrial design sector, support groups of any kind can become more engaging, relevant and beneficial to participatory members. The process, called ‘Human Centered Design’ (HCD; Also referred to as ‘Design Thinking’) was developed by a Californian design firm called IDEO. By using HCD, the firm has developed several ‘game-changing’ innovations from the computer mouse to the way lunch is served in San Francisco public schools.

Human Centered Design is broken down into three distinct stages: Inspiration, Ideation and Implementation.

In the Inspiration phase, newly-formed groups meet with each other, and discuss what topics they may want to tackle in the coming meetings. Group members are given markers and post-it notes, and are asked to write down at least five things (on five different post-it notes) that are currently a concern for them. These can be a list of situations in which they have found themselves in the past, situations they are afraid might happen in the future, feelings or thoughts that they regularly have, or… really anything… Next, group members are asked to present and describe what they have written down, and post each note on a blank wall. After each member has presented, as a group, members can stand up, and attempt to cluster all the notes by themes. By clustering notes, and giving the theme a name, an extremely relevant curriculum can be designed while giving each member a legitimate sense of ownership. After all, each group should be unique to the members; they should ‘own’ every aspect of it.

Each subsequent meeting can be used to tackle a part or entire theme developed in the first meeting.

During this period which is analogous to HCD’s Ideation phase, the members provide insights to each other by discussing the manner in which they have dealt with certain issue successfully in the past. Members may also discuss possible methods to experiment with in the future.

Finally, in the implementation phase, members leave the group and attempt to implement their tactics and strategies into their lives.

In the following meeting, members can then discuss what was and was not effective for them, and attempt to revise their tactics and strategies. Through this form of group learning, we have found that peer-supporters are able to create more engaging and beneficial outcomes for all members involved.

We are all human, so why wouldn’t we center our design of peer support groups around ourselves?

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