As peer support groups run, you will want to have an idea of the effect they are actually having and how well things are going. This can relate to the individuals within the group – the facilitators and peers, the group as a whole, and the wider community. On an individual level, group members may have a physical or mental health benefit to being part of the group, or may do worse as a result of being part of the group. The group itself has a health of its own – how well it endures, attendance levels, group atmosphere, etcetera. Lastly, the group itself always takes place in the context of the local community. It may for example have a positive or negative effect on the community, or interact with it in more engaged or less engaged ways. These levels of course interact with each other. Nonetheless, they are useful to keep in mind when thinking about evaluating how things are going.
One useful framework for evaluating interventions such as peer support the the RE-AIM framework. This acronym stands for Reach, Efficacy, Adoption, Implementation, and Maintenance. In order these are:
This is the extent to which the peer support group reaches those in the local area – is it exclusive for a handful of people, or is it widely advertised, accessible and open to all?
Does peer support work in terms of leading to positive changes in group members’ health?
Are peer support groups adopted widely in different areas and in different communities? Note this is different from reach since there might be many groups in an area, but they all might be quite closed off.
Are support groups run how they’re supposed to be run e.g. are the key aspects covered, are they facilitated properly, do people engage in active listening, are practical issues covered?
Do peer support groups last over time, and do people within them keep up healthy practices over the long-term, instead of relapsing back to normal ways?
Although this is quite a formalised framework, it can give ideas on how to think about whether the peer support is working over the long term, who it is working for and whether it is being done correctly. These aspects can be thought about at individual, group ,and community levels.