Research about Recovery by People in Recovery

The international recovery advocacy (and peer recovery support) movement is marked by the proliferation of grassroots recovery community organizations (RCOs) that are distinct from traditional addiction treatment organizations and recovery mutual aid societies. The broad array of activities of RCOs includes advocacy for research on the prevalence, pathways, styles and stages of long-term personal and family recovery. Efforts in the UK involving people in recovery in the conduct and dissemination of such research are particularly noteworthy. The blog below by David Best and colleagues highlights the remarkable efforts of the College of Lived Experience Recovery Organisation (CLERO).  I believe CLERO sets a model for how communities of recovery can come together to forge their own recovery research agenda.

Bill White

David Best, Michaela Jones, Tim Sampey, Ed Day, Dave Higham, Stuart Green, Neil Fairbank, Dot Smith, Sarah Vaille, Sam Davidson (February 2022)

In UK criminology, there is a wonderful movement called ‘Convict Criminology’ in which people with lived experience of prison write about the process of desistance from crime and broader criminological issues. They have carved a unique niche in the academic field that proudly proclaims their ‘ex’ status and affords their writing a unique insight and position that is recognised and lauded across the discipline.

In spite of the addiction recovery field having a significantly stronger research foundation than its equivalent in desistance, and while a number of writers do have lived experience, there has been no grassroots movement creating a cohort of recovery researchers.

This is surprising as William White (inter alia) has written extensively about the power of education and its empowering effect on a substantial group of people seeking recovery. In our own Life in Recovery work (eg Best et al, 2015), engaging in training and education is something that more than three-quarters of people in long-term recovery will do as part of their recovery journeys.

What is the CLERO?

Over the course of the last two years, 2020-22, the College of Lived Experience Recovery Organisation (CLERO) has gained traction as the key co-ordinating group for community recovery organisations in the UK. Its three aims have been to identify and establish shared awareness and knowledge of:

  • Recovery innovation
  • Recovery evidence of effectiveness
  • Quality standards for recovery organisations

The group, originally consisting of 11 leaders of recovery organisations and recovery academics, has met on a weekly basis and now has a membership consisting of more than 50 organisations and individuals across the UK all committed to sharing innovative and good practice and to building a coherent and credible model for building effectiveness and impact for recovery in the community. The need for the CLERO has been exemplified by our engagement with Government, contributing to both the recent review of drug policy and practice in the UK (The Dame Carol Black Review) and the resulting 10-year drug strategy. The Dame Carol Black Review recommended that the CLERO were charged with developing quality standards in the UK.

Building capacity for lived experience recovery research

Based in part on funding support from the National Lottery and their Lived Experience Leadership initiative (Leaders with Lived Experience Pilot Programme), CLERO set about a training programme for people in recovery actively engaged with LEROs to train and support them in peer recovery research.

A total of 31 people enrolled in the course with all but two of them completing the four days which were run as a hybrid of face to face and online, as the participants were drawn from all over the UK. In the four days, participants were trained in:

  • The existing recovery evidence base
  • Principles of qualitative and quantitative research
  • Survey design and analysis
  • Research interviews
  • Research ethics

Their final task and assignment as a group was to design a survey for LEROs assessing innovation, service delivery and quality standards. This survey has now been piloted and we are in the process of distributing and collating the results from the membership of the CLERO. The distribution, collation and interpretation of the data will be undertaken by the trained peer research group.

Not only have the majority of participants decided that they do want to pursue this, the evaluations of the course (also co-produced with the participants) suggested high levels of engagement. Perhaps one of the most exciting findings was that the course was at least as highly valued by those who had left school at 15 or 16 as among those who already had tertiary education experience. Each of the sessions ended with a multiple-choice quiz that led to significant competition and enthusiasm (and helped to build confidence) among the participants.

We are now also planning for the second wave of training which will be opened up to a wider group of LEROs across the UK and the demand for this is significant. There is clearly an appetite for this form of training.

So what are the future directions for this work?

We are looking to the second wave of training (which we will record) to do three further things:

  • To create an accessible resource
  • To identify appropriate mechanisms for the accreditation of the course to ensure that it creates a meaningful qualification and pathway for those who complete the course
  • To extend the course so that it can be applied to other groups and populations beyond the addiction recovery area

For those of us involved in the design and the delivery of the course (a combination of academics and people with lived experience) we also want to ensure that we create a cohort of recovery researchers who can bring rigour and confidence to the evaluations, audits and research they carry out. Furthermore, our aim is to use this course to create all of the conditions of CHIME (Connection, Hope, (positive self-) Identity, Meaning and Empowerment. We want to support the creation of a cohort of peer recovery research champions that will build its own evidence base and be a part of a Recovery Researchers network moving forwards.


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