By Kris Kelly, PR COE and Great Lakes ATTC, MHTTC, PTTC Project Manager, and Maureen Fitzgerald, Great Lakes ATTC, MHTTC, and PTTC Communications Manager
For recovery advocate Kris Kelly, the NIATx model helps tackle a long-standing question:
“How can we support grassroots recovery organizations that are typically underfunded, under resourced, but continuously over-delivering?”
Kris joined the team at the Great Lakes ATTC, MHTTC, and PTTC in 2018 as a project coordinator, bringing experience in helping people discover and maintain recovery as director of programs for the Minnesota Recovery Connection, Minnesota’s most longstanding recovery community organization (RCO). In 2020, she became the team lead for the Recovery Community Organization Capacity Building Arm of the Peer Recovery Center of Excellence (PR-CoE).
After attending her first NIATx Change Leader Academy, Kris quickly saw the potential for NIATx tools to help RCOs drive positive change, improve processes, and empower individuals and teams.
A tool for empowerment
For Kris, the true power of the NIATx approach lies in empowering teams.
“The NIATx approach doesn’t involve an authority figure swooping in to do something for you,” adds Kris. “Instead, it teaches teams to use a process like flowcharting that helps them understand what it’s like to be a customer in their organization.The flowchart tool can uncover both the strengths in a process and surprises about what’s not working well—like asking someone the same question four times!”
The NIATx walk-through also helps teams understand the challenges people face when seeking services from an RCO. “The walk-through exercise is easy and approachable and makes complete sense once you give it a try,” adds Kris.
Another participatory process that RCOs find valuable is the Nominal Group Technique (NGT). “We can use the NGT in staff meetings to decide on practically anything,” comments Kris. “The NGT brings in all voices to decide on a way to move forward. This really aligns with the RCO philosophy.”
Validating lived experience
“RCOS are frequently staffed by people who come into the work because of their lived experiences navigating the confusing and complex system of care for people with substance use challenges,” explains Kris. “They come to the field with a passion to expand and change the available options and provide care that authentically meets the wants and needs of the recovery community.”
Many employees of RCOs come from outside the clinical addiction treatment field. While learning about the work of an RCO, people may be hesitant to bring forth their ideas.
"This is where NIATx steps in as an empowerment tool for people who may not yet see themselves as leaders and changemakers," says Kris. "It shows people that there is a process for trying out their ideas, and that it’s perfectly OK to abandon a change if it doesn’t work. In the end, you have some data that supports your reason for continuing with a change in a process.”
What’s more, says Kris, NIATx also mimics how recovery coaches work with people new to recovery.
"Recovery coaching can be similar to doing a flowchart of your life and doing a walk-through of your recovery journey," explains Kris. In recovery, we follow Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles, trying out different strategies and refining our approaches— for example, finding a mutual support meeting that works best for you. A coach might tell someone to try one meeting for a few sessions, then decide to continue or try a different one that works better.”
Building the peer recovery support workforce
An exciting prospect for Kris is the potential impact of the NIATx model on the future of RCOs and the peer recovery workforce.
“What really interests me is the idea of moving NIATx upstream,” says Kris. “By including NIATx in program planning, organizations can ensure that they assess whether a program is working as intended. It provides a way to constantly evaluate and improve upon initiatives.”
The PR CoE will provide two NIATx CLAs focused on recruitment, retention, and leadership in RCOs in the coming year.
“The field of peer support is rapidly evolving, and for RCOs seeking funding to embed peers, including the NIATx approach can make a winning proposal,” she adds. “NIATx provides a blueprint for incorporating peers into organizations and with a built-in tool for collecting valuable data to showcase the success of a project.”
Kris Kelly is a Project Manager for the Peer Recovery Center of Excellence and Great Lakes ATTC, MHTTC, and PTTC, at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and a subject matter expert on peer recovery support services. Kris has developed best practices for integrating peer recovery supports into a wide variety of systems and services.