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
“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
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
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
“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
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
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
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.