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Mapping Peer Support Futures

July 4, 2024

By: Calvin Prowse

On February 27, I facilitated a workshop with PeerWorks with the goal of mapping some of the elements currently shaping the future of mental health and addictions peer support.

We discussed the visions of the future we felt the peer support sector was being pulled toward:
We explored the trends of the present that are pushing us toward particular futures becoming our reality:
We described the deeply-held beliefs and worldviews that act as barriers to our preferred futures:

Lastly, we identified several emerging issues and uncertainties that have the potential to dramatically shape the future of peer support:
Identifying these characteristics (pushes, pulls, barriers, and uncertainties) allows us to develop plausible scenarios of the future that remain grounded within the circumstances of the present. Scenarios allow us to anticipate what challenges and opportunities may arise in the future, so that we may better respond to them. From this context, we developed two possible scenarios for the future of peer support, based on the role of technology.

Online Peer Revolution: In this future, connection and support are only a click away. Technology revolutionizes the peer sector, making it increasingly available online. Peer support occurs naturally within digital communities, returning to a more grassroots context. However, a significant amount of peer support is provided by people without formal training, leading to concerns around peer support drift.

Surviving the Machine: In this future, peer support becomes a way of life, necessary to our very survival. Following the technological singularity, a war breaks out between humans and machines. The war ends when an electromagnetic pulse from the sun wipes out all machines, leaving the remaining humans to rebuild. Without technology to connect across distances, the world becomes fractured into small independent communities led by community councils. Peer support becomes central to healing from collective trauma, as well as surviving this new world – underpinned by the acute awareness that we need each other to survive.

These two scenarios paint very different pictures of the future of peer support, yet also share similarities. In both scenarios, peer support returns to a more grassroots context and becomes increasingly integrated into everyday life – indicating a belief that no matter what happens, peer support will continue to play an important role in the future.

A more in-depth description of the results from this workshop is available on Calvin’s blog.

Calvin Prowse is a peer futurist and a member of the PeerWorks board of directors. They recently completed their M.A. in Critical Disability Studies at York University, where their research focused on (re)imagining the possible futures of peer support.