Community-based HIV, harm reduction, and addiction research increasingly involve members of affected communities as Peer Research Associates (PRAs)-individuals with common experiences to the participant population (e.g. people who use drugs, people living with HIV [PLHIV]). However, there is a paucity of literature detailing the operationalization of PRA hiring and thus limited understanding regarding how affected communities can be meaningfully involved through low-barrier engagement in paid positions within community-based participatory research (CBPR) projects. We aim to address this gap by describing a low-threshold PRA hiring process.
In 2012, the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation collaborated to develop a mixed-method CBPR project evaluating the effectiveness of the Dr. Peter Centre (DPC)-an integrative HIV care facility in Vancouver, Canada. A primary objective of the study was to assess the impact of DPC services among clients who have a history of illicit drug use. In keeping with CBPR principles, affected populations, community-based organizations, and key stakeholders guided the development and dissemination of a low-barrier PRA hiring process to meaningfully engage affected communities (e.g. PLHIV who have a history of illicit drug use) in all aspects of the research project. The hiring model was implemented in a number of stages, including (1) the establishment of a hiring team; (2) the development and dissemination of the job posting; (3) interviewing applicants; and (4) the selection of participants. The hiring model presented in this paper demonstrates the benefits of hiring vulnerable PLHIV who use drugs as PRAs in community-based research.
The provision of low-barrier access to meaningful research employment described herein attempts to engage affected communities beyond tokenistic involvement in research. Our hiring model was successful at engaging five PRAs over a 2-year period and fostered opportunities for future paid employment or volunteer opportunities through ongoing collaboration between PRAs and a diverse range of stakeholders working in HIV/AIDS and addictions. Additionally, this model has the potential to be used across a range of studies and community-based settings interested in meaningfully engaging communities in all stages of the research process.