The Recovery Alliance Initiative – Expansion and Clarification

June 30, 2022
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In the first two posts of this series, I described the origin and then the early evolution of what we call the Recovery Alliance Initiative.  I encourage you to go back and read those installments before you read this one on the expansion and clarification of our model and methods. 

Through our many conversations and sustained effort Tom and I were able to:

  • benefit from the lessons of our earlier efforts
  • include many more sectors 
  • become even more action-oriented
  • get collaborative work groups going to help address needs closer to the local level of attendees

During our subsequent work in Alliance-related activities we emphasized that in terms of concepts and processes the focus of the Recovery Alliance Initiative is on bringing separate systems together (that are involved in recovery support) for the purposes of:

  • Awareness (awareness of each other’s systems, their philosophies and practices, and whom they serve)
  • Collaboration (developing working relationships across programs and systems)
  • Advocacy (e.g. between systems, on behalf of each other’s systems out to the world, directly for the person served, etc.)
  • Action (making changes to better serve people and improve our programs)

We clarified that when we bring systems together to facilitate their interaction, we help them:

  1. Improve detailed awareness of other systems of recovery advocacy and support;
  2. Identify opportunities to assist the person served across other systems, over a longer trajectory of time, and across stages of personal transformation (individual recovery);
  3. Identify needs that could be more successfully addressed by collaboration or combined effort with other systems of recovery advocacy;
  4. Promote advocacy within, across, and for systems of existing and potential recovery support.

By contrast, at the start of our collaboration in 2013, Tom and I assumed advocacy could begin from inside our field out to the world, on behalf of the individual served.  But we eventually realized that advocacy had to start “in-house”.  By that I mean we found that advocacy had to be at the level of one sector advocating for itself to the other sectors.  Why was that necessary?  We found that differing systems within our field didn’t understand each other and when they later did, they struggled to support what they learned.

Those of us helping to drive the Recovery Alliance Initiative recognize that while no single entity or organization has “the” answer to the complex issues surrounding severe substance use problems, many organizations representing many different systems are doing outstanding work within those systems.  We recognize that coming together affords us the opportunity to identify ways these systems can better work together, identify gaps, and arrive at improved solutions.  And our work toward improving awareness and collaboration has also helped identify needs, opportunities, and projects that remaining siloed would not naturally reveal.  

From the time the Recovery Alliance Initiative was started as an idea in 2013 we have learned a few important principles.  Here are two of them we have put in the form of quotes:

  • “We’re stronger and better together, than we are if we’re siloed.”
  • “You don’t have to make others wrong in order to be right.”

Overall, the Alliance works through Summit meetings and bringing about the formation of collaborative working groups

  • During Summit meetings, as conversations unfold, gaps and needs tend to emerge. 
  • This often results in ideas for projects whose solutions involve multiple sectors in our field. 
  • When needs are concretized collaborative working groups form with some assistance, take on projects that emerge during our Summit meetings, and sustain that work after the in-person Summit meeting.
  • Throughout the course of conversations within the Summit meetings, attendees tend to cross-fertilize knowledge and skill between systems fairly well on their own (attendees tend to be curious, learners, and doers).

I’ll mention here briefly that early in our efforts we built and revised many times a structured project guide for use by table leaders (during the Summit meetings) and project leaders (after and between Summit meetings).  Sharing that guide here would be beyond the scope of this writing.  But that guide embodies the notion that the work is done in collaborative working groups that sustain their effort outside the meetings until their project is completed or their goal is met. 

Producing and revising that project guide also included production of accompanying recorded videos within which we highlight:

  • the intent of the Alliance
  • the purpose of a particular Summit gathering
  • tips for facilitating and guiding table flow
  • use of the working group project guide, and
  • several of the visual diagrams I’m sharing in this blog series. 

Using recorded videos containing instruction and training material, Tom and I have been able to support the work of the Alliance at the convenience of an attendee’s click. 

To help anchor the specific intent of collaboration more concretely, Tom has coined three phrases that we incorporated in our methods and materials.  Here they are:      

  1. “Just because we get together doesn’t mean we are working together as one.” 
  2. “Just because we work together, doesn’t mean we are in alignment.” 
  3. “Just because we are in alignment, doesn’t mean we are getting it done.”

In terms of expansion over the years, we eventually added members and leaders from additional sectors to the Alliance (beyond Collegiate Recovery Programs, Drug/Recovery Courts, and Professional Monitoring Organizations) including:

  • Law Enforcement
  • Prevention
  • Research
  • Spiritual Care/Clergy
  • Recovery Community
  • Primary Healthcare
  • Recovery Schools

You might notice we deliberately de-emphasized addiction treatment per se and any other form of clinically-related SUD-specific services.  This has been intentional for a number of reasons.   

And yet, another category or system we also have attend are those representing specific kinds of treatment providers, therapists, and healthcare related systems – kinds of specialty care within addiction-related services.  These have ranged as widely as whole hospital systems to local harm reduction groups.

We eventually grew to at times also bring in national policy bodies, national advocacy groups, state-operated leadership bodies, and similar policy-related organizations.  As with other sectors, we have had them sit down together, begin to share what they do with each other and with the various sectors already in the Alliance, and join in collaborations across systems. 

During a Summit meeting when we hear a sector describe exactly what they do to help people it’s usually very eye opening for the attendees.  While we recognize the special contributions that are unique to each sector overall, it’s also important for the sectors to be aware of each other at the local, state, and national levels.  Personally, I’ve been quite touched while watching and listening to clergy and law enforcement interact. 

But what are the basic impacts for most attendees?    

  • As helpers in our field, we move from basic awareness that a sector exists, to really understanding more exactly the part they play to help people. 
  • As we listen, we start to know.  And by sharing exactly what we do we also become known.  In our experience this alone has been powerful. 
  • After Summit meetings, collaborations or projects across sectors start happening almost on their own. 
  • But there’s another big impact.  We start to see the person we are serving through the lens of other sectors and what those other sectors do, over the long term.

During our efforts over the years, I came to realize certain features inside certain sectors seemed to keep showing up in different sectors or systems in the field.  When I would come to realize a feature seemed to be showing up as a theme across sectors, I would add that component to the list of features I was building.  I thought of that list as a list of “ingredients”. 

Mostly a long, slow, internal processor I memorized the list of ingredients as I moved along. And I have continued to meditate on the list and its meaning over years.  To me, these common ingredients seemed to be at least partly responsible for some of the positive impacts across systems of the field and through time for the person

I’ll describe these ingredients in the next post in the series:  a recipe we uncovered.

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