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Injecting Advice

Open Source Harm Reduction

Written by Nigel Brunsdon on . Posted in .

We need to stay up to date with harm reduction advice, and it’s all well and good being up to date on an individual basis but what about the information we hand out? Are you still giving out that leaflet that was written 5-6 years ago? Of course you are.

We need to learn from the open source software movement, we need to share our advice freely.

Open source

This website is built using ‘open source’ software. The codes that control everything are freely shared so that members of the community can improve them and edit out errors. This means that the site you’re reading will (hopefully) always be stable and continue to grow and adapt to the changing landscape of the internet.

I think this is something we should do we have to do in harm reduction, in fact not just in harm reduction, but in all forms of health promotion.

When a service develops a leaflet/campaign it rarely does so from scratch, but instead looks at everything else available and then attempts to expand on what’s already there while still avoiding at all costs appearing to have used the work of others. This leads to longer development times, greater costs and in the case of health promotion, a delay in information that can save lives!

It doesn’t have to be this way of course.

Creative commons

Creative commons (CC) is a way to licence your work (any work at all) but instead of the traditional copyright you assign a level of use that you are happy with. This can mean people are free to take your work, change it, expand on it, improve it etc.

You decide the limits of the licence, for instance the articles on this website have the following creative commons:

This means that people are free to adapt my work in any way they choose as long as they attribute the source material to me and they don’t then go on to sell either my work or the work they have made using mine as a source. The licence also says they have to allow their work to have the same licence.

This doesn’t mean someone can’t sell leaflets using my work as a source; it just means if they want to they have to contact me and ask permission (after all this site costs money to run and if someone is making money from my work I’d like some).


If we use this way of writing information, we’ll find it far easier to keep up to date and to spot errors in the info we give. Look at Wikipedia – run totally by the public and in tests repeatedly beats other encyclopedias (including Encyclopedia Britania) for accuracy and speed of editing. Granted, at times some teenager comes along and adds something wrong out of mischief, but the wikipedia community spots it and removes it almost straight away.

Things move fast, a leaflet written a year ago on HepC or Legal Highs would be out of date today, but the core info would remain largely unchanged. So why not let people use the information in your great leaflet and add in the latest figures? If they contact you to talk it over (now they know you won’t threaten them for stealing your work) they may even send you the new version and save you doing the update yourself.


Most of the disadvantages come from groups/people who want to keep hold of information and sell it as a ‘product’, which would be ok if we were talking about anything not connected to saving lives.

And at the end of the day, just because you allow your information to be reused doesn’t mean you can’t make money. The science fiction author Cory Doctorow releases all his books for free as downloadable PDFs at the same time as he releases them in print. He has no problem making money from his books, people still buy them. But they also help him by adapting his work, making plays, putting illustrations to his works etc. This sharing culture means work becomes better known, we should be using that model for harm reduction after all it’s the information being seen that matters the most.

What I’d like

I’d love to see the big name leaflet writers in harm reduction and other health promotion fields adopt CC for all leaflets and information. Let’s stop acting as ‘gatekeepers’ for information that can keep people alive, and let’s stop pretending that people don’t use each others leaflets. If you CC them they can, and will, give you the credit you’re due.

You can find out more about creative commons at

Creative Commons Creative Commons in education

Writer: Nigel Brunsdon

Nigel Brunsdon is the owner of Injecting Advice. He’s been working in harm reduction since the 1990’s, previously a frontline needle programme worker he now splits his time between photography and developing online resources for drugs workers and users.

Nigel Brunsdon

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