Monday, 27 October 2008

LtF Chapter 7 - Learning from your peers

Half distance in the book and another chapter of practical advice around a technique - in this instance "Peer Assists".

Compared to the benchmarking exercises described in the previous chapter I found this technique harder to grasp. Perhaps because the scale of investment in time and people seems that much greater.

The Peer Assist is a means to share experience and knowledge around a topic. It is convened by those undertaking the work and is very much a request for help. It should happen early in a project to allow for maximum gain in terms of applying any lessons learnt. It is suggested that they may well take between one and two days to complete. There is a balancing act in terms of the people in attendance to get diverse enough views that fruitful learning can take place and assumptions be challenged, without things being so diverse that it is hard to know where to start. You also need people at the right level.

12 steps are laid down for planning a Peer Assist and these are explained in some detail. They seem a reasonable framework. Ideally it is suggested that you attend a Peer Assist as a participant before you organise one. So a case of asking around for someone who has participated or of getting in someone externally to run a trial?

Rolling peer assists are described as a means of dealing with larger groups or shorter time frames. Here people rotate in small groups with sharing of background / the issue repeated for each group. I was actually involved in something like this as part of the evidence gathering work for the CILIP Public Health Policy Statement. We used a rotation around four boards to gather views around a number of questions related to how librarians and libraries can / could contribute to Public Health. A scribe in each corner noted peoples comments providing something for people to build on. Unfortunately this was on a very short time frame as we were in a fringe meeting slot at Umbrella so the groups rotated roughly every ten minutes (indicated by me shouting "Bong" at the top of my lungs hence the image on this post!). From experience I can definitely say that a more structured version of this with a little more time available could be excellent.

I wonder if these quick hit type peer assists might be more manageable as a starter within our library networks. The peers could be from outside our network area but it might well be interesting to bring in those from other sectors (public libraries etc) or indeed people from outside the profession. Locally I suspect that the service redesign team will already have skills in these techniques (all be it perhaps under another name).


Anonymous said...

I used "Learning to Fly" and "Common Knowledge" by Nancy Dixon to learn enough about peer assists to do them for a lot of clients. They are a fabulous way, if structured well, to help the "home team" get the knowledge and help that they are looking for.

Alan said...

Thanks Anon.

I have Common Knowledge in my list of things to read.