Community of Practice Facilitator's Peer Assist

I attended a very useful session the other day, organised by my colleagues over at the I&DeA ,which brought a number of experienced community of practice facilitators together to their share knowledge and experience with two fairly new CoP facilitaors. One was seeking ideas on how he could generate more activity and interest within his CoP, the other was about to launch a CoP newsletter and wanted to pick up any tips on how best to go about this.

The session was organised using a traditional KM technique called a ‘Peer Assist’. The outcome from the session was a list of ideas and actions that the two ‘receivers’ could take away, with the confidence in knowing that these ideas were firmly rooted in the practical knowledge and experience of their peers .

The process is described below for anyone who would like to give it a try. There is also a very useful video showing the process in operation.

What is a Peer Assist?
A Peer Assist can be organised in a workshop or meeting form to gain knowledge and insight from people in other teams before embarking on a project or activity.  Essentially it seeks to encourage a flow of knowledge and experience, and consists of a receiver(s) – those seeking assistance – and a group of peers – those sharing their knowledge and expertise.  The time-frame of this activity depends on the subject matter and number of attendees in proportion to the project, so can be anything from two hours to a full day.

How do you run a Peer Assist?
There is no right or wrong way to hold a peer assist.  However, a recommended and simple method that works well involves a number of steps:

1. Appoint a facilitator – someone from outside the team who ensures that the meeting participants reach their desired outcome.

2. Select the participants – select participants who have diverse knowledge, skills, and experience.  There is no hard and fast rule about minimum or maximum numbers but the right participants are particularly important.

3. Share information – divide the meeting time into four parts:

• clarify purpose – during the first part, the receiver(s) presents the context, history and future plans regarding the problem.  They should be clear about what they hope to achieve (eg we are setting up a project on xx and want to check what has been done already in this area).

• encourage the peers to ask questions and give feedback – in the second part the peers discuss the receiver’s situation and share ideas and experiences.  The receiver should simply listen.

• analyse what you have heard – the third part of the meeting is for the receiver(s) to then analyse and reflect on what they have learned, and to examine options.  The peers should take a back seat.

• present the feedback and agree actions – in the final part of the meeting, the peers present their feedback to the receiver(s) and answer any questions.  Their presentation will respond to the analysis they have heard and be along the lines of ‘what we have learned from previous work, what options we see, and what has worked elsewhere’.

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