The 'Peer Assist' methodology consists of bringing together a group of peers to get feedback on a problem, project, or activity, and then drawing lessons from the participants' knowledge and experience.
Peer Assists may be useful when:
- You are starting a new job, activity or project and you want to benefit from the advice of more experienced people;
- You face a problem that another group has faced in the past
- You had not to have to deal with a given situation for a long time. You are no longer sure what new procedures to follow.
- You are planning a project that is similar to a project another group has completed.
Knowledge Sharing Approach, Peers, Lessons Learned, Feedback
Learning from your peers - Someone has already done it
- Communicate the purpose. Peer assists work well when the purpose is clear and you communicate that purpose to participants.
- Share your peer assist plans with others. Consider whether someone else has already solved the problem. They may have similar needs.
- Identify a facilitator for the meeting external to the team. The role of the facilitator is to ensure that by managing the process the meeting participants reach the desired outcome.
- Schedule a date for the peer assist. Ensure it is early enough to do something different with what you have learned.
- Invite potential participants who have the diversity of skills, competencies and experience needed for the peer assist.. Avoid ‘the Usual Suspects.’ It works well with six to eight people. Break up larger groups so everyone gets to voice their experience and ideas.
- Get clear on the desired deliverables of the peer assist (usually options and insights), and then plan the time to achieve that.
- Allow time to socialise in order to develop rapport.
- Allow a day and a half for the peer assist. Schedule time to Tell, Ask, Analyse and Feedback.
- Create the right environment. Spend some time creating the right environment for sharing. * * Plan the event to allow a balance between telling and listening.
- Listen for understanding and how you might improve your own activity.
- Consider who else might benefit from this knowledge, then share it with them.
- Commit to actions and keep the peer assist team updated.
In January 2007 feedback was sought on two flash presentations on peer assist.
"Flash is a popular animation technology authoring software, which produces animations are quick to download and of high quality. These are under a Creative Commons licence and a permanent site with more information will be available shortly.
The presentations are the results of a collaboration between Bellanet and the University of Ottawa Centre for E-learning. Bellanet is looking for new partners to create other KS-related modules, building on the experience to date. We are also planning to translate them into Spanish, Nepali, and Hindi, and are looking for translation partners as well.
You may need to copy and paste these links in order for them to work properly because they are rather long. The click the Play button and wait for it to download (the time varies according to your connection but it is quite fast):
We would love to get your feedback! Please let us know if this is useful! You can email Allison Hewlitt (firstname.lastname@example.org) or myself (email@example.com) with any comments or suggestions, or if you are interested in being involved in new modules."
Examples in Application
Example 1: Sharing Knowledge on Wheat Improvement at CIMMYT
Peer Assists: Colleagues helping colleagues
On the last day of the Wheat Improvement meeting at CIMMYT, Mexico, 30 people, including the KS Project team, congregated in the bodega for the Peer Assist sessions. Here are two examples of the problems the peer assistees elected to share with their peers:
How to cope with the logistical and security problems of running a CIMMYT office in a challenging location: Afghanistan How to balance the need for product development with scientists’ need to publish After a first round of discussions, lasting about half an hour, peer assistees and their facilitators moved on to the next group, bringing their flip charts with them. Thus, each assistee benefited from the wisdom of another group, not just the initial subgroup of interested parties.
Assistees, facilitators, and participants at large expressed a variety of observations on the sessions. A sampling:
“I liked the sympathy and appreciated the ideas.” A diversity of contributors favors a successful outcome. Clear specification of the problem is essential; doing this is half the work of identifying potentially useful solutions. “I might use it [the Peer Assist method] again in technical meetings.”
Example 2: Peer Assist at CIFOR’s Annual Meeting
Peer Assist, brings together a small group of individuals to share their experiences, insights, and knowledge to help one person solve a specific problem.
Only 40 participants reconvene in the Amazon room on Thursday morning. Allison explains the nature and purpose of the Peer Assist process. Five CIFOR staff will explore their problems under the heading “Highlighting and Addressing Regional and Global Issues.”
Reactions to the process are positive. Daniel Tiveau – his question was “How do you live up to the expectations of national partners?” – says that, although his group didn’t come up with anything he hadn’t already considered, he liked the exercise. “I would like to try this process with a scientific problem next time,” he says.
Violeta Colan, CIFOR's only staff member in Peru, says she received many interesting suggestions about her problem, which is how to tap into the experiences and knowledge of colleagues when working in isolation.
Allison then throws the discussion open to the floor. Daniel Murdiyarso of the Environment Program says he found the Peer Assist process very exciting and thinks that this may at times be a better way of solving problems than through one-to-one conversations.
Doug Sheil, one of the senior scientists, feels that it has been good to provide space for people to choose topics and air their views. However, he wonders whether there hasn’t been too much talk about bureaucratic and managerial issues, and too little about science.
Example 3 (Tilahun's Issue): Improving the integration of regional scientists in proposal development
Background: As many of his colleagues at CIAT, Tilahun has been engaged in developing and implementing a research agenda in the area of systems intensification, assisting national partners in capacity building and integrated research approaches, and in creating partnership with government and non-government research and development institutions. As a result of these commitments he was not keen to receive additional responsibilities. He has also limited logistical support due to distance effects from CIAT services. On the other hand, there have been requests from scientists of CIAT HQ, other CG centres and national institutions to assist them in establishing contacts in his working sites, to create linkages and to contribute to project developments and implementations.
The dilemma: He would like to extend his partnership with colleagues in new and evolving projects, but not at the expense of his work plan and agreed agenda. He would like also to see true partnership with colleagues as few cases revealed controversial experiences. The original initiators of projects were sending the concept notes and proposals to him after they are finalized-thus little space to integrate his ideas. In other cases, they did not consider his time in the budgeting and/or may even change sites once the project is approved.
Question to the forum: What do you advise me to use my time efficiently and strengthen my partnership with others in a transparent way?
Major outcomes of the discussion:
- Need to revise and balance his time between research, partnership development and administration responsibilities
- Developing a flexible work plan that may allow space for creativity
- Identify and articulate the demand and priorities of the regions that HQ scientists could contribute towards bringing change
- Preferably link with institutions than individuals to improve transparency
- Develop mechanisms to minimize cost while linking with HQs
- Need for development of institutional policy for proposal development, with particular emphasis on sharing responsibilities and benefits
- Develop expertise database of all CIAT scientists
- CIAT should enhance information sharing by encouraging face to face contacts
- CIAT should identify focal points at the HQ to inform competence areas
- Build outposted participation into project development funds
- Create opportunities towards sabbatical leave, attendance of HQ staff in regional meetings and develop other complementary strategies
Months later, when asked about the usefulness of the peer assist and whether or not his example could be used as the storyline in the Peer Assist Flash Module, Tilahun responded: "In fact it was a useful exercise and I keep mentioning that experience to colleagues. Surely, you can use the case study. I have no problem even if you use my real name and institution."
Feedback on the Peer Assist Feedback on the Flash module on Peer Assists created by Bellanet and U of Ottawa.
- Collison, Chris; Parcell, Geoff. 2004. Learning to fly: Practical knowledge management from some of the world’s leading learning organizations. Capstone, Chichester, GB. 312 p.
Web site: http://www.chriscollison.com/l2f/
- CGIAR KS toolbox: 
- Flash presentations on peer assist: See links under above under "Discussion".
Original Author and Subsequent Contributors of this FAQ
Simone Staiger, CIAT, CGIAR, Cali, Colombia
Dates of First Creation and Further Revisions
January 2007 (set up raw skeleton)
February 2007 (added links to Flash module)
February 2007 (examples, introduction, further information)
FAQ KM4Dev Source Materials
[Raw text of email discussions on which the FAQ is based]