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Secrets to a good peer review…

The secret to a good peer review is a great team. In any review there’s always a lot to do, both individually and collectively, in a very short period of time. There’s a huge amount of information to gather and a local context to understand if you’re going to be able to turn it into something meaningful.

The whole thing runs on teamwork, trust and usually a lot of coffee. Even though it’s acknowledged that this isn’t an inspection, there’s always the heavy weight of expectation that the peer review team will be able to create some new insight which will help the host make a breakthrough.

No pressure then. So, it’s critical we keep looking at ways to make our peer review teams as effective as possible. Here in the South East, we’ve been exploring the value of working in triads (not the organised crime variety) with three directors of children’s services (DCSs) working together as host, review lead and observer. I’ve done a couple of these now and it’s been really powerful having two DCSs on the review team, with the observer being able to provide support and challenge, keeping things on track and stopping theories from developing without sufficient evidence to underpin them; a trap which is surprisingly easy to fall into.

We’re also experimenting with multi-disciplinary review teams that go beyond children’s services. I’ve not long led a successful review looking at the response to neglect in Oxfordshire with the benefit of having the local area police commander and the principal social worker for adult services on the team. It meant a larger than usual review team of seven, but that in turn enabled us to complete an ambitious programme of twelve focus groups alongside eighteen detailed case reviews in a single day. It also meant the review team was able to see things, not just as outsiders looking in, but from the local partner perspective as well.

Too often, peer review becomes all about the process when it’s the people that make it really work. Yes, it’s important to have structure, but getting the right mix of skills, knowledge and experience within a team is what really makes a review fly.

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