Enabling learning, development and improvement: being a peer as part of the LGA corporate peer challenge programme.

At the heart of the peer challenge process are local government officers and councillors (and others) who voluntarily spend their time as ‘peers' at a council they have no direct association with, to contribute to its improvement and learning. It is an incredibly powerful demonstration of a ‘sector-led' approach. As fellow local government practitioners, peers bring an immediate credibility, trust and mutual respect to the challenge process.

The recent independent external evaluation of the Corporate Peer Challenge programme – ‘Supporting Councils to Succeed' (January 2014) – makes the point that the sustained success of the peer challenge programme relies upon the participation of high-quality peers. It stresses the importance of councils continuing to understand the benefits of releasing their senior officers and councillors to participate in peer challenges.

So, what are those benefits? Those who have been peers suggest the benefits are wide, varied and sometimes personal. You can read about the experiences of local government officers, elected members and others who have participated as peers in the LGA Corporate Peer Challenge Programme: 

Being a peer as part of the LGA corporate peer challenge programme

Read further insights and experiences of peers on other peer challenge programme

A call for peers

To deliver the corporate peer challenge programme we need your help. We need you to make available senior officers to participate as peers. Our need for specific peers changes. At the moment we particularly welcome expressions of interest from chief executives, and from directors or senior officers with current roles and/or experience of one or more of the following:

  • change, transformation and service re-design
  • commissioning, partnering and contracting
  • strategic visioning eg designing the local authority of the future
  • localism – new ways of working with the voluntary and community sector
  • economic growth
  • finance.

What do peers do?

Peer challenges are managed and delivered by the sector for the sector. Peers are at the heart of the peer challenge process. They provide a 'practitioner perspective' and 'critical friend' challenge. Working as a team, and supported by an experienced LGA peer challenge manager, peers spend time onsite at a council, fire and rescue service or organisation to help with it with its improvement and learning. Peers help build capacity, confidence and sustainability by challenging practice and sharing knowledge and experience. A role description summarises the officer peer role and responsibilities:

Peer role description (PDF)

What peers have said

Feedback from peers about their experiences of peer challenge is positive:

Clarence Barrett, Cabinet Member for Financial Management, IT (client) & Transformation, London Borough of Havering
"As a Member Peer, the opportunity to work alongside senior officer peers as part of a team offers a unique and valuable opportunity to not only participate in a given assignment,  but to gain valuable experience and knowledge in terms of personal and professional development."

Perry Holmes, Chief Legal Officer, Medway Council
"This is the richest form of personal development I have experienced to date, being part of a Corporate Peer Challenge team for a week, taking part in an intensive sector led improvement initiative, facilitated by a superb LGA peer challenge manager led by an exceptional Chief Executive and with a strong peer team of public sector colleagues. I would recommend being part of the process to anyone seeking to improve their own practice, broaden their sector knowledge and keen to share their skills, insight and knowledge with other Councils."

Paul Wilson, Corporate Director and Deputy Chief Executive, Derbyshire Dales District Council:
"The Peer Challenge programme is an excellent development opportunity for all members of the review team. The knowledge that you gain from discussions with your peers is invaluable and can be used to benefit your own organisation. I can thoroughly recommend the experience."

Ken Poole, Head of Economic Development, Cardiff City Counci:
"An experience I would recommend and endorse for any senior local government officer."

Jackie Smith, Director of Environmental and Customer Services, South Staffordshire Council:
"I found being part of the whole process really useful in developing my skills and working with colleagues from other authorities."

Councillor Tom Beattie, Leader of Corby Borough Council:
"‘The peer challenge was stimulating and very enjoyable. The ability to look at what another authority is doing and to share experiences with other members of the peer team was extremely useful."

Jane Burns, Director of Strategy and Challenge, Gloucestershire County Council:
"I have been fortunate enough to take part in two peer challenges. They were like intensive refresher courses in local government. It's hard work but really motivational and great fun."

Paul Shackley, Deputy Chief Executive, Allerdale Borough Council:
"…I found the experience very rewarding and beneficial. In challenging the host authority in its thinking and asking searching questions I found myself asking the same questions when I returned to the office. This has changed the way I do my job on a day-to-day basis...The process is a great way of ‘action learning' and I would recommend it wholeheartedly."

Kevin Dicks, Joint Chief Executive of Bromsgrove District Council and Redditch Borough Council:
"...From a personal perspective I found it hugely valuable not only in terms of what I can bring back to Bromsgrove and Redditch but also for my own personal development. I would wholeheartedly endorse the peer challenge process to everyone – for a relatively small investment of time and effort I think the benefits to the sector are huge."

Councillor Paul James, Leader of Gloucester City Council:
"As an elected member, taking part in a peer challenge is hugely rewarding. The opportunity to visit other councils, to learn from their successes and to help them along their journey of improvement is something I greatly value..."

Paula Hewitt, Service Director, Somerset County Council:
"Being a member of the review team was both interesting and rewarding. I left feeling that I had gained ideas and good practice which I could use in my own authority, while at the same time having provided the leadership of the authority with feedback which they may have found difficult to obtain in other ways."

Gavin Handford, Head of Policy, Performance and Parking, Reigate & Banstead Borough Council:
"Being part of a peer review challenge team was a challenging, rewarding and unique development opportunity which you can't find anywhere else.  It was also a great way to learn from others and share your own best practice within local government.  Win-win."

How do I become a peer?

Officers wishing to be a peer are asked to complete the relevant Expression of Interest Form. The information we request in this form will help us consider your expertise and experience and how that matches the demand and requirements for peers. The make-up of peer challenge teams reflects the requirements of the council receiving the peer challenge. We regularly review our peer database to ensure we can offer peers with the experience and expertise required by the sector.

  1. Expression of interest form to become an officer peer (PDF)
  2. New peers may also attend regional briefing events – dates, locations and contact details

Member peers

Member peers are involved in a range of peer support activity in addition to peer challenges, including support to new leaders and administrations following a change of control, mentoring and councillor development.

We ask that members interested in being a peer contact the relevant national lead member peer or head of Political Group Office to discuss:

  • their experience and expertise
  • the current demand for member peers
  • the areas where we require more peers.

Further information

For further information about the peer challenge programme and role of peers, please contact:

Paul Clarke
Telephone: 07887 706960
Email: paul.clarke2@local.gov.uk

Andy Bates, Principal Advisor
Telephone: 07919 562849
Email: andy.bates@local.gov.uk