Peer challenge process

What to expect from - and what we ask you to provide - for a peer challenge

Process outlined

We will work with you to plan the scope of the peer challenge, put a suitable and robust team in place, and plan the peer challenge. Working with you for three to four days, we will meet with staff at the council, citizens and other interested parties. We will work with you, throughout the time, in meetings and workshops and end the week in a presentation and report back to your council. Learning and information gained throughout the time, is then yours to share and build on. The whole peer team will keep in touch over the coming months and we hope to return for a shorter time, about two years after the peer challenge to follow up on the original scope. The peer challenge process is flexible and adaptable so we can suit your needs to get the best result for your council and area.

Getting ready for a peer challenge

One of the most important elements of the peer challenge (and what makes it so different from what went before) is the initial scoping meeting. It is key to success. We are not following a rigid set of key lines of enquiry (KLOE) or starting from an ideal local authority benchmark. The intention is that the peer challenge is flexible and able to focus on what is most important for councils locally – and this is the purpose of the initial scoping meeting.

We like to meet with the leader and chief executive, normally four to six months in advance of the peer challenge to discuss and agree upon:

  • the main focus of the challenge
  • the nature and composition of the peer team
  • when it would be best to undertake the peer challenge
  • the value and purpose of any preparatory work/material
  • The nature and form of the feedback at the end of the peer challenge.

But this is not the only dialogue that will take place in advance of the on-site visit. Once the peer team is agreed it is really helpful if the respective leaders and chief executives make contact to discuss the forthcoming peer challenge and confirm their expectations. We encourage this as an important part of the preparation stage. 

To avoid unnecessary burdens on councils we will ensure information and documentation requested is proportionate to the scope and focus of the peer challenge. We anticipate that virtually all of the background information the peer team needs should already be in existence and we will only ask for other documents if these are considered essential, and only if we can’t find them in the public domain. The peer team will be better able to make a more effective contribution when they fully understand the issues involved – so we ask for a short ‘position statement’ to be prepared about the main focus of the challenge. This is something that can be discussed at the scoping meeting, ensuring a proportionate approach.

Peer team

Peers will very much be at the heart of the process. From across the sector and beyond experienced officers and councillors as ‘peers’ will be used to ensure councils get the most appropriate challenge, support and ideas for their specific needs. Each peer challenge team will be drawn up in line with the council’s needs and will reflect the main focus of the peer challenge. The composition of the teams will be agreed with councils. Typically they will comprise of senior and experienced officer and councillors. There is scope to involve other peers from across the public, private or voluntary sectors depending on the focus of the peer challenge. So a team could include for example a business representative or civil servant. Each team will have an LGA peer challenge manager.

Results from the peer challenge

Feedback will take place in a number of different ways that will be discussed and agreed with the council:

  • A roundtable feedback discussion on the final day on-site at the council comprising of an audience of the council’s choosing. The team will share its views and offer comments on the core components and any additional areas of focus.
  • A feedback report to the council outlining the main findings and conclusions, recommendations for improvement and innovation, and signposting examples of good practice and case study material.
  • The offer of an improvement planning session, wider feedback event, or other activity to enable discussion and development of plans to take forward the feedback from the peer challenge.
  • Whether some or all of these approaches are adopted experience demonstrates that an inclusive approach involving those outside the executive and senior management team can provide a firm basis for subsequent action. The peer team will provide continuous feedback throughout the peer challenge process. The intelligence gained from the key leadership and corporate capacity research will be fed back into the LGA to inform the planning of future support. It will also contribute to our sector knowledge base which we need to continue to prove sector-led improvement works for local government.

Will the results of the peer challenge be published?

It is for the council itself to decide how it uses the feedback provided and if, when and in what form it plans to publish the results of the peer challenge. The LGA strongly encourages councils to publish the results and we know that most councils do so as part of their continuing commitment to be accountable to the communities they serve. One approach might be to publish a statement setting out the findings and recommendations of the peer challenge team along with any improvement actions the council has agreed to. Most councils who have received a peer challenge have published the findings and more information on these is available.

After a peer challenge

There is an expectation that the Council will commit to a follow up visit within two years after the peer challenge. The purpose of the visit is to help the council assess and demonstrate the impact of the peer challenge and the progress made against the areas of improvement and development identified by the peer team. It is a lighter-touch version of the original visit and does not have to involve all of the original peer team. In addition experience demonstrates that on-going dialogue with members of the peer team often develops and that this can be very valuable.

The LGA principal adviser responsible for your region will of course continue to maintain ongoing contact with your authority and make links to the support on offer from the LGA or other sector owned improvement bodies. Finally, we will also get feedback so we can continue to refine and improve our approach to peer challenge.

How can I make sure my authority gets the most value out of the peer challenge?

See it as a tool for improvement and use it as a resource to focus on areas of perceived weakness or where you are facing a particular challenge. Plan well in advance to ensure you get the team that is right for you. Be open and transparent. Don’t try and stage manage the process – it is not an inspection. Be inclusive – consider how you can secure ownership beyond the executive and senior management team. Talk to other councils that have taken part to glean their insights into how best to plan and prepare to maximise the opportunity. We also provide feedback on other council's experiences.

If you have any questions, please get in contact with your principle adviser.