Future Leaders: my first peer review

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Two days. 130 people to talk to. 25 meetings.

A small group of four communications professionals, one local councillor and one LGA improvement manager faced with the task of Peer Reviewing a District Council’s communications function.

This was my first LGA Peer Review.

I have a vague recollection of being part of a focus group for a corporate peer review in my local authority a few years ago. That took about 20 minutes of my time and all I had to do was contribute to a discussion about internal comms.

Being on the other side of the table was a whole new ball game. It was an experience that was not just exhausting, but dare I say it, exhilarating.

We spoke to the Chief Executive and Senior Management Team (SMT), the Leader of the council, councillors, comms officers, customer services and other frontline staff, the ICT team, local journalists, the team that managed and promoted the council’s leisure centres, business owners, parish councillors and county councillors.

We recorded conversations in the old school way; a standard issue black notepad and a biro. We used the hour set aside for lunch to focus our notes down onto post-its, sprayed across the wall of our bunker room deep inside the council building. Then again after our final meetings of the day until they turfed us out to lock up.

It was relentless.

As a team we hadn’t met before, but even with no time for small talk or getting to know each other (beyond a quick meal in the hotel the night before), we clicked.

Post-its were being stuck on the wall at an incredible pace, colour-coded and categorised to make perfect sense (I think).

Our experienced review manager - over 70 Peer Reviews under his belt - knew exactly how to focus our attention and get down the information to turn around some instant recommendations.

End of day 2. Evidence gathering done. Four hours the next morning to draft a presentation to the whole organisation and make sure we give them something meaningful to take away.

The Chief Executive and SMT seem happy with what we had to say. With no comms experience between them, they recognise the need for some strategic communications leadership and expertise, to pull together a lot of the great work that’s being done and get to grips with what the council’s identity should be.

Along with pointing out plenty of things to be proud of, and plenty of things to consider, we produced ten specific recommendations, with a more detailed report to land on their desks in the next few weeks.

Suggestions on strategy, structure, internal comms, social media, audience insight, branding, marketing, training and development…

Phew.

This is exactly how our industry should be working – helping each other to be the very best we can be. And it wasn’t just the council who got something out of it. I think I speak for all of the team when I say we also got some valuable insight and a rare opportunity to reflect on our profession away from our day jobs.

Michael Stringer, Policy and Communications Manager, Lambeth Council

Posted on 11th February 2019