Blog: The power of peer support

Published:25th February 2016

By Patty Lozano-Casal, Evidence into Policy and Practice Manager at Evaluation Support Scotland

On my way to work recently I found myself reflecting on the idea of ‘peer support’. I remembered a personal anecdote that my colleague, Emma, shared with me. She told me about a time when she took her children to a playground and one of her daughters got frustrated because she couldn’t swing.  Emma, being a supportive mother told her child: ‘If you say the words “I can do it” it works like magic. Try it!’  With this in mind the child tried again, succeeding at the first attempt.  At a later date, Emma heard her daughter repeat her words to another child, ‘If you say the words “I can do it” it works like magic’.

Peer support doesn’t just happen when we are children. Humans, and some animals such as elephants, often offer and seek support. But why? According to a review of more than 1000 studies carried out by Nesta, peer support can help us feel more knowledgeable, confident and happy, and less isolated and alone. So I wonder, why do we carry on evaluating our work in isolation from our peers?

At Evaluation Support Scotland (ESS) we believe in the power of peer support, which is why we work collaboratively with organisations, combining their expertise with ours to generate evaluation approaches they can own, develop and run with.

In fact, one of the many outcomes achieved by the Evaluation Exchange programme that ESS ran with Iriss in 2013 is that ‘participants actively expressed the benefits of peer support in helping them work through the challenges of self-evaluation.’ Iriss used this and other learning to produce the illustrated booklet, Supporting peer support: Thoughts for people wanting to set up, run or participate in a peer support group.

ESS and Iriss aren’t alone in this. For example, Inspiring Impact’s Code of Good Impact Practice highlights ‘involving others in your impact practice’ and ‘actively sharing impact plans, methods, findings and learning’ with peers and other stakeholders as key principles to follow when focusing on impact.

Inspiring Impact also encourages funders and commissioners to create and nurture a culture of peer support among grantees. Funders like the ALLIANCE’s Self-Management Fund lead by example and advise grantees to avoid reinventing the wheel by asking funders to put them in touch with other organisations doing similar work. Sharing learning about what works in impact measurement with peers can lead to developing, designing and implementing shared approaches to impact measurement.

ESS bought into the value of peer support a long time ago, and we now run learning sets and working groups to decipher key evaluation challenges. We know it works, so we are taking a peer support approach to delivering the Inspiring Impact Scotland programme too. For example, we are facilitating an Embedding Impact Practice group. This collection of nine third-sector organisations meet every couple of months to share learning about what works in embedding impact practice in organisations. Cassy Rutherford from The Robertson Trust and other group members plan to share the learning with other Inspiring Impact Champions at an event this summer 2016.

So, if like me and other Inspiring Impact partners you are interested in taking the a peer support approach to embedding impact practice and evaluation in your organisation, why not become an Impact Champion? The initiative was set up by Inspiring Impact out of an awareness that often organisations get stuck about where to start with impact measurement, and using the Inspiring Impact resources. Impact Champions can provide support with this by reaching out to their network and partner organisations to assist with good impact practice.

Or, if you work in Scotland, you may wish to join our informal Inspiring Impact Champions Network. Not sure? You can always just join the Inspiring Impact mailing list to keep updated of what your peers are doing—a simple way to get involved, and join the peer support wagon!

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