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Nonprofit Networking Part 7: Creating Collective Value Through a Peer Assist Process

Peer_assist Recently we've been exploring the ways in which a nonprofit network can create collective value for its members. One strategy to consider is the Peer Assist, which I stumbled across on Nancy White's Full Circle Online Interaction Blog. You can watch a 5-minute animated tutorial on the process here.

Essentially a type of brainstorming session that reminds me of Open Space, the Peer Assist involves an individual identifying a problem or issue to address and then inviting up to 8 people to a facilitated 45-minute brainstorming session. The "Peer Assistee" (the person with the problem) must clearly identify the issue he/she wishes to address and then the problem-solvers will ask clarifying questions and offer possible solutions to the problem. The facilitator records all suggestions on flip chart paper and then the Peer Assistee uses this information to (presumably) solve his/her problem.

You can also run a "Rotating Peer Assist" that involves 20-60 people--several people with a problem and several facilitators with the problem-solvers rotating around the room to provide input and feedback for each problem.

Both of these strategies have potential I think as activities for nonprofit networks to engage in as network-building strategies. Some possibilities I can see include:

  • Having a "mini" Peer Assist as a regular part of network meetings. Potential Peer Assistees would submit their problems ahead of time and a portion of the meeting would be spent on brainstorming around one or two problems. This would have the added benefit of encouraging attendance at meetings because people both love to have their problems solved, as well as being able to offer help to others.
  • A Rotating Peer Assist would be a great idea for a half-day or full-day network conference. Organizers could identify a theme for the Peer Assist problems and/or consider having Community of Practice Peer Assists that relate to various job functions, such as having a "Case Manager Peer Assist Day" where case managers could present on their problems and get feedback from fellow participants. This seems to me a far better use of time that would be infinitely more engaging than the conference activities we usually see.
  • A technology-enhanced Peer Assist is another option. A wiki would be the perfect complement to the Peer Assist session. Rather than recording ideas on flip chart paper, they could be recorded directly into a specially created wiki. This would then be available for participants to add to later allowing them to provide links to other resources, sample documents, etc.

For those with higher technology comfort levels, I could also see an entirely web-enabled Peer Assist using Skype and a wiki to brainstorm.

Ongoing use of a Peer Assist process along with the use of a wiki or blog to serve as the online library of problems and solutions could be a great way for a nonprofit network to build a knowledge base that network members could repeatedly turn to in solving issues or problems. This is the kind of collective value proposition that can improve connections between members and start to build the knowledge and will for collective action.

Can you see other uses for this kind of process? Let me know in the comments.

UPDATE--Via Nancy's blog comments, Bill Harris provides some additional ideas on how to make the peer assist experience even richer, including using journaling to deepen learning.



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