Peer review guild

19 04 2013

[Criteria 1; Holmgren principles, patterns, incremental design. Criteria 3; administration. Criteria 5; community building. Criteria 6; symmetry]

This design began in December 2012 and my inputs lasted for about a year.

I don’t resonate with the ‘apply self regulation and accept feedback’ principle too well in my permaculture designs, or at least I haven’t so far.  I’m a do-er, I often struggle to reflect and adapt and change in response to my reflections, especially when I work on my own.  But over the last couple of months I’ve been working on a project design which is all about self regulation and feedback, that’s a turn out for the books!  I have used the plan-do-review action learning cycle in this write up, which I learnt about during my PDC.

PLAN

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA quick canter through recent history – I did my permaculture design course in Sept 2011, I was very inspired and excited about permaculture and immersing myself more into its application in my life.  I started to teach permaculture and embed my knowledge early 2012.  I signed up and started my diploma in May 2012.  I did more teaching throughout the summer, I generated lots of ideas, I did lots of research and quite a few sketches and doodles, I did some pacing of my back garden and drawing of base maps I even built a pond and a shed.  But come October 2012 all of this felt like it was for nothing, I was ‘stuck’.  I’d lost sight of why I was doing the diploma or what all the effort and enthusiasm had been about.  The reality was that because I had not written anything up, I felt like I wasn’t ‘doing’ my diploma (even though in reality I had been ‘doing’ lots of things, I just hadn’t produced any outputs yet!).

Fortunately the initial spark burned bright enough for me to know through my ‘stuck’ haze that there would be a light at the end of the 2012-11-10 18.43.13tunnel.  And serendipitously there was a Diploma weekend scheduled in December.  So I duly signed up and went along.  I’ll be honest I felt quite anxious, I knew I’d probably see my tutor and have to face up to the truth that I felt like I hadn’t really done very much and that I’d probably be surrounded by lots of highly efficient permaculture diploma apprentices with lots of designs under their belts.  But pretty much once I had walked in the door and (principally once my blood sugar levels were restored after a long and hungry train journey) spoken to a couple of familiar (ish) faces I felt like this was going to be a good thing this weekend.  There were plenty of stories unfolding as the night progressed of unstarted/unfinished designs and the like, I was amongst friends!

And then after a day and a half of inspiring and interesting talks and discussions I hit upon, for me, the weekend highlight!  A talk by a diploma tutor called Richard Perkins and some of his apprentices.  They had devised a really exciting approach to doing their diploma together, and it was this working on it together whilst doing your own projects that really resonated for me.  That’s exactly what I need, I need some other people to be working together with on this thing.  That’s how I’ve always worked, I’ve been feeling isolated and that’s why it’s felt so hard.  And they had a really simple method for achieving this – to have a peer group who support eachother by reviewing another person’s design.  Genius!  And the other best bit about this workshop was that not only was it resonating with me, but it was also resonating with a few of the other London folk.  After that one hour session I walked away feeling that we had an embryo of a peer review guild in London, three enthusiastic people was enough to get us started.

The design itself was extremely simple, I based it on the format that Richard’s group were adopting and made minor tweaks rather than major redesigns for the first trial.  I researched in a bit more detail how Richard’s group had been doing their work through looking at their websites and looking at their peer review template form.  As a result of this I extracted the following elements required for this design:

  • A period of time for the design to happen;
    • 10 weeks works for Richard’s group as we have nothing else to base our decision making on use this, test it and see what happens.
  • Who will be part of this?  There were 3 of us from the diploma gathering but are there any others?
    • I have access to some email lists of London diploma apprentices, use these, contact London tutors (Claire White, Hedvig Murray – check if there are any others) to pass on, ask people on the lists to pass on to others they know. (People care – try my hardest to make it possible for anyone who wants to to join in by contacting widely)
    • I decided that as there was a small group of us who had some energy to make this happen not to invite people in theory, but to set out the plan and invite them to join the trial now and if the timing didn’t work for them they could join future peer review processes.  Catch and store energy of the small starting up group.  Fair shares – make it possible for people to join when it suits them and that there is no advantage/disadvantage to being in the first phase
  • Joint agreed deadline for completing a written up design
    • 10 weeks after the start (Fair shares – everyone is in the same boat, we are all working to the same deadlines)
  • Joint agreed deadline for doing the review.
    • 2 weeks after the design write up deadline works for Richard’s group, try this out it seems sensible to have some time but not too much time so that we can keep the energy of the process moving.
  • Action Learning Guild during the design cycle;
    • Richard’s group did this online, we are geographically closer so we could meet face to face in a central London location.  Previous ALG’s have been at the Royal Festival Hall, it works, don’t change it.  (Earth care – everyone can reach by public transport, building is already in use no need for additional heat/light for us)
    • This gave a chance for us to meet up and chat about our progress, feed off eachothers energy, help with problem solving etc.  Use the 4 questions (what’s going well, what’s challenging, what’s the vision, what’s the next steps). (People care – this seems to me to be really important to combat the feeling of isolation and giving us support)
    • Make it clear that people can be involved in the process even if they can’t join the ALG (People care – other commitments may make it impossible for all involved to meet, but still make people feel welcome to join)
    • Set a date when at least the three of us could make ask them now at the start.  (People care – involve everyone, make sure I am not left on my own at the Festival Hall!)
  • Who will review whose work?
    •  I will design how this works once I know who is part of the group
    • Make it explicit that people can submit work however they want (via email, meet up in person, post etc), leave this to the individuals to work out with their reviewer  (People care – make sure that those writing up their diploma’s that don’t have a website are still included in the process, and those who don’t want to fill in the form can meet face to face to do their feedback.  Earth care – a lot of this process will happen via email, we can reduce transport journeys in this way)
  • Have a trial to see if it works and then review.
    • I need to design in a feedback session after the end of the process.
  • Peer review template form for us to use for the actual review process.
    • Tweak Richard’s group form to include links to some of their websites for examples of written up designs and peer reviews.  I don’t know which bits of the form will and won’t work yet this is what the trial will help to find out, review after the trial.

This design was written up in this email as an invitation to London diploma folk to join the trial (I first passed it round the three of us who were the spark for comments and feedback, I tweaked the commitment part for the final invite).  I tried to keep it as simple as possible so that those who hadn’t heard the talk or done the research that I had would still understand the process through my email invitation.   I was staggered that 9 people were keen to take part in the trial with a few others interested but the timing of the trial was not to work for them.

When I was doing this work I didn’t really think of it as a portfolio design and I didn’t use any design tools because the whole thing just seemed too simple to be a permaculture design, do a trial using somebody else’s format.  Talking to my tutor about the process he encouraged me to write it up as a design and having done this I can see that it was a valuable design, there was more design to it than I thought and that I could probably have explicitly used more tools for example I could have done a formal PMI or SWOC of the design elements, I could have thought more formally about the limits as this might have helped to highlight challenges other people might face with engaging in this process, I could have done some wild design to harvest other ideas.  I did keep the principles and ethics at the heart of the work I was doing.

Who reviews who?

There were 2 broad options for this, I have written a PMI of the options to demonstrate how I came to the conclusion that a circle pattern was the preferred option.

  1. Pair people up and they do a direct swap
  2. Circular pattern where you review someone’s work and someone different review’s your work
Plus Minus Interesting
Pair people up Simple to design Not good for an odd no. Could make the ALG into just these pairs and reduce diversity of feedback
If one of the pair drops out then the other one has nothing Some people might just go off in their pairs and not join in in future if it really works for them
Less flexibility for future rounds
Circle pattern More diversity of feedback – 4 different people inputting to your work in 2 rounds More complicated to design and communicate I didn’t realise it was a circle pattern until I had done it, the concept was about diveristy
If one drops out you still get something out of the process You get to communicate with more people – could be plus or minus
More flexible for people being added or removed in the futre – the circle can be made as big or small as it needs to be

As a result of the 9 committed to the trial I designed a simple circular pattern for peer to peer feedback so that each person had someone different to give and receive feedback to and in 2 guild cycles there would be inputs by 4 people into your work, and it also allows flexibility so that people can be added/removed in the future.  I presented it as a spreadsheet for simplicity as shown below (made anonymous for this write up); behind the scenes everyone had a number and each number shifted along one place for the first review and two places for the second etc etc.  (Fair shares – it is more equitable to have different reviewers/reviewees as different people will put in different amounts of time and commitment to the review)

My name is: The person who’s work I am reviewing is: The person who is reviewing my work is:
Person 1 Person 9 Person 2
Person 2 Person 1 Person 3
Person 3 Person 2 Person 4
Person 4 Person 3 Person 5
Person 5 Person 4 Person 6
Person 6 Person 5 Person 7
Person 7 Person 6 Person 8
Person 8 Person 7 Person 9
Person 9 Person 8 Person 1

How did the principles influence the design?

  • The circular pattern for giving feedback increased diversity of feedback received and projects looked at  – use and value diversity
  • Use what has been done before with minimal adaptation, for a minimal change we will get the effect of lots of people getting diploma work done which on an individual basis is a great effect on our diploma journeys – make the least change for the greatest possible effect
  • The problem is the solution: I wasn’t able to commit to my diploma, there were others in the same boat
  • Pilot phase – to test the system, we don’t know if it will work until we’ve tried it out, so keep it simple in the first phase and then learn from that (use small and slow solutions)
  • Catch and store the energy of the diploma weekend, I got on with making it happen straight away whilst there was still lots of energy from the weekend.
  • Observe and interact – observation that this was working well for another group, interaction with their plan adapted to our situation.  Also the pilot phase allows us to observe and then interact and make changes for future phases.
  • Use and value renewable resources and services – use our own personal renewable resources of our skills as designers and try to develop these skills through practising reviews and looking in detail at other people’s work.
  • Apply self regulation and accept feedback – use the feedback recieved from others to influence our design work as well as the lessons we learn from doing reviews of other people’s work.

DO

And so it happened, we had a great action learning guild meeting in Jan 2013 with 7 people attending,  we used the 4 questions in small groups to discuss individual progress and had a large group discussion about the peer review process we were in.  Designs were submitted by the 31st Jan.  9 people were involved and I think all either received or gave feedback some got both (not everyone managed to get a project submitted for their own personal reasons).  On a personal level all the groundwork that I had been doing came together in the form of some written up designs and all of a sudden my diploma made sense.  And during the 10 week design period I had written up 3 designs!  I set a date for the

REVIEW

Following the cycle we had a review of how it went, three people didn’t attend and I haven’t really heard from them.  So I guess I have to assume that it didn’t work so well for them (I know for 2 of them life commitments and time commitments have got in the way).  But for the other 6 it was a good thing all round.

  • People found it really useful to a) get things written up – this is a common problem, getting round to doing the write up and b) to give and receive feedback – different people have had different levels of feedback given/received.
  • It’s important for the group to connect on a regular basis and to know the other people whom we are in the same boat with. So the ALG is an important part of it.
  • A desire to do it again gives us the opportunity to catch and store this energy
  • Even with life complexities and not exactly meeting the deadline for everyone it still seemed to work and people were happy.

PLAN (round 2)

And so we decided to embark on another cycle, 3 people left and 3 more joined in, so we are keeping with the magic number of 9!  The one adaptation we added was to make the next action learning guild more design focused, rather than progress focused.  So we were all to consider the 4 questions (what’s going well, what’s challenging, long term goal and next steps) with respect to the specific design we are working on rather than to our diploma generally.

DO (round 2)

The second round happened again with mixed levels of projects being completed and reviewed.  I think that as the spring/summer arrived people moved into outdoor phase and some of the original enthusiasm started to wane.  The review meeting after the second round was less well attended and we agreed to take a break from the cycle of peer review and perhaps look at other ways of giving/receiving feedback.

Beyond round 2

I continued to organise action learning guild meetings without the peer review element every couple of months, the ones over the summer were poorly attended but come the autumn there was more interest.  I observed that a lot of people would come along to one meeting soon after they signed up for their diploma and then we would never see them again.  I had a baby in Nov 2013 and so stepped out of attending and then of organising the meetings.  Since then until now (Jan 2015) there have been at least 3 people I know of who have been organising action learning meetings among the London peer group.  In addition I have still been doing peer reviews on a direct one to one level with some of my peers.

To end here are my personal reflections:

What’s gone well?

  • I felt really energized doing this work because it worked well and others got something out of it too.
  • It’s had a big knock on effect for me, not just doing one design but really immersing myself in my diploma
  • The design and implementation has touched on principles that don’t resonate so much with me in other areas of design/life e.g. apply self regulation and feedback, use and value diversity
  • This was a good opportunity for a people based design
  • From an inner perspective this process has made me more confident in my ability both as a designer and as an organizer.  It’s given me bags of confidence to make things happen.  It’s shown me that making a commitment to others is a really important aspect of how I work and design, it makes me feel more comfortable when the commitment is explicit.
  • It’s good that people can be involved and get something out of it even if they haven’t followed the instructions to the letter (i.e. late deadlines)
  • The group, meeting and sharing, has been a really valuable part of what made this work.  But having said that it still worked even though there were some in the group who never came to any of the meetings.
  • Writing up designs really helps to clarify the design process and learning outcomes – this is important!
  • For the two peer review sessions that we did it was a real success for the people involved, they got on with designs and were able to give and receive feedback.

What’s challenging?

  • Though there were lots of other people involved, I don’t really feel like we designed the actual process together – as the design work had sort of already been done – the work was in relocating an effective design to this specific time and place
  • I am left with some unanswered questions; Did it only work for the people who came and shared their stories?  What about the ones who didn’t complete a project and we haven’t heard from them?  Did it work as well for them?  Should I follow up in some way?
  • I know that one person dropped out because he didn’t feel like it was useful for him to be involved as he had submitted and reviewed 2 designs and not received any feedback on his work – this was a real shame and inevitable and something that is hard to control.  We made it very clear that being involved meant that you were committed to doing all of the process, but this didn’t actually happen for some people.  Perhaps I could have designed some sort of fallback option to ensure that this didn’t happen, or perhaps a three way review process so that there was a third person available, this would have made it more complex, and in the beginning I was relying on people’s individual commitment to the process and the group to make it work for everyone.
  • It’s very situational as to who is available/interested/has energy at the moment (which is a people thing!).
  • There are loads of people on the original email list who didn’t get involved, could I have done anything differently to get them involved, or are they all people who were just not actively working on their diploma’s at the time?
  • It’s challenging to make something that is really simple and requires not a huge amount of ‘design’ into a design, but I still think it is a valid design, because though it is simple there were still design decisions and the principles and ethics influenced the way I approached this work.  My use of design tools was limited as the design itself was so simple.

What’s the vision?

  • Having done this work, I would love to think that someone else would pick up this work when they are in the same position as I was on their diploma journey, I hope that by having written it up as a design I could make it available to others so that they too could think about doing this.

What’s the next achievable step?

  • To achieve the vision, once I have this design signed off I will send it to the permaculture association for them to publish on their website to make it available to others.

Costs:

Time:

Design/Organisation: 4 hours

ALG: 2 hours

Feedback: I didn’t get a project to give feedback on – so zero for the first round

Feedback meeting: 2 hours

Money: £0

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