What’s a peer review?
Peer reviews are one-day meetings at which a group of three reviewers from outside the diocese talk with the bishop and senior staff about all aspects of their vision and work. The aim is to help the leadership team to reflect carefully on what is working and what might need to change. It also enables dioceses to learn from each other and work more closely together.
Peer review affirms where a diocese is doing well and offers appropriate suggestions on areas for development.
All 42 of the Church of England’s dioceses have been through the peer review process and the second round of reviews has begun.
What does peer review achieve?
Is it all hot air? No. Peer review holds a mirror up to a diocese’s work. It brings an external perspective, which helps highlight both strengths and areas for development. The process creates an opportunity for a diocese to pause, step back and discern where it can sharpen focus on priorities and add momentum to existing work. Peer reviewers are asked to be affirming and objective, constructive and challenging.
Why has the Church introduced peer review for dioceses?
The objectives of the programme are to ensure mutual accountability, to facilitate shared learning and to be of real value to the individual dioceses:
- By accountability we mean: exploring incisively some issues in greater depth, highlighting key issues that might well need to be addressed, and providing complementary assurance on Lowest Income Communities Funding.
- By shared learning we mean: providing signposts to other dioceses who are exploring similar issues; and communicating relevant lessons being learned in other dioceses.
- By value to dioceses we mean: holding an accurate mirror up to the senior diocesan team, being affirming and objective, constructive and challenging, and reporting the review in a way which insightfully captures the review’s conclusions.
Like Ofsted for churches?
No. It is not an audit, inspection or approval process, but rather a learning exercise between the diocese and the reviewers. It is about constructive challenge, learning from each other and a chance to review progress.
The final report is confidential to the diocese to give maximum space for honest and open exchanges. Some dioceses have chosen to publish their report, or a summary of the report, on their websites.
Who does the reviewing?
Dioceses nominated potential peer reviewers in early 2016 and the Archbishops’ Council selected around 50 people to take on the role. Many have experience of leadership in the church, others have backgrounds in the commercial or not-for-profit sectors. The Church’s Strategy and Development Unit supports dioceses and peer reviewers through the process.
Panels are selected to cover many areas of expertise. Each panel has at least one reviewer who is entirely independent of diocesan structures.
Reviewers are trained in the peer review process and are encouraged to listen carefully, and to reflect on what is said and what is not said.
How does it work in practice?
In preparation, the diocese completes a self-assessment reflecting on the last two years and identifying its strengths and areas for improvement in six areas:
- leadership, culture and strategy
- spiritual and numerical growth
- transforming communities and serving individuals
- governance, structures & processes
- finance and resources
The peer reviewers examine this assessment carefully alongside other background information provided by the diocese. The reviewers also speak to a selection of people in parishes or local leadership roles to get another perspective on what is going on.
Much of the discussion is based around the responses to the self-assessment form.
The peer reviewers’ questions are designed to open up a conversation and typical questions might include:
- What is the diocese’s trying to achieve and what plans does it have in pursuit of that?
- As the diocese pursues those plans, what is going well and why?
- What is not going well and why?
- What can be learned – by the diocese and by other dioceses – from these experiences?
Soon after the meeting the reviewers provide the diocese with a summary report affirming areas of strength, and giving suggestions for them to consider further. The diocese is asked to complete the final section of the report with their response to the peer review. One diocese has said: “It’s now given us a clear steer on practical outcomes for the next twelve months that have a sound theological rationale and which excite us about God’s mission in the diocese.”
How do you know if it’s working?
Dioceses give feedback after each review and this has been broadly positive. Every peer review so far has been able to put a finger on at least one significant issue – such as the alignment of resources to their strategy – for the diocese to consider further.