Peer reviews – accelerated learning

05 March 2014 | Yvonne Pennington | Insight

Very often much of what we need to know and learn is right under our noses – we just need to know under which nose to look.

Throughout organisations are employees with a wealth of knowledge and experience. But buried under their workloads in different subsidiaries or locations, their innovation, knowledge and experience is often overlooked.

How do we seek out these individuals and extract their knowledge and experience to share with colleagues for the benefit of the organisation? How do we create a perpetual learning environment for the colleagues within our midst?

According to Wikipedia, a peer review is defined as the evaluation of work by one or more people of similar levels of competence to the producers of the work (the peers), or the evaluation of creative work or performance by other people in the same field, in order to maintain or enhance the quality of the work or performance in that field.

It is based on the concept that a larger and more diverse group of people will usually be able to make a more impartial evaluation of that performance than will the person or group responsible for creating the work or performance, says

In an organisation like Anglo American plc – which has mining operations in 11 countries around the world and exploration activities in others; has over 100 000 permanent employees; and generated an operating profit of $6.2-billion in 2012 – there is an immeasurable wealth of internal knowledge and expertise.

But within the mining giant there exists another business altogether – that of community engagement and development. Community engagement and development is inextricably woven into the way that Anglo American does business, and it is extremely important to the core business.

Anglo American reports its social spend in 2012 as being $154-million. That is a sizeable business, and in order to fast-track its learning and experiences in a relatively volatile environment, Anglo American introduced a peer-review process in 2012.

A unique feature of the peer review is that the company includes two external NGOs in the process. CARE International UK and Tshikululu Social Investments have had access to an “inside view” on mining and development and are encouraged to probe, comment and challenge the company’s strategies and plans in this area.

Four times a year colleagues from different operations meet at different mining sites to review their processes and projects. And the learning opportunity is considerable: robust discussion ensues, and there are endless questions and no shortage of opinions and views. The translators are hard-pressed to keep up.

The result: peers learn that social issues around mining communities (usually remote and rural) are very similar globally; that resistance to mining and demonstrations occur globally, although the triggers might be different; that stakeholder engagement and its timing is critically important from the earliest project phase at a new site; that honest and respectful engagement with communities is the standard; that they have a lot to share with and a lot to learn from their colleagues; and that they can adopt a process or concept from Chile or Brazil and apply it in South Africa, and vice versa.

The peer-review process is proving to be an exciting and stimulating learning forum in which a groundswell of information, experiences (good and bad) and innovation is shared among colleagues in an unthreatening learning environment, while shared learning is being fast-tracked across the group.