Case Study: Peer Reviewing Internal Communications Teams

Post by Trish O'Donnell, Government Legal Department, and Trish Macready, HM Courts & Tribunal Service

Tuesday 28 February 2017

Have you ever wondered whether your internal communications team was operating as effectively as it should, using all the appropriate tools, understanding its audiences – but not known how to check?

Trish O’Donnell, Head of Communications at the Government Legal Department, and Trish Macready, Head of Corporate Communications for HM Courts & Tribunals Service, carried out a mutual peer review to find out.


Mutual benefit

The purpose of the peer review was to get an independent and objective view of our respective internal communications functions, from another professional communicator who really understood the environment in which we worked.

By having the review conducted by a fellow Arm’s Length Body (ALB) internal communications professional, we each achieved that goal of having a fresh perspective.

By using a peer review system, both sides stood to benefit from learning about new ideas and ways of working. And it was a visible demonstration to the team and our wider organisations that we are committed to continuous improvement and professional development of the service we provide.



The first step was to agree the terms of reference.

Then, we considered the questions each reviewer would ask to gather enough evidence to make realistic recommendations.

We put together a timetable covering introductions, interviews and demonstrations, and made sure we held a preparation meeting in advance to be able to understand the issues facing the team and the landscape in which it operates.

We spent half a day in practical interviews and demonstrations, then held a wash-up to clarify any issues.

We then drafted the report, following the criteria laid down in the terms of reference, checking back and finalising.

Overall, the process took about two months from opening discussions on interview dates to receipt of the final report – but this was only because we had to complete busy day jobs at the same time.


What did we get from it?

The reports that we each received were fair, empathetic and realistic in their recommendations. Each reviewer had sensitively identified areas where improvements could be made, and shared examples to help the receiving team’s considerations and next steps. Both reviewed teams were left feeling positively empowered, because the reviewers also took ideas away with them.

The challenge now will be to take action on the recommendations – we have agreed each to return in six months to see what progress has been made!


How to do a peer review of internal comms

We’ve put together some templates for an action planterms of reference, sample questions to ask, and the final report. Our top recommendations would be:

  • Consider choosing a team that is similar in size to yours
  • Think about how you will pitch the peer review to your team – make it an opportunity not a test
  • Plan your questions in advance – using a mixture of closed and open questions
  • Create space for interviewees to be critical and address the challenges they face
  • Be flexible about adjusting the terms of reference and questions as you go along – you might find that questions uncover an issue neither side had considered
  • Get senior leadership buy-in to give weight to the report and its recommendations
  • As a reviewer, allow time to revisit topics or issues with team members – listen and then validate the information
  • Allow sufficient time – to carry out the interviews and experience the demonstrations, and then to write up the report. It might take you longer than you think!