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This year, SafeLives launched a new peer review process to help local Maracs share expertise and get independent feedback on how they’re doing.

Thien Nguyen Phan, part of the Marac coordination team at Standing Together Against Domestic Violence, shares her experience as a peer reviewer.

In October 2015, SafeLives approached the team at Standing Together to pilot the new peer review process. Needless to say, we were thrilled!

We also agreed to trial the new Marac review tool – which replaces Marac self-assessment – so we could see the full benefits of the peer and Marac review processes together. One of the highlights of the ‘old’ self-assessment process was having our Marac Development Officer, Natalie Blagrove, visit us and impart her wealth of everything Marac, but the new Marac review tool looked decidedly attractive: interactive, user-friendly and quick.

What most motivated us to take part in the peer review pilot was the opportunity to get together with fellow Coordinators and experience first-hand how their Maracs work. We were really looking forward to seeing what we could learn from one another and the prospect of developing something useful for us all to use.

Getting started

Briony Redman, Standing Together’s Marac Data and Quality Assurance Officer, led on our participation in the pilot. From the first meeting with SafeLives on 6 November, things moved fast. Two of our Maracs, Haringey and Westminster, received observation visits from independent peer reviewers before going on to complete the online Marac review questionnaire. Meanwhile, Standing Together observed Camden and Wandsworth Maracs as peer reviewers. All reviews, peer review feedback reports and evaluation forms were submitted to SafeLives a month later.

The whole pilot was very well-organised from the start by SafeLives, who ensured everyone was linked in with one another as effectively as possible, and that we all had access to the right tools and resources.

As a peer reviewer, I found the guidance well-explained, supportive, and easy to use. The observation tool had been designed so I could carry out my review case-by-case with plenty of space to record notes. This meant that I had everything I needed when it came to writing up my observation report and could give Camden Marac specific examples of what they were doing well, as well as suggesting particular areas for development.

Combining the peer review and Marac review processes

Both the observation report and the Marac review tools are structured around the 10 Principles of an Effective Marac. This means that the feedback the Marac receives through the peer review process can be easily incorporated into the Marac review too.

At my home Marac, we shared the observation report with our representatives before we began the Marac review. It gave everyone an extra perspective on the things we were doing well and the areas that needed improvement, and meant we were extra prepared when it came to the full review.

A new point of view

I was with Camden Marac for less than a morning but learned so much from the observation. I had so many burning questions that I wish I could have spent more time there. There was so much to appreciate, so much to absorb!

But the biggest highlight of the peer review process has been seeing another Marac at work – hearing the different actions being offered, finding out about invaluable local resources and picking up some great tips.

And there was something more. Being a peer reviewer helped me realise how far the Marac process has come in the last decade.  Seeing all those Marac representatives coming together, not always with the perfect information, not always with the perfect action plan, but with such an unmistakeable desire to talk to one another and work together, helped me realise how much has been accomplished, despite all the challenges that remain.

As I completed my observation report, principle by principle, point by point, I realised that no matter how different each Marac may look on the surface, our ambitions are always the same: to make victims safer. Our resources may differ, but we share the same struggles. Our practices may vary, but we share the same principles. It’s hard to think how different things might have been without the support and tools that SafeLives has offered. But all we’ve achieved would’ve been impossible without the dedicated and hardworking Marac professionals who made it happen – and I’m delighted that being a peer reviewer gave me the opportunity to see them at work.

SafeLives is inviting all Maracs to take part in the new peer review scheme. And if you’re due to complete a self-assessment you can also find out more about the Marac review process – or even combine the two. To find out more, go to safelives.org.uk/review.