Where Do Peer Advisory Groups Come From?

It appears there are many parents who can lay claim to either conceiving or nurturing the concept of The Peer Advisory Group.  For starters, there’s Ben Franklin.  According to information about the PBS documentary of his life:  “In 1727, Franklin organized a group of friends to provide a structured forum for discussion. The group, initially composed of twelve members, called itself the Junto.

“The members of the Junto were drawn from diverse occupations and backgrounds, but they all shared a spirit of inquiry and a desire to improve themselves, their community, and to help others. Among the original members were printers, surveyors, a cabinetmaker, a cobbler, a clerk, and a merchant. Although most of the members were older than Franklin, he was clearly their leader.  The Junto’s Friday evening meetings were organized around a series of questions that Ben devised, covering a range of intellectual, personal, business, and community topics. These questions were used as a springboard for discussion and community action. In fact, through the Junto, Franklin promoted such concepts as volunteer fire-fighting clubs, improved security (night watchmen), and a public hospital.”

In Franklin’s autobiography, he described the formation of the group this way:  “…in the autumn of the preceding year, [1727] I had form’d most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which we called the Junto; we met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased. Our debates were to be under the direction of a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute or desire of victory; and to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties.”  The Junto group would go on to become The American Philosophical Society, which is still in existence today.

The similarities to the modern day Peer Advisory Group are palpable.  On the education front, The Harkness Table, an invention of philanthropist Edward Harkness, was introduced to what is today Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire.  “He came up with the idea in an effort to make learning more interactive. Rather than having students lectured at by a teacher positioned at the front of the classroom, the idea with the Harkness Table is to seat teacher and up to 12 students around an oval table. This seating arrangement encourages interactivity and discourages passivity in the learning process. It also is at the core of an educational philosophy  which holds that ‘Civilized discourse must be at the core of all good education and all full lives.'”

Vistage Chair John N. Younker, PhD  notes that today’s Peer Advisory Groups have evolved largely “based upon the work and findings of several key Field/Action Researchers.  Some of the more notable contributors to our present day understanding of how we learn and the factors which enable us to most effectively apply and integrate our newly acquired knowledge, skills and abilities to perform, and learning phenomenon that is known today as the “experiential learning model,” include Kurt Lewin, Ronald Lippitt, W.R. Bion, Carl Rogers, Michael Murphy and Peter Senge.”

In the 6-credit module I teach for Seton Hall University’s MASCL program, Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline is our primary text and the perfect companion to the student’s capstone strategic planning project.  I also can’t think of a better text to help one understand what Franklin, Harkness, Lewin, Lippitt, Bion, Rogers, and Murphy are all talking about.   Join your peers by adding to this brief (woefully incomplete) look at where Peer Advisory Groups come from!

  1. David Belden

    March 19, 2012 at 11:02 am


    Thanks for the history lesson. Very interesting.

  2. leobottary

    March 19, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    David, John Younker has done quite a bit of research on the topic and in our Peer Advisory Group on LinkedIn, he offers some additional info.  Have a look when you get a moment!  As always, thanks for reading and commenting!


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