Exploring peer supervision in virtual teams in rural and remote Australia.

Paper presented at #husITa14 in Melbourne, Australia, July, 2014.


husITa14 Session

Amanda Nickson (James Cook University Townsville, Australia).


Social work practice in rural Australia faces high staff turnover, burnout and difficulties in recruitment and retention (Cuss 2005). A lack of supervision and professional development opportunities have been identified as contributing to the situation of recruitment and retention difficulties (Green, 2003).

This study aimed to explore the effectiveness of peer supervision in rural and remote Australia, using technology. The qualitative research described here reports on the process of peer supervision in virtual teams in rural and remote Australia over a twelve month period. Pre and post-trial individual interviews; monthly group supervision sessions; online evaluations of the peer group supervision experience and focus groups were conducted providing rich data of the experience of participants.

Two overarching findings were evident and then seven themes were identified. The two overarching findings were that firstly, supervision with peers in groups facilitated good quality supervision; and secondly, that difference in social work contexts and agencies value-added to the peer group supervision experience.

A thematic analysis identified seven themes. These are connectedness with like-minded professionals; support; education; reflection on practice; structure and process; technology and the challenges of time, preparation and priority.

Significant findings include the apparent erosion of traditional social work supervision models in the workplace in rural, remote and regional Australia; the success of grouping peers selected from different agencies together; the value of connectedness with like-minded professionals and of structure in providing a safe space for ongoing learning, reflection on practice, professional development and support to be effective. The ease and access afforded by the use of simple technology is noteworthy.

The validity of peer supervision groups as a supervision option of choice is recommended for rural, regional and remote contexts. These findings have significant implications for the retention of social workers in rural, remote and regional Australia.






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