Transitioning Peer Consulting: a Technology-in-Practice Approach
The purpose of this study is to examine the application of ICT to enhance the peer consulting activities of groups of professionals. In this study, peer consulting is defined as the sharing of people's experience through action and reflection in the context of actual practice (Eisen, 2001). The research is undertaken within two New Zealand counselling services organisations, one for-profit and one not-for-profit. The primary guiding research question is: "How do NZ social services organisations apply online technologies to enhance the professional development of their staff?" The study is qualitative in nature, and follows the action research methodology. Within one in-depth action research cycle, key participants of each organisation and the researcher collaborate to describe the problem situation, and select and set up pilot online systems. Groups of counselling practitioners then participate in actual online peer consulting sessions, after which the outcomes of the sessions are evaluated and learnings gained. Data gathered through interviews, observations and systems statistics are analysed to derive the first of two major theoretical contributions of this research, the Model of Peer Consulting Transition. This model reflects the experiences of the research participants as they move through the developmental stages of Defining, Structuring, Experimenting, Engaging and Embedding. The second theoretical contribution of this study is the novel application of the Technology-in-Practice framework developed by Orlikowski (2000). This framework is the lens through which the environmental factors that exist within each organisational situation and influence peer consulting transition are explained. The theoretical models developed in this study provide an important contribution to the use of ICT in facilitating professional development. In addition, the participant organisations benefitted directly from being part of the study. The development of an alternative way to engage staff in professional development activities saves time and financial resources, and engaging in actual peer consulting sessions offered participants the opportunity to further develop their respective professional capabilities.