Re-thinking the role of the Advanced Practitioner: AP Connect Year 3 Evaluation Strand Final Report

CHRISTINA DONOVAN*, Colin Forrest

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

Abstract

Overview: The purpose of the evaluation element of the #APConnect programme this year was to explore the impact the programme had for those in Advanced Practitioner (AP) type roles in Further Education organisations. The evaluation engaged with APs from the programme’s virtual Communities of Practice (CoP) to share and develop quality improvement strategies, as well to evaluate as the role that the Advanced Practice modules played in this process.

Methods: The methodology for Strand 1 of the evaluation was grounded in a research circle approach (Persson, 2009) and the principles of co-production. The methodology drew upon the work of Pahl and Facer (2017:13) who argue that “evaluation is more likely to succeed and produce useful knowledge when it is driven by and deeply connected to the core values and aims of the project participants”. From these and related theoretical positions, including the conditions to foster trust (Donovan, 2019), a ‘co-evaluation’ approach emerged. A small group of volunteer ‘co-evaluators’ was established, and a values-based approach to the evaluation adopted. The aspiration emerged for the CoP to support APs in becoming affirmative change agents in their own contexts. It was this aspiration that underpinned the methodology developed with the co-evaluation team towards evidencing the impact that the #APConnect programme had in supporting participants towards this vision.
Data were collected over the course of four virtual milestone ‘Evaluation Circles’, and five smaller ‘sub-circle’ events, including a range of artefact creation, which was captured on shared a Wakelet collection. The circles allowed for reflection upon how the artefacts were informing participants’ understanding of the research problem and supported the team to identify ‘actionable knowledge’ (Holmstrand et al., 2017).

The methodology for Strand 2 was informed by the findings of Strand 1 and included a semi-structured questionnaire that was sent to the participants on the CPD strand of the programme, followed by three semi-structured interviews with a participant from each module.

Findings: The findings suggested that the way APs were positioned within institutions influenced their perceived self-efficacy in their role. Their positioning as ‘experts’ often conflicted with their view of themselves as collaborative and cooperative: a foundational element of #APConnect programme design. While the #APConnect project supported APs effectively supported the confidence of participants to nurture the collaborative aspects of their role, they often felt constrained by their position in the management structure of their organisations, where structures could be rigid and inflexible. Some felt that their influence was limited within these institutional architectures. Some occupied leadership positions, and others operated as coaches/mentors alongside full- time teaching roles. APs therefore experienced varying levels of agency and influence, but at all levels experienced challenge.
Significant implications for middle and senior leaders emerged from this co-evaluation. Boundaries that define the middle spaces of organisations need to be porous and flexible to provide expansive places for APs to effect change and move beyond the functionality of the role to consider their positionality in facilitating wider quality improvement processes. Instead, we suggest that it might be more beneficial to understand the role of the AP as embedded in values-based practice, effecting change at all levels as a result of engagement in a wider community of critical theorists. We posit that it is the out-ward facing nature of the their engagement with #APConnect that is of central importance for APs to become as change agents in their organisations.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages34
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2021

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