Using Complex Adaptive Systems Theory to Understand the Complexities of Social Work Practice in Rural and Remote South Australia

Ellen Harvey, Michelle Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Working with complexity is a growing concern and challenge for social workers in contemporary practice. This study explored how rural social work practitioners experience complexity in their professional judgement and decision-making, giving voice to the unique understandings and perspectives of rural health social workers (RHSWs). Complex adaptive systems (CAS) theory is used to conceptualise participants’ experiences. An interpretive critical research paradigm valued the unique viewpoint of rural social workers whilst also disrupting the urban-centric focus of social work practice. The participants were recruited via their involvement in the Country Health South Australia social work leadership group. Data collected using a living lab approach, consisted of ten phone interviews sandwiched by two focus groups (n ¼ 14). The data were analysed using both hand-coding and computer-assisted analysis (NVivo). The results demonstrated that RHSW encounter complexity within and across three main systems: client, organisational and rural systems. Importantly, the rural system plays an equally significant role in understanding complexity in this context, with each system overlapping and influencing one another. RHSW understanding of complexity was consistent with CAS, suggesting the advantage of using this theory to underpin understandings of complexity in social work practice and specifically in the rural practice domain.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Oct 2021

Keywords

  • Complex Adaptive Systems
  • Decision-Making
  • Hospital
  • Professional Judgement
  • Rural and Remote
  • Social Work

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