A Contestable Professional Development Fund: Interpretations of the Applicant Experience
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This research was undertaken to understand health workers lived experience of applying for contestable professional development funding in the health sector. It responds to the World Health Organizations’ (WHO) call for further inquiry into professional development funding (WHO, 2013). In this thesis, the literature on the landscape of professional development in Aotearoa New Zealand is considered in relation to the investment in national health workforce development. A comparison with global averages is explored as the background to barriers and enablers to health workers participation in professional development. Financial matters emerge as a significant and consistent barrier to engagement. The thesis research consists of a qualitative study using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis with an existential phenomenological lens. It is idiographic, making meaning of the lived experience of staff at Waitemata District Health Board in Auckland, New Zealand, as they apply to the organisation’s Professional Development Fund (PDF). The study also explores views of the PDF as a system in the specific context, and the outcomes of the PDF on staff engagement and career development. Consistent with Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, the research was carried out with an insider view of the organisation since the researcher is a staff member of the District Health Board, an eligible applicant to the fund and a past PDF committee member. This has assisted in a double interpretation, making meaning of the participants’ meaning-making, and in seeing more clearly the practical and theoretical implications of the research findings. The study findings provide insight into workplace attitudes and behaviours towards contestable funding, the particular impact on lives at work and at home, the professional aspirations of adult learners, and the tension between professional expectations and financial limitations. An interesting outcome of this research is the importance of usability in electronic application processes, particularly the need for clarity, time efficiency and a focus on the user experience. Crucially, the findings emphasise the importance of investment in health workers’ professional development and support the re-orientation of funding prioritisation towards the needs of workers. Although participants acknowledged the constrained financial landscape in the public sector, they identified the investment in continued professional development as critical for their career progression and satisfaction. Ultimately it seems that prioritising the needs of staff improves worker morale and wellbeing, in turn contributing to organisational success. Although the PDF is contextually specific, it is one example of typical contestable funding mechanisms accessed for activities such as professional development and performance-based research. This means the findings have implications across workforce development in both health and academia, and can offer insight to inform the development or review of similar funding mechanisms.