• clinical supervision;
  • nursing research;
  • illuminative evaluation;
  • qualitative methods;
  • triangulation;
  • mental health nursing

Illuminative evaluation: evaluating clinical supervision on its performance rather than the applause

Aim(s) of the paper. This paper gives a description of illuminative evaluation and argues for its use in process-focused research investigating the reciprocal interpersonal interactions between clinical supervisors and their supervisees. Experiences from conducting an initial pilot study, which is a part of larger qualitative project concerned with individual clinical supervision in mental health nursing, are highlighted.

Background. Research investigating fundamental process issues in clinical supervision and their influence on outcomes for nursing is uncommon. Previous work in this area has stopped short of exploring the supervisory relationship and illuminating the importance of this interpersonal process in the delivery of gains. At the heart of the present project are questions about which supervisor interventions facilitate and constrain the supervisee’s use of individual clinical supervision.

Method. Data were collected using individual in-depth interviews, critical incident journals, session documents and audio recordings of supervision using illuminative evaluation and a case study approach.

Findings. Supervisor interventions included taking the lead, suggesting an option, exploring the supervisee’s work, reflecting back, conveying an understanding of client issues, being supportive and giving information. Using Heron’s framework, catalytic, prescriptive, informative and supportive interventions were identified. Interestingly, informative interventions related mainly to the sharing of team policy issues and were derived from the clinical supervisor’s agenda. Although undoubtedly relevant to the supervisee’s practice, such organizationally focused information giving may be at odds with progressing the therapeutic integrity and professional development of the supervisee. Degenerative interventions were also illuminated.

Conclusions. Following the pilot study, it was concluded that the research approach known as illuminative evaluation using multiple case studies is an appropriate design to explore the supervisory process and the particular clinical supervisor and supervisee interactions which influence this. Potential outcomes from the supervisory experience will be contextualized with how mental health nurses engage in the supervisory process and the particular supervisor interventions delivered during supervision sessions.