Rural & Remote Health: Can a community of practice equip public health nutritionists to work with remote retail to improve the food supply?

This new paper is from Australia but the approach potentially has wide applicability. The authors conclude: ‘Communities of practice can offer an effective workforce development strategy for rural and remote practitioners and should be considered by employers and workforce planners as a way of developing the public health nutrition workforce to more effectively manage population nutrition and health issues into the future.’

CITATION: Citation: Holden S, Ferguson M, Brimblecombe J, Palermo CE.  Can a community of practice equip public health nutritionists to work with remote retail to improve the food supply? Rural and Remote Health 15: 3464. (Online) 2015. Available:

Full text is freely available here:


Introduction:  This study aimed to determine the influence on practice of a community of practice designed for public health nutritionists who work with retail stores in remote Indigenous communities in Australia.

Methods:  A descriptive evaluation of the community of practice participants’ perspectives using the most significant change technique and individual in-depth interviews was conducted. Data were analysed using thematic and content analysis with a focus on answering the evaluation questions.

Results:  Twelve public health nutritionists employed to work with remote Indigenous community stores were involved. The community of practice was reported to develop competence through problem solving, knowledge sharing and building confidence for innovative work. Building competence was achieved through accessible and timely professional support. Sharing stories and being encouraged to reflect on practice was valued and supported the participant’s practice. Working to improve the food supply is challenging but there is value in being supported by like-minded colleagues to stay focused on this work.

Conclusions:  Most participants perceived the community of practice intervention to be an effective strategy to improve their work. These findings provide evidence of a promising intervention for building the public health nutrition workforce in remote Indigenous community store retail settings.


‘Participants believed that they were equipped to ask the right questions of the right people with power and influence to make change. They explained that this was a difference in their thinking that could not be found by reading the literature alone.’

“I think, without being … involved in the community of practice, I probably would never have been able to get to where I am now.” (Quote from participant)

‘The community of practice assisted practice through the following four key functions:

– Shared problem solving, knowledge sharing…

– Building confidence for practice…

– Accessible professional support through sharing and reflective practice…

– Support by like-minded colleagues to stay focused…’

‘The participants described feeling more valued for the work they do through connecting with others.’

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