Partnerships: an opportunity to restore meaning to the 'human' in human services

Christopher Harkness

Research output: ThesisMaster's Thesis

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This research study is about partnership working in the human services using community mental health as a context. The purpose of this type of research has relevance today as governments at all levels in Australia are adopting partnerships as social policy tools to address social problems. The rationale for these policies appears to be based on recognition that large social problems require holistic responses through the working together of multiple agencies. However despite the volumes of material about the programmatic means for enacting partnerships I found little which attended to the micro practices of partnership. The lack of guidelines on how to engage in partnership becomes problematic as partnerships in social service contexts have complexities and can be difficult to enact. Moreover actors may feel undermined when it is taken for granted that they have the necessary knowledge and skills to enact partnerships. A case study is conducted on how partnerships are enacted within Bethany Outreach Services, a pseudonym used to represent a psychosocial support service in the Perth metropolitan area. Semi-structured in-depth interviews are conducted with seven participants engaged in a partnership within community mental health. The literature is analysed for its contribution to the critical question of how to 'do' partnership. Case examples are utilised to contextualise key principles of partnership. Key elements of theoretical perspectives are applied as a way to better understand how partnerships might work better. Narratives from the literature and the experiences of people as seen through this case study are examined to arrive at some key elements of partnership. Despite their complexities partnerships provide an opportunity for actors to engage their humanity and build relationships based on human qualities such as respect, communication and the sharing of resources. These qualities build social capital, which can be developed in new partnership contexts to address new problem domains. It is through these qualities that partnerships might give meaning to the 'Human' in Human Services.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2008


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