Client participation in managing social work service--an unfinished quest.
Client participation" or "user involvement" is a popular ideal and object of rhetorical commitment in social work service. In recent decades, consumerist thinking in public-sector reforms has given the client-participation agenda a new managerial impetus. Meanwhile, clients' presence in the service-planning process does not guarantee their influence on organizational decision making (Linhorst, Hamilton, Young, & Eckert, 2002) .As long as service providers are able to retain control of the agenda and the deliberation process (Newman, 2001; Petersen & Piel, 1998), the usual asymmetrical relationship between welfare service providers and users survives. Instead of fostering genuine cooperative inquiry with service users, flourishing user-involvement initiatives are largely, skeptics perceive, "playing the user card" in organizational micropolitics (Barnes, Harrison, Mort, & Shardlow, 1999; Croft & Beresford, 1996; Harrison & Mort, 1998). Hence, user involvement in managing social work service remains a slogan, a concept with unrealized potential, which requires careful and critical scrutiny.On the basis of the democratic notion of cooperative inquiry with welfare service users, this article draws on a study of organizational channels for client participation in the Hong Kong welfare sector. The study conceived of welfare service users as important actors in the social work process, and it identified differences in the institutional structure of client-participation initiatives and their social dynamics between service units targeting elderly people or people with disabilities and those targeting a clientele with supposed moral or psychosocial failures. The study findings provide a basis for discussion of ways to enhance the influence of service users in the making of service-related decisions. CLIENT PARTICIPATION IN SOCIAL WORK SERVICE Client participation in decision making is consistent with the long-held social work value of promoting client self-determination (Linhorst, Eckert, & Hamilton, 2005; NASW, 2009; Social Workers Registration Board, 2009). At the same time, client participation is imperative to ...