University of Tasmania
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Exploring the relationship between organisational culture, social capital and community participation in human service organisations

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posted on 2023-05-26, 21:24 authored by Shandell ElmerShandell Elmer
This study aims to develop an understanding of the social and cultural factors that influence the ways non-government, community-based, human service organisations think about and undertake community participation. This topic is important because community participation is part of the mainstream health discourse and there exists a participatory imperative, which requires community involvement is sought in all aspects of health care service provision. Despite its prominence in health policy, the practice of community participation is fraught. Current understandings of community participation (over) emphasise the community perspective and focus on practice in a pragmatic and instrumentalist fashion. This study offers an alternative view, by exploring beyond the level of practice to expose the ways organisations create conditions where community participation can occur. This ethnographic study of organisations gains an in-depth understanding of the cultural assumptions and practices, to expose organisational paradigms. It is argued that the conditions that constrain or enable community participation stem from organisational culture which, in turn, influences the nature of organisational social capital. The research addresses three interrelated questions: A) What are the cultural elements (for example, assumptions, norms, artefacts, symbols, values, and accepted ways of behaving) within human service organisations that are features of social capital? B) Can the culture of human service organisations be understood within the theoretical framework of social capital and, if so, how does organisational social capital impact on community participation efforts? C) What contributes to the capability of human service organisations to effectively foster community participation? The logic of this research design was affirmed through exploratory interviews conducted with a sample of people experienced in assessing the accreditation status of organisations. These people acted as key informants regarding the organisational impacts that result from engaging with a quality improvement program. In addition, these people were able to describe the ways that community participation occurs such as the active involvement of consumers in formal and informal activities, and decision-making. Three non-government, community-based human service organisations participated in this study. Participant observation was conducted within these organisations while they were engaged in the self-assessment stage of a quality improvement program. The process of critical reflection observed during the self-assessment stage revealed the symbols, routines and rituals, and stories as well as the processes for organisational control and power. These cultural elements are indicative of the shared values and beliefs that shape the form and content of opportunities for community participation, and the development of organisational arrangements to support the same. This study builds on and contributes to studies of organisational social capital by exploring how cultural dimensions of organisations can be understood within the framework of social capital. The role of non-government organisations' contribution to community-level social capital has previously been explored, however, little is known about the nature of social capital within these organisations. Evidence of trust, norms of participation, networks and reciprocity within the participating organisations are discussed in relation to the structural, relational and cognitive dimensions of social capital. Further, by interpreting the lived experiences of those within the organisations, this study highlights the socialisation processes that engender and sustain the organisational paradigm that underpin community participation efforts. The setting for this study is significant since there is a paucity of research of this nature conducted in non-government, community-based human service organisations. This study differs from other studies of community participation by focusing on organisations to understand the influence of their socio-cultural context. This study identifies that the potential for community participation exists in organisational cultures characterised by trust, connectedness and shared understandings and where clients are valued. Through a micro-level examination of organisational culture, this study enables a cultural analysis of organisational activities and interactions to reveal how these contribute to the quality and reserves of organisational social capital. Importantly, this study examines the function of organisational social capital in relation to creating conditions and resources for community participation. This study points to the need to focus on organisations to develop organisational social capital in order to achieve effective community participation, rather than the current pre-occupation with remedying perceived deficiencies in the community.


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  • Unpublished

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Copyright 2010 the author Thesis (PhD)--University of Tasmania, 2010. Includes bibliographical references. 1. Introduction & overview of the study -- 2. Community participation: principle, practice or end in itself? -- 3 Two faces of social capital: foundation of civil society & integral to organisational development -- 4. Organisations as socio-cultural phenomena -- 5. Research setting: human service organisations -- 6. Research design -- 7. Preparing for fieldwork: stories of organisational assessment, culture, social capital & community participation -- 8. Cultural webs -- 9. Organisational culture, social capital & community participation -- 10. Conclusion

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  • Open

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