"Consensus" in Participatory Management: What Is in a Name?

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 09:00
Location: Seminarraum 5C G (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Terry LEUNG, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Participatory practices are increasingly recognized as the propitious vehicle for enhancing effectiveness of welfare provisions. As the participation rhetoric popularizes, more and more welfare service users and frontline practitioners are able to participate in decision-making for the organizations through the discursive spaces provided. Whilst proponents of the Habermasian model of communicative action trust in critical intelligence of both the service users and frontline workers to acquire communicative rationality and achieve eventual consensus through dialogue (e.g. Hayes & Houston, 2007), critics fear that emphasis on consensus can be easily exploited as a technology of legitimation to sustain management authority (e.g. White & Farr, 2012).

Modified nominal group technique was used in four service centres of a welfare service organization in Hong Kong, to seek consensus between the service users and service practitioners on the mechanism of user participation in respective service centre. The presentation will analyze the discursive process in sequential meetings for the purpose, and interrogate how validity claims were constructed for achieving consensus. The findings will inform further discussion on managing tensions in consensus building, and facilitating capacities for collaborative decision-making in participative spaces with the welfare service users and frontline workers.


White, S.K. & Farr, E.R. (2012). “No-saying” in Habermas. Political Theory 40(1), 32-57.

Hayes, D. & Houston, S. (2007). ‘Lifeworld’, ‘system’ and family group conferences: Habermas’s contribution to discourse in child protection. British Journal of Social Work 37, 987-1006.