Experiential Knowledge As the Basis of Power in Organizational Democracy

Friday, 20 July 2018: 10:45
Oral Presentation
Terry LEUNG, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Since the end of the last century, strengthening the user perspective has become a policy initiative in many countries, including the Chinese community of Hong Kong. In the name of ensuring service quality, the Hong Kong Social Welfare Department requires subvented welfare service organizations to incorporate the users’ perspective in service planning and management as a condition for continual funding support. This regulatory measure encourages welfare service organizations in Hong Kong to develop user participation initiatives, which promises to transform the welfare service users from passive recipients of service to equal partners of the service providers in the organizational decision-making.

Notwithstanding popularity of the user participation rhetoric, formal and elite knowledge continues to outshine lived experience of the service users as the knowledge premise to guide practice and service decisions. Believing that technical or expert knowledge alone is insufficient for resolving service problems, proponents of participatory practices have been advocating for recognizing the personal and lived experience of the service users as a major source of truth in the mandate of knowledge. Nonetheless, how personal experiences can be inscribed as a new form of authority in the knowledge mandate is under-researched.

The presentation is based on a qualitative study that set out to understand how the welfare service practitioners processed the particularistic and substantially detailed experiences of the service users, and the extent that users’ experiences were accepted as a legitimate body of knowledge to influence decision-making. The study identified an uneasy compromise when the users’ experiences did not align with the normative understanding of the service practitioners. It uncovered the ways that experiential narratives of the service users were employed to confirm the expert knowledge system. Based on the findings, the presentation will discuss how knowledge power can be reconstituted to realize organizational democracy in the welfare service context.