This thesis investigates the situated knowing-in-practice of locally-based community organisations, and studies how this practice knowledge is translated and contested in inter-organisational relations in the community services field of practices. Despite participation in government-led consultation processes, community organisations express frustration that the resulting policies and plans inadequately take account of the contributions from their practice knowledge. The funding of locally-based community organisations is gradually diminishing in real terms and in the competitive tendering environment, large nationally-based organisations often attract the new funding sources. The concern of locally-based community organisations is that the apparent lack of understanding of their distinctive practice knowing is threatening their capacity to improve the well-being of local people and their communities.
In this study, I work with practitioners, service participants and management committee members to present an account of their knowing-in-practice, its character and conditions of efficacy; and then investigate what happens when this local practice knowledge is translated into results-based accountability (RBA) planning with diverse organisations and institutions. This thesis analyses three points of observation: knowing in a community of practitioners; knowing in a community organisation and knowing in the community services field of practices. In choosing these points of observation, the inquiry explores some of the relations and intra-actions from the single organisation to the institutional at a time when state government bureaucracy has mandated that community organisations implement RBA to articulate outcomes that can be measured by performance indicators.
A feminist, performative, relational practice-based approach employs participatory action research to achieve an enabling research experience for the participants. It aims to intervene strategically to enhance recognition of the distinctive contributions of community organisations’ practice knowledge.
This thesis reconfigures understandings of the roles, contributions and accountabilities of locally-based community organisations. Observations of situated practices together with the accounts of workers and service participants demonstrate how community organisations facilitate service participants’ struggles over social justice. A new topology for rethinking social justice as processual and practice-based is developed. It demonstrates how these struggles are a dynamic complex of iteratively-enfolded practices of respect and recognition, redistribution and distributive justice, representation and participation, belonging and inclusion. The focus on the practising of social justice in this thesis offers an alternative to the neo-liberal discourse that positions community organisations as sub-contractors accountable to government for delivering measurable outputs, outcomes and efficiencies in specified service provision contracts.
The study shows how knowing-in-practice in locally-based community organisations contests the representational conception of knowledge inextricably entangled with accountability and performance measurement apparatus such as RBA. Further, it suggests that practitioner and service participant contributions are marginalised and diminished in RBA through the privileging of knowledge that takes an ‘expert’, quantifiable and calculative form. Thus crucially, harnessing local practice knowing requires re-imagining and enacting knowledge spaces that assemble and take seriously all relevant stakeholder perspectives, diverse knowledges and methods.