Mental health consumer participation: a technical action research project
Located in a context of dynamic evolving change, this research project specifically targeted mental health social, recreational and prevocational services established to support people with mental health issues living in the community. Mental health stakeholders including consumers and their families and whānau, District Health Board (DHB) funding and planning managers, DHB service providers, Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and Māori and Pacific Island service providers were recruited to engage in focus group discussions with the researcher. Data was gathered by interviews, a questionnaire and observations in community settings over five years. Participants engaged in data analysis and knowledge production.
Technical action research (TAR), underpinned by critical theory, was the methodology used to facilitate knowledge production. The research had three stages each of which was informed by Elliot’s (1991) cyclic process of action for example reconnaissance, planning, implementation and evaluation. Thus each action cycle was grounded in and evaluated by the overall research goal.
The first stage was to gather data, historical and current, that would put the research into context. The second stage informed the selection of a consumer questionnaire which was then completed by mental health consumers in the final stage. Consumer feedback on mental health service performance was instrumental in service monitoring. The findings revealed a tension between service providers understanding and consumers’ expectations. Of significance is the connection between valuing and embracing the unique lived experience of the consumer, inclusion and recovery. Implications for service providers highlight the need to engage consumers and encourage participation, to improve relationships and address power imbalances.