Sidestepping questions of legitimacy: How community representatives manoeuvre to effect change in a health service

Sally Nathan*, Niamh Stephenson, Jeffrey Braithwaite

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Empirical studies of community participation in health services commonly tie effectiveness to the perceived legitimacy of community representatives among health staff. This article examines the underlying assumption that legitimacy is the major pathway to influence for community representatives. It takes a different vantage point from previous research in its examination of data (primarily through 34 in-depth interviews, observation and recording of 26 meetings and other interactions documented in field notes) from a 3-year study of community representatives' action in a large health region in Australia. The analysis primarily deploys Michel de Certeau's ideas of Strategy and Tactic to understand the action and effects of the generally 'weaker players' in the spaces and places dominated by powerful institutions. Through this lens, we can see the points where community representatives are active participants following their own agenda, tactically capitalising on cracks in the armour of the health service to seize opportunities that present themselves in time to effect change. Being able to see community representatives as active producers of change, not simply passengers following the path of the health service, challenges how we view the success of community participation in health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-40
Number of pages18
JournalHealth (United Kingdom)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes


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