Social Citizenship Think Tank: Let’s take it up to the next level

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By Warren Heggarty 

Flourish Australia began developing the current Recovery Action Framework a few years ago to enable us to be at the forefront of mental health services, that is, to truly put the people who access our service at the centre of everything we do. 

Not content to rest on our laurels, on 4 December 2017 we held the first of a series of Social Citizenship Think Tanks which continued throughout 2018. We hope these Think Tanks will carry the vision even further. 

“Few people in Australia are talking about citizenship in this way,” said Chief Executive Officer Designate Mark Orr at that first meeting. “It is cutting edge.” 

There were 21 members of the Think Tank, plus facilitators Fay Jackson (General Manager, Inclusion) and Kim Jones (Project Officer, Inclusion). Members of the Think Tank included the widest possible diversity of people who access our services as well as supported employees and staff members. 

Flourish Australia would like to see people escape the “tyranny of low expectations.” This is where people with lived experience lose choice and control in their lives because, for example, life on a low income (such as on the DSP) has become their “comfort zone.” 

We consider that it is important to lead the way in developing services that facilitate people reaching their full citizenship in spite of living with symptoms and other challenges, and in spite of any arguments around the meaning of “recovery.” 

“Recovery,” according to Michael Rowe and Larry Davidson, “has at times been misunderstood or misinterpreted, including being used as an excuse for cutting needed services and supports in the guise of allowing people to pursue their own personal recovery journeys.” 

At times, they say, recovery literature has “paid less attention to the material, social, cultural, political and economic contexts in which people pursue recovery.” Citizenship, they say, is an alternative approach to “recovery” that balances out the “emphasis on the lone individual pursuing his or her recovery journey.” (Rowe & Davidson, 2016, p. 14a) 

To explore the idea of citizenship within Flourish Australia’s services, in Spring 2017 we notified staff and people who access our services that we were intending to put together a cross section of the organisation to participate in a Citizenship Think Tank. The Think Tank’s focus is centred around creating clear pathways into citizenship for a person-led Flourish Australia that has a well-being focus. This is to ensure that we concentrate on supporting people accessing our services to engage in all of the aspects of life. 

To give you some idea of the substance of the Think Tank, it launched discussions by considering the five “R’s” referred to by Rowe and Davidson in their paper “Recovering Citizenship.” 

These are: 

1. Rights 

2. Responsibilities 

3. Roles 

4. Resources 

5. Relationships and Roots 

Rowe and Davidson’s work was based upon an actual project involving homeless people called “Citizens.” One of the things they did, to give you an idea, was develop a Leadership Project “which trained people who were or had been homeless to sit on the boards of agencies and action groups of local government and a state-wide advocacy organisation.” (Rowe & Davidson, 2016, p. 18b) 

The proceedings of the Think Tank have by no means been limited to ideas from Rowe and Davidson. Debate and discussion has been wide-ranging and robust. In an effort to be as inclusive as possible, the Think Tank has been supplemented by other gatherings, for example, meetings of Aboriginal and other first nations people, and people form Culturally and Linguistically Diverse backgrounds. We’ve had an LGBTIQ forum and a Youth forum, too. 

As with the Recovery Action Framework, the Think Tank has been considering the results we would like to achieve, how to measure those results and what “vital behaviours” by all of us are likely to bring those results about. 

It truly is “cutting edge!” 


Michael Rowe and Larry Davidson, Recovering Citizenship, The Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences,


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