Disrupting ‘Expertise’

Learnings from a Grassroots Lived Experience and Social Work Academic Partnership


  • Margaret Doherty Mental Health Matters
  • Ann McGuire Mental Health Matters 
  • Robyn Martin School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University
  • Sue Gillieatt


Industry partnership, Challenging expertise, Lived experience, Professional privilege


The involvement of consumers, families and carers in mental health service delivery is mandated by legislation, recommended in policy, and promoted in professional accreditation standards internationally. While social work academics have an established history of collaborating with organisations and practitioners, examples of industry partnerships between social work academics and service users, families and carers have emerged more recently. This change invites a critical examination by social work of its relationship with service users and their supporters. In this article, we document a successful partnership between a grassroots, lived experience group and two social work academics based on genuine engagement and significant positive impact for both parties. Entrenched power imbalances and ideas about expertise are disrupted and recast through consideration of the importance of clear objectives and purpose; the need for deep listening; the prioritising of relationships over task; the possibility of transformation; and new knowledges. The significance of witnessing to promote epistemic justice, along with recommendations for building and cultivating non-tokenistic partnerships are offered. 

Author Biographies

Margaret Doherty, Mental Health Matters

Margaret Doherty is the Convenor of Mental Health Matters in Perth, Western Australia.  

Ann McGuire, Mental Health Matters 

Ann McGuire is a committee member of the Steering Group of Mental Health Matters in Perth, Western Australia. 

Robyn Martin, School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University

Robyn Martin is the Associate Dean of Social Work & Human Services at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.  

Sue Gillieatt

S.Gillieatt@curtin.edu.au is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Occupational Therapy, Social Work & Speech Pathology at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia.  


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