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Taking a lead from the users of mental health care services

Nick Dent (Patient Advice and Liaison Services (PALS), Kent & Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust, Canterbury, UK)

International Journal of Leadership in Public Services

ISSN: 1747-9886

Article publication date: 16 November 2011



The purpose of this paper is to describe the operation of a review into service user involvement within mental health services, which was led by service users using appreciative enquiry (AE).


The paper gives a descriptive account of the operation of the project and highlights the barriers to its success and how these were addressed. The project itself used AE methods to overcome some of the challenges to engaging service users around improvement activity. The approach was different to the conventional application of AE as people were engaged individually through interviews and their views generalised collectively by the service user team conducting the interviews.


The project findings are reported through considering the recommendations made as a result of the work but the wider aims of challenging power relationships and developing service user leadership are also discussed.

Practical implications

The paper suggests that replicating and developing the use of AE driven by service users is a positive tool in empowering recipients of mental health services.

Social implications

The author suggests that this method could be a valuable tool in meeting the current UK Government policy of empowering local communities to take greater control of public service provision.


This project is an example of enabling leadership to arise from the grassroots of an organisation, turning the conventional concept of leadership on its head and challenges senior staff as to who might know best about how to improve services. It represents a novel approach to taking forward the empowerment agenda widely supported in Western democracies.



Dent, N. (2011), "Taking a lead from the users of mental health care services", International Journal of Leadership in Public Services, Vol. 7 No. 4, pp. 304-313.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited