Legitimacy, positioning and paradigm
: behind the Northern Territory's whole of government approach to suicide prevention

  • Megan Louise Lawrance

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    The whole of government approach rose to popularity as a means to facilitate coordination and a holistic approach to policy problems that span bureaucratic boundaries. The bulk of the literature considers the approach in terms of these aspirations. In contrast, this research did not assume the reasons why a whole of government approach was adopted but rather openly explored the purposes it actually served and studied how it operated. It presents a single case study of the whole of government approach for suicide prevention in the Australian jurisdiction of the Northern Territory (NT). The case study draws on qualitative data including observation of an interdepartmental committee over more than three years as well as semi-structured interviews with participants and document review. Data were analysed using an inductive exploratory approach.

    Examination of how the committee operated revealed that despite its multi-departmental membership, the bulk of the committee’s work was carried out by the lead agency and, particularly, by one individual. Furthermore, the committee was charged with broad responsibilities but its actual prime concerns were to develop and attempt to report on an action plan. There was no funding available for the action plan’s development and it documented largely unaltered activities from the member agencies that had a bearing on suicide prevention. Decisions relating to the allocation of suicide prevention funding were outside the committee’s sphere of influence. There was a disjuncture between this operation of the committee and the formal representation of the process suggesting that the committee was largely symbolic; it was intended to communicate beliefs, feeling and values. The detection of the symbolic dimension of both the committee and the action plan is a key finding of this research and breaks from the largely instrumentalist whole of government literature which assumes the approach is intended to achieve specific ends.

    The symbols were used to represent a legitimate approach to suicide prevention; one that was aligned with both the institutional norm and national policy. Additionally, it was hoped that the symbols would help to position suicide onto the NT political agenda and promote the paradigm of joint responsibility for suicide prevention. Whole of government symbols being used for such purposes supports the belief that the approach has become institutionalised and is used for non-technical reasons.
    Date of AwardMar 2013
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorPeter Dabbs (Supervisor) & Richard Chenhall (Supervisor)

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