The past decade has witnessed a series of changes to the way NGOs are funded in Hong Kong social welfare. This subvention reform was greatly influenced by managerialism with emphasis on value for money of public resource, accountability to the public and responsive service for customer. The present study aims to investigate two main impacts of subvention reform, the first is how the subvention system shapes the social relations in Hong Kong social welfare in terms of trust relations between social worker and managers at the micro-level, and between government and NGOs (Gov-NGO) at the macrolevel. The second is whether the policy outcomes as intended by the subvention reform have been achieved.
Employing the concept of political economy, the study develops a conceptual framework to examine the associations among NGOs‘ managerial initiatives, social worker‘s professionalism and work life, and trust relations. The empirical work in this study is obtained from registered social workers (both frontline social workers and first line managers) in Hong Kong by means of a questionnaire supplemented by qualitative research method. In the questionnaire, several scales were developed by the author to ask about the NGOs‘ management initiatives in response to the subvention reform, social workers‘ working life and professionalism, achievement of intended policy outcomes and trust relations between social worker and manager, and between NGOs and government.
A pilot test was conducted with 19 second year students who were practicing social workers in their day job and who were studying the Master in Social Work programme at the City University of Hong Kong. The reliability values of the various scales ranged from 0.726-0.915. The question items of the scales were revised and fine-tuned accordingly. Registered social workers were invited to fill in the finalized questionnaire through the email system of the Hong Kong Social Worker General Union twice. A total of 257 respondents have participated (a response rate of 3.1%). Then 62 more respondents were obtained from part-time students who were practicing social workers and who were undertaking the part-time programmes of Bachelor in Social Work and Master in Social Work at City University of Hong Kong, as well as from their colleagues using snowball sampling. Finally, a total of 319 valid respondents were obtained.
This study found that the overall achievement of intended policy outcomes of the subvention reform (namely better resource use and management enhancement) was moderate. Respondents reported the highest level of frequency in customer-centered services. Organizational size was found to make a difference. Respondents in large NGOs reported higher frequencies of having enough resources, flexible use of resources and innovation than their counterparts in small NGOs. In terms of accountability and customer-centered service, respondents in medium and large NGOs also reported higher frequency in reaching these targets than respondents working in small NGOs, but the differences were not as significant as the first three outcomes.
This study also found that the two types of trust were on the low side in Hong Kong. Distrust appeared to be prevalent in Hong Kong social welfare field. The mid-and-low trust relations tended to reflect an accountability deficit of NGO managers and the voiceless of social workers. Apart from these two common factors, trust relations between social worker and manager, and between Gov-NGO are also being predicted by another factor. Interpersonal distrust between social worker and manger appears to be due to limited agency support to social workers in their working life and restricted professional autonomy of social worker. And Gov-NGO distrust could be the negative result of enormous work challenges such as lots of paper work. The distrust relations were a common view shared by respondents, independent of personal factors such as post (i.e. frontline worker or first line manager), employment status (i.e. contract basis or permanent position), and independent of organizational factors such as agency size and service nature.
The study findings suggest that both the government and NGO managers applied the concepts of management that place welfare NGOs and social work professionals in roles of acting for the interests of the state and agency respectively. It is an exercise of managerial power over social work professionals.
Based on the research findings, recommendations for the social welfare management to break down the power dominance of the government and agency managers, and implication for future research are presented at the end of the thesis.