A central feature of community mental health practice is the social inclusion of its service users. This involves opening up life opportunities in the mainstream community, requiring collaboration with community partners. A group of mental health service managers, practitioners, service users and representatives from the Further Education community worked together for 18 months to promote social inclusion for local service users and used appreciative inquiry and co-operative inquiry methods to explore and enhance this work. This article discusses the methodological nuances of this fusion of approaches. It underlines the benefits of an appreciative approach for addressing historically rooted patterns of practice within statutory mental health services, and highlights how harnessing an extended epistemology can bring together impetus from ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ to create actionable plans. The article describes what was learned about optimal inter-agency working and about trying to be a change agent in a large organization. It concludes with reflections on the suitability of participatory action research methods for developing community-orientated mental health services.
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