Date of Submission



This thesis develops a heuristic model of sustainability in order to conceptualise and organise knowledge, for use in policy, reform and practice in human services with particular relevance to the fields of social work and public administration. The scope and context of the research are human services which operate in Western, mostly Anglophone, countries under some form of democratic government. Research activity to develop models and general theories of sustainability has remained the purview of other fields such as the environment, education, business and finance. Few studies have focused sustainability specifically on social problems and human services. One characteristic of sustainability studies is a multi-dimensional and multi-disciplinary perspective which aims to bridge gaps in order to achieve integration of knowledge, structure and process in policy making and practice. The pervasiveness and complexity of many social problems, such as poverty and child abuse, inevitably cross many domains and levels of social organisation and require a ‘whole of system’ perspective to deepen an understanding of their nature and possible solutions. This thesis used a large purposive sample of research studies on sustainability in areas related to human services, as data to identify and explore sustainability concepts. The research data sample is analysed through thematic synthesis. Links between sustainability and public policy are explored and examples of policy instruments and processes within which human services function are examined to add context and meaning to the concept of sustainability. It is argued that the concept of sustainability is useful and valuable for policy development in human services. In this thesis its usefulness is identified and set in the context of specific examples in human services. This research makes a contribution to the field of human services policy, reform and practice by filling a conceptual gap through a better understanding of the characteristics and the conditions that are influences for maintaining the gains made in human services policy and practice and ultimately for improving societal outcomes.


School of Social Work

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Health Sciences

Included in

Social Work Commons