Partnerships and participation seem to be the order of the day. Yet, for many community organisations, this way of ordering the social policy space is contradictory, creating practice tensions that increase the complexity of local service systems. Such changes impact community organisations in a politics that needs to be made visible if they are to be able to act in the interests of their members and service users. We therefore outline the social policy space currently constituted by four major discourses: neoliberalism, managerialism, new paternalism and network governance as they intersect and interact chaotically, reshaping participation and partnerships between government, community service organisations and local communities. We then examine how policy as a technology or set of mechanisms is discursively creating contradictions and practice tensions within which community organisations engage for social justice.