Democratising Governance in Transition

bgitAs the new Programme for Government (PfG) makes its way through Northern Ireland’s often contested institutional landscape, we all must think creatively to develop actions that will facilitate collaborative working between communities and across Executive departments that delivers a reduction in health inequalities, facilitates the transformation of interface areas, charts new employment paths and ultimately reduces the costs of division and duplication.  In this era of financial austerity the challenges:

•    How can we spend less without diluting outcomes or the quality of public services?

•    How can we design more efficiently new ways of working?

•    How do we comprehensively address the connected issues of people, place and prosperity? 

•    How do we shape and design integrated services or develop policies that meet people’s needs for access to services and employment while building a new shared future?

These are the challenges currently before us all.

INTERCOMM, which is supported by the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister and The Atlantic Philanthropies (NI) to promote good relations, is an indigenous conflict resolution agency that is now sharing conflict resolution experience globally, and Groundwork NI, is a regional agency that has developed a distinctive community-led regeneration process that uses physical regeneration as a catalyst to engage with some of the most marginalised communities and provide opportunities to build positive relationships within and between communities under the banner of “Changing Places, Changing Lives and Changing Minds”.

Liam Maskey, INTERCOMM Director, holds that the purpose of the ‘Democratising Governance in Transition’ programme between INTERCOMM and Groundwork NI is to pool our learning in peace building and regeneration that places a policy focus and to problem solve issues of interfaces and dereliction.  “With assistance from the European Union’s PEACE III programme to develop institutional capacity for a shared future, DGIT seeks to inform the creation of an integrated and innovative approach to public services delivery in a society emerging from protracted conflict,’’ he explains. This collaborative partnership engages local community practitioners, strategists and academics and civic society leaders with a focus on developing innovative service delivery models that will target resources at the point of need. DGIT is the bridge between public policy and its practical implementation at interface communities.” 

Sylvia Gordon, Director of Groundwork NI, believes: “The challenge for grassroots practitioners is to integrate their learning and expertise into the policy formulation process – their voices and needs must be heard.  It is this intimate knowledge of residents that must inform the design and delivery of future public services.  All of which makes for a more efficient use of public resources. This is particularly important as this society begins to grapple with the challenges of building a shared future, which must, as a central tenet, address the complex and related issues of interfaces and dereliction.  In practice this means working together smarter and strategically with government agencies and indeed private enterprise.  It means developing new and innovative responses to community needs.  It also means informing government.  It means understanding their processes and, in all reality, it means putting the issues of division and good relations at the core of public planning processes.”

Working in three interface areas, Duncairn Gardens and Whitewell in North Belfast and Bishop Street in Derry/L’derry, DGIT explores how to shape public policy making processes with the Northern Ireland Executive. The programme also provides a platform by which policy-makers and civic leaders can develop an advanced and policy-relevant understanding of issues and patterns of governance.  The overall aim of the initiative is to find a new model for working that will build the capacity and willingness of institutional partners to shape a tailored public service implementation framework that seeks to enhance progress towards a shared future. This approach is essential to ensure people and communities are genuinely engaged in the decisions made on public services which affect them.

DGIT has been working to connect community-led projects, such as CitySide in North Belfast and the ‘One City, One Plan’ initiative in Derry/L’derry. These examples show how community-led initiatives have begun to contribute to a shared society. They have succeeded by putting people and communities at the forefront of regeneration.

Such authentic relationships have helped deliver multiple outcomes and efficiencies in governance. Ciarán Shannon, DGIT Programme Manager, believes that using these participatory bottom-up processes can help deliver better outcomes.
Ciarán argues that “practically DGIT has worked with Belfast City Council and Newtownabbey Borough Council as they submitted major PEACE III regeneration bids, worked with the PSNI to develop a five-point plan that would enhance community policing, supported the Alexandra Park interface gate opening, developed a Social Return On Investment template to value community efforts in conflict transformation and it is currently planning a high level leadership programme for practitioners and policy-makers to the world-renowned Stanford University, CA.

“Our focus is around interfaces and the cost of division and duplication – both of which the public policy agenda has yet to engage with,” he says.  “Our approach is to demonstrate that collaboration and a common vision can deliver greater efficiencies – in other words we are starting with identifiable problems, the interfaces, and working up towards solutions.  The reality is that for many who live at the interfaces there has been no peace dividend.  If anything, the quality of life indicators demonstrate that we need a Total Place approach (that builds capacity in community relations while stimulating economic regeneration) demonstrating that a shift is needed not only in how we frame these issues but also how we plan to overcome them.  In this process we have worked collaboratively with a range of partners, from North Belfast Community Development and Transition Group, the North Belfast Interface Network, the Hazelwood Community Partnership, the Peace and Reconciliation Group and the City Centre Initiative in Derry to draw learning from communities on how departments, councils and statutory agencies can also overcome relational barriers within and between institutions.”

Clearly DGIT has been to the fore in sharing and disseminating these ideas among practitioners and policy-makers around the development of shared services, shared budgeting, shared performance indicators that can sustainably regenerate people, places and economic activity. These are the difficult conversations we now need to have.

INTERCOMM and Groundwork NI have demonstrated their commitment to collaboration by jointly promoting the DGIT programme.  The challenge now is to widen the conversation. Both organisations believe the time is right to implement a different approach to service delivery and planning.  Equally, DGIT will continue to advocate for change with the Executive to comprehensively develop new thinking and new processes that deliver meaningful changes and enhance momentum towards a shared future.

DGITFor further information on DGIT
please contact:

Ciarán Shannon
Groundwork NI
63-75 Duncairn Gardens
BT15 2GB

Tel: 028 9074 9494

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