Centre for the Study of Conflict
School of History, Philosophy and Politics,
Faculty of Humanities, University of Ulster
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Making Ripples: An Evaluation of the Inter-Community Contact Grant Scheme of the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust
by Clem McCartney
Out of Print
by Clem McCartney
Centre for the Study of Conflict
The Inter-Community Contact Grant Scheme (ICCG) was introduced by the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust (NIVT) in 1986 to operate for 3 years. There was a sum of £50,000 available each year to be used to support activities which encourage contact between the different traditions in Northern Ireland. It was funded by a grant to the Trust from the Department of Education for Northern Ireland (DENI). At the end of the 3 years, in 1989, the Department gave funds to allow the scheme to continue for another year.
The Trust and the Department wanted the grant Scheme to be innovative, and an opportunity to compare different approaches. The Trust is keen to involve independent expertise in the evaluation of all its grant aid programmes, and, with this in view, in early 1987, the Trust invited the Centre for the Study of Conflict at the University of Ulster to be involved in the monitoring and assessment of ICCG. The Centre has also been keen to develop closer links between research and practice, and with the support and co-operation of NIVT has established the Interventions in Conflict Project, with a full time researcher. The Centre wishes to record its thanks to NIVT, together with the other funders, the Barrow and Geraldine S. Cadbury Trust and the Policy Planning Research Unit/Central Community Relations Unit. The intention was to establish an inter-active, collaborative relationship, not only in the assessment of the specific grant aid programme, but also to share ideas about evaluation, and ways of developing thinking about inter-community contact. This report, which focuses on the initial 3 years of the Inter-Community Contact Grant Scheme, 1986-1989, is one result of the collaboration.
EVALUATION REPORT SUMMARY
The Inter-Community Contact Grant Scheme (ICCG) was introduced by the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust NIVT) in 1986 to operate for 3 years. There was a sum of £50,000 available each year to be used to support activities which encouraged contact between the different traditions in Northern Ireland. It was funded by a grant to the Trust from the Department of Education for Northern Ireland (DENI). At the end of the 3 years, in 1989, the Department gave funds to allow the scheme to continue for another year.
There was revived interest in the possibilities of reconciliation work at local levels during the mid-1980s, and the Scheme may have been in part a response to these developments, but it may also have had a part in encouraging practice.
One initial concern for the Trust was that the involvement of NIVT in this work might over-emphasise the Trust's general commitment to reconciliation, to the detriment of its wider community development role, but in the event, there was no evidence that public perception of NIVT was affected by this Scheme.
The Trust and the Department wanted the grant Scheme to be innovative, and an opportunity to compare different approaches. The Trust is keen to involve independent expertise in the evaluation of all its grant aid programmes, and, with this in view, in early 1987, the Trust invited the Centre for the Study of Conflict at the University of Ulster to be involved in the monitoring and assessment of the ICCG.
For the purpose of this evaluation, it was decided that the overall test of the Scheme would be how far it had helped people to carry out work which deals with inter-community contact; had it encouraged innovatory activities and new people to become involved; and had they learnt from involvement in contact activities. A number of features of the operation of the Scheme, and the individual projects offered insight into these questions:
The Scheme was administered thoughtfully and fairly, and there is satisfaction with the open and trusting relationship between groups and NIVT. The methodical way in which the Trust considered applications was in line with its normal procedures, and this system could be a model for any similar schemes in the future. Because of the number of small grants, the level of staff time involved was high, but the contact with groups was still insufficient to meet all the needs of groups. Groups needed more help from professional workers and networks of similar groups to formulate ideas and develop proposals. There is a need for targeted support for groups, not necessarily by the funding agency.
Take up has been slow, and geographically patchy, with only forty projects (31.5%) coming from outside Belfast (see Table 3). This meant the Trust had a more limited choice of projects to consider. However this can not be attributed specifically to poor publicity for the Scheme, or a shortage of good ideas which could be funded, but too small a pool of activists to initiate them. Some of the most innovative ideas come from individuals or emerging networks, rather than long established organisations which may be satisfied with their current activities. Therefore, the existence of funding was not in itself an important stimulus to devise projects, though it have been significant in ensuring that those which were devised became viable. if more projects are to be initiated, a more proactive approach may be necessary, perhaps targeting and supporting the types of groups which have been identified as having potential through this and other evaluations of previous experience.
LEVEL OF GRANTS
Grants were small, averaging £673, similar to the level in other NIVT schemes, but a scheme offering small grants like this is valued by recipients.
There was some variability in awards for similar items within the budget, particularly noticeable where similar groups were applying for the same kinds of help. There may be a case for giving some guidance to groups on reasonable levels of costings on projects, to ensure that all groups are treated equally, and that rates of application do not become unnecessarily inflated.
ACTIVTITES AND EXPENSES FUNDED
A list of the types of expenditure which could be grant-aided was drawn up (see page 12), but the Trust stressed its willingness to consider a wide range of activities. The Scheme has broadened the range of types of items funded, and there has been an increase in general funding for administration support for staff salaries. It is clear that residentials constitute the main group of activities, but the number of such requests has declined, and throughout The Scheme there has been limited use of the recognised reconciliation centres.
The cost of transport, accommodation, group facilitators and advertising are among the items of expenditure accepted under the ICCG Scheme, and for which assistance is not available from other funds
IMPACT OF GRANT SCHEME
The evidence is that the Scheme has helped a considerable number of groups to organise cross-community schemes, and has involved a considerable number of people in cross-community contact More generally a grant provided not just money, but recognition and encouragement and, as one group said, it offered a "stepping stone" to other activities.
Most groups seemed satisfied with their work to date, in the sense that they did what they set out to do, and the organisers and participants had enjoyed it and felt that it was worth-while. But there was no sign of complacency in many groups, and they commented extensively on lessons learnt and insights gained.
AIMS OF PROJECTS
The project activities varied in content and purpose, and all forms of contact may not have been of equal value. There was the lack of clarity about the aims and purpose of this work, and appropriate approaches. One issue was how far the conflict was acknowledged consciously, and a second, how far one emphasised differences or similarity. Different types of contact may be appropriate to groups at different stages of development. There has been a shift away from contact per se to contact opportunities with focused discussion of political and inter-community issues.
Participants themselves can set the pace at which more controversial issues are discussed, especially if they are challenged with this responsibility, and the most note-worthy experiences were not innovative in an objective sense, but were part of the process of groups stretching themselves as they learnt more about inter-community work. The experience of groups has encouraged them to see value in being more direct about potentially controversial issues and has also given them the confidence to discuss them. This tendency was strongest in the later part of the Scheme.
Many groups were open to all types of people, though the number of projects involving women and young people stood out. No activities were aimed specifically at the elderly.
The motivation of participants varied: some were committed to reconciliation; some were concerned with thinking about strategies and future activities on specific social issues and may have had no specific interest in reconciliation activities. In some cases it was hoped that people would become more concerned with the issue of inter-community conflict, and would continue their involvement in similar activities as participant or initiator.
Under the Scheme, projects were expected to have a commitment to balance, but they were not required to have a precise ratio of Protestants and Catholics. Most groups did seem to have had a mix of people involved. There were other comments on ways in which it was difficult to find the right kind of people, including those with more polarised attitudes.
Numbers varied from less than ten to over one hundred. Projects involving large numbers clearly benefit from economies of scale, but it is not easy to draw comparisons, as they were very different types of events, and the impact of the smaller, more intense experience may have been greater.
On some occasions it was hard to match groups in terms of social class, or experience, but the project still seemed to operate satisfactorily. Most of these projects had no long-term follow-up. When groups were a good match and established - relations, they could be a great stimulus and support to each other, as can be seen from their on-going series of shared activities. It is therefore worth spending the time identifying a relationship, which has the potential to develop in this way, and a focus for the contact which also will have its own potential to encourage continuing relationships.
THE EXPERIENCE OF GROUPS
The way practical arrangements are handled may be a critical influence on participants' reactions to the project and on the possibility of on-going co-operation after a project. Organisers of projects had to be constantly alert, ready to recognise the implications of any development, while at the same time struggling with limited resources and poor facilities. The need for other advice, guidance and support was often mentioned by groups, and as a result some were unable to continue their activities.
There were situations where facilitators would have been helpful, but they were not used- In fact, as groups became more experienced, they were more likely to see a need for a facilitator, especially if they moved on to more intense discussion. Groups may need more help in assessing when a facilitator is needed. One area where a facilitator would be helpful, but is not normally used, is in helping groups to reflect on their experience
IMPACT OF PROJECTS
Projects were seen to have a number of effects, in addition to the enjoyment of the experience. Some projects, especially those involving women's groups, commented on the personal development of participants. Learning about "the other side was frequently mentioned, and such insights were thought to have led to changes in attitudes. They were able to accept others as individuals and as friends. Some indicators of change were mentioned, including on-going contact, writing letters, visiting, or further involvement in similar activities. The projects which provided training in skills for contact work, also encouraged enthusiasm and solidarity and support between like-minded people.
Sometimes the project was seen to have had an effect on the ways of working of the groups which mounted the project. The wider impact of the project could be through the communitys awareness of the effect of projects on the participants, especially if they were respected or had influential positions. Conferences and seminars helped to extend knowledge and develop wider networks.
There is a demand for self awareness opportunities not necessarily related to community relations, although cross-community issues may become relevant as participants gain more confidence and awareness. It was unfortunate that some projects of this type had to be considered under this Scheme, because there was no other appropriate source of finance. There may be an argument for a grant aid scheme which covers some of the items in ICCG, including hire of residential centres and transport, but open to other objectives.
One need which was often mentioned was for contact with other groups doing similar activities, mainly as an opportunity to learn about other experience. After the first year of the Scheme, in September 1987, the Trust held a seminar for groups which had already received grants to allow them to share their experiences and ideas on cross-community work, and a report was prepared. Many of those present thought more similar meetings would be valuable.
In trying to understand the projects, the most significant features in many cases were not the specific event which obtained funding, but the relation of that event to other developments for the individual or organisation concerned, including the progression of groups and individuals through a number of different activities.
A few groups mentioned factors which might inhibit on-going activity, including doubts about one's ability or difficulty in finding suitable participants. In most cases, projects could complete their programme, but a meaningful basis for co-operation is essential if the contact is to survive and continue into other activities. In some situations an internal dynamic develops which encourages a continuing process of reflection on experience, followed by further activity. A number of factors which encourage this process can be identified (page 28), but projects should not be rejected because they do not meet these criteria.
Two recurring themes have been identified as leading to more meaningful interaction, and encouraging follow-up and the application of anything learnt through the experience: the contact was meaningful and had an element of challenge. Meaningful highlights the importance of dealing with issues which are relevant to the participants' situations, about which they are concerned and about which they want to do something. if the focus of the programme was meaningful it could strengthen the possibility of overcoming obstacles and sources of tension. Challenge refers to those experiences which pushed at the limits of certainty and at those ideas with which people were comfortable. What these were depended on the past experience of participants, and challenge is thus related to relevance. In this way the limit of what is acceptable for the group indicates the issues and focus which are most appropriate for the programme and the context of reconciliation work for that group.
External factors were also important in encouraging on-going work. NIVT's support was one, and building networks was another, though this could encourage mutual complacency as readily as purposeful reflection.
There is merit in a small grant scheme for single projects. People can develop new relevant strategies and proposals on the basis of past experience hence the value of the Grant Scheme lies in the amount and variety of activity supported and the ability of that activity to generate more projects, which can be assessed in due course.
Given the low level of activity in this field and the need to encourage a critical mass of initiatives then the widest take up of the Scheme can be achieved by very open, inviting criteria. Conversely, if one wants to ensure significant well worked out projects, it will be better to use more restrictive criteria, which ensure the proposed project is relevant and challenging to those involved. The trend can be towards more specific criteria as awareness of alternative approaches increases. Such proposals will not always be readily apparent, or groups will not always be equipped to undertake them, and it is necessary to identify and target the situations which could make significant contributions.
FOCUS AND FORMAT OF THE REPORT
There has been extensive documentation of the Inter-Community Contact Grant Scheme, partly because of NIVT's general practice of reviewing its performance, and partly because of the desire to learn from the experience. The reports to date are as follows:
A Report on the Inter-Community Contact Grant Scheme 1986-1987:
This report partly draws together these reports and summarises them, but also complements them. After the first year the Trust held a full day meeting of recipients of grants, and its report reflects its aims to share ideas, to discuss experience and to see what lessons were being learnt about running projects. The Trust has produced an annual report for the Department, which includes figures on numbers of grants, and size of grants. The Annual Report of the Trust also provides some of this information. Towards the end of the Scheme, the Centre prepared an interim report for the Trust, which examined whether experience to date suggested that the scheme should continue, though the formal decision was clearly for the Trust and the Department. The final summary report by NIVT, which stated the Trust's view on continuing the Scheme, incorporated some of the earlier material and is a companion volume to this evaluation report-
This paper has a different focus in that it tries to draw out the lessons for future policy and practice from the experience of the Scheme. The key question facing any policy on community relations, and the key question facing the Trust is how to allocate resources in a way which will have the most beneficial impact on the issue. The Inter-Community Contact Grant Scheme is one of the few sources of small amounts of money for new and different work. It would be naive to expect a small grant scheme to create wide social and political change, but it can offer opportunities to try out different ways of working, some of them innovative, and learn from the experience. practical projects can play a central part in offering insight into the underlying processes of inter-group relations and alternative outcomes of inter-group conflict, and these insights can give direction to future policy. This suggests that there is value in encouraging as wide a range of projects and activities as possible.
The assessment of the impact of such interventions faces major theoretical and methodological problems, such as the lack of consensus on the nature of inter-community contact work, its aims and desired out-comes. It is necessary to recognise the importance of these issues, because they have implications for the kind of evaluation which is possible, and they are analysed in more detail in Appendix 1. In summary, the underlying assumptions of this report are that the value of the grant scheme lies in the amount of activity supported, the ability of that activity to generate more projects, and the range of new innovative practice discovered.
LAYOUT OF REPORT
As a result of this perspective, the report is discursive, in the sense that it raises issues and examines the lessons which the scheme offers, rather than prescriptive in the sense of producing firm data and hard conclusions. Equally, it is not primarily descriptive, but as it is intended to constitute a basic record of the scheme, it describes the background and origins of the scheme, and summarises earlier documents. At the same time it avoids as far as possible repetition of material in the earlier reports. Within these constraints it has been kept focused on the lessons from the experience of the ICCG Scheme.
The first part of the report puts the ICCG scheme into context by summarising earlier and current policies and initiatives in relation to the Northern Ireland conflict, and by examining its origins and the motivation behind it. The second part analyses the experience of the Scheme from the point of view first of NIVT, describing its approach, and discussing some of the implications of this approach. The report then looks at the experience from the point of view of recipients of grants, and analyses the various approaches used in the projects. The report concludes by discussing how the scheme has contributed to thinking about work on inter-community relations, and how this process could be maintained and developed. A discussion of the methodology and the nature of the co-operation between the Trust and the Centre is included as Appendix 1.
Applying the evaluation models described at the beginning of the report, the overall test of the scheme is how far it has helped to answer some of the original questions: has it helped people to carry out work which deals with inter-community contact; has it encouraged innovatory activities and new people to become involved; and have they learnt from involvement in contact activities? These issues will he dealt with under three headings: the approach to funding, reflection on experience, and lessons for targeting projects.
THE APPROACH TO FUNDING
The evidence is that the Scheme helped a considerable number of groups to organise cross-community schemes, and involved a considerable number of people in cross-community contact. In Part 1 the revival of interest in community relations work has been discussed, and it is impossible to say how much of this activity resulted from the Scheme. It was not seen as the role of NIVT to create interest, but rather to facilitate the interest which was developing. It can certainly be said that NWT's support was part of the dynamic which allowed schemes to develop, and encouraged other activities. Some of the projects have been innovatory, especially those developed by ad-hoc groups. However, some of the most interesting developments were not innovative in an objective sense, but were part of the process of groups stretching themselves as they learnt more about inter-community work.
The NIVT approach was very open in allocating money across a wide range of activity. Comment has been made on the problems of finding enough projects to exhaust the fund. Nevertheless the trust applied an assessment procedure to all applications. It is important to remember that this is the initial stage of programme development, and it will be necessary to shift the emphasis from a more open approach to a more tightly controlled approach. That time has not come as yet, but the Scheme should be offering indications of how work could be targeted in the future.
REFLECTION ON EXPERIENCE
As has been made clear, the current state of thinking about cross-community work means that activity in itself is not sufficient, and those involved have to think about their strategy. The Scheme has made some contribution in this way. The need to explain one's project to NIVT has clearly had an influence on how applicants thought about their activities. The seminar which the Trust arranged in 1987 was an opportunity for reflection and planning ahead for those who wanted to use it. But the more purposeful interaction with groups, and shared examination of projects which was the thinking behind the co-operation with the Centre for the Study of Conflict has not been possible. The two meetings with groups and the questionnaires and interviews have prompted thinking, with some of those interviewed saying they found it thought-provoking. The comments given in this report show a fairly articulate, if subjective assessment of projects. However it is also clear that the comments need to be explored and examined and the meaning behind the experiences needs to be discovered. The factors which encouraged reassessment and re-diagnosis (p.31) also need to be identified.
Some projects seemed to have a reflective element embedded in them. This can partly be attributed to the orientation of some of those involved, but there were other features of projects, connected to the nature of the organisation or the nature of the interaction, which can be generalised to other situations. Two recurring themes have been the importance of relationships which were meaningful, and a work focus which was meaningful. It is possible to suggest at least two characteristics of situations which contribute to meaningful experiences: relevance and challenge.
Relevance refers to projects dealing with issues which are relevant to the participants' situations, about which they are concerned and about which they want to do something. This seemed to lead to much more meaningful interaction, but it also encouraged follow-up and the application of anything learnt through the experience. General discussion seemed to be interesting at the time, but without a lot of impact.
Relevance in turn is related to challenge. The most relevant experiences seemed to be those which pushed at the limits of certainty and at those ideas with which people were comfortable. What these were depended on the past experience of participants. Some of the best developments were projects which moved from one issue to another as the group dealt with one problem before moving to the next.
The concept of challenge helps to deal with the question of definitions, with which the report began. The group's limit of acceptability gave the appropriate context of reconciliation work for that group. Some groups needed to try the consequences of contact. Having done this a few times, contact was no longer an issue for them, and they moved on to exploring the issues which inhibited contact. Some groups felt they were not directly involved in the conflict, and could not interest in their project those people who were more directly involved. This may be the wrong approach, because people are not given the opportunity to define the work for themselves. Rather than offering to help people with a particular problem in a particular way, this analysis suggests it may be better to help them define what issues they are concerned about, or preferably, identify relevant and challenging issues in one's own situation. If one is honest about one's own personal constraints one is clarifying the appropriate focus for one's work.
One group was concerned with helping participants who wanted to bring about change in the organisations. They had had previous meetings, and all those involved had thought through many of the issues about their own attitudes and behaviour. It may be that by a process similar to that described here, they had focused on change in their organisations as the most meaningful issue which now faced them. One implication of this is to encourage groups to continue their work, and to constantly reassess what they are doing. This needs awareness and willingness to push at constraints. This discussion is equally relevant to participants with their needs and constraints, and to organisers of projects who develop through a similar process in choosing on what they want to target and reassessing on the basis of experience.
The experience of the Scheme, and the conclusions drawn from it in the last section, confirm the models of policy development and evaluation described in Appendix 1. Relevance and challenge as the basis of meaningful interaction are in harmony with the ideas of a participatory and grounded approach: "that theory will develop through people thinking about the meaning of their experience" (page 31). There are other more specific implications.
There is a question as to whether it is right to target community contact work as an objective, or whether it is better to support types of activities such as residentials, facilitators etc. This approach would resolve the problem of assisting other self awareness programmes, which are not yet focused on community divisions. Using the criterion of numerical balance between participants as the main criterion may encourage more contact activities, but the contact may be superficial and have limited impact.
There is merit in a small grant scheme for single projects. People can develop new relevant strategies and proposals on the basis of past experience. But the corollary is that there needs to an on-going relation with the funder to support future initiatives.
The other clear implication that the issue of community relations is not at present constrained by finance, as much as by the need for encouragement and support. Interested organisations will benefit from both help from people and networks, but also from a resource pack of ideas on how to carry out this kind of work. This should not only offer help with carrying out projects, but should equally focus on the process of identifying what one wants to do, and on ways to collect information on the experience and assess afterwards the lessons to be learnt from the project. This should be done in conjunction with groups, drawing on their experience. There is value in finding ways of developing a resource list of people who can help groups with this process of self assessment, and offering them training in doing this job.
The final aspect is to identify and target the situations which can make a significant contribution. Some activities seem to create little impetus: for example, projects which do not achieve new levels of contact; projects which try out activities without thinking about their implications; training people in skills with which they are already familiar; and general discussion which is not related to participant's own situation. Given that the aim at this stage is to encourage more experiment and more reflection on practice, a number of factors which encourage this process can be identified, but projects should not always be rejected because they do not meet these criteria.
Factors related to the nature of the organisation
The sponsoring organisation has facilities and other resources which allows activities to be carried out with minimal obstacles. This includes having the space and time to implement and reflect on the project.
It has structures which facilitate discussion and reflection on the project.
Groups have some pressure to carry on the work. This could be from participants, the on-going work of the organisation, or the local situation out of which the project grew, or, often most important, the links of the organisers with other like-minded people.
Factors related to the organisers
A strategic view, or awareness of a need to develop a strategic view
A humility about one's work and a willingness to consider other alternatives and other points of view
Factors related to the participants
Those involved are part of a network through which the lessons of the project could be learnt, and promoted and applied
The participants plan specific ways in which the lessons from the project will be carried forward. These, of course, may only become apparent when the project is in progress. The focus of the project should have a direct relevance to the situation of participants
Factors related to the type of project
The focus of the project should have a direct relevance to the situation of the participants.
Factors related to support mechanisms
Access to finances required, advice, support and ideas. Many groups especially at the beginning can not be expected to have access to these things, but this is not an issue if potential sources of this support can be identified.
A recognition of the work which is being done will often encourage people to go on with their efforts.
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