Background to the
Community Relations Practice Research Project
The CCRU research branch would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who provided assistance throughout the course of this research. The essence of the Community Relations Practice Research (CRPR) project and associated CORPUS Website is the harnessing of the experience held by practitioners in Northern Ireland and to provide an accessible medium for the presentation of the projects findings. Without the help of representatives from all stakeholder levels of the community relations process this research would not have been possible. We would particularly like to thank the representatives of the organisations who took part in the discussion group meetings, questionnaire, semi-structured interviews and the community relations workshop phases. We realise the time constraints that these groups are under and thank them for the contribution they have made.
The steering group that was set up for the evaluation of the District Council Community Relations Programme discussed the need to bring together a wide range of source material on community relations and its practice in Northern Ireland. The Community Relations Council (CRC) recognised the opportunity to achieve what has thus far been lacking in this field; a centralised and readily accessible vehicle for the dissemination of information and the promotion of good practice in community relations work. This was in effect the genesis of the Community Relations Practice Research (CRPR) project. The findings will be specifically aimed at; community relations specific bodies; research bodies; policy makers; academics and students; grant givers; CR practitioners and the wider community as a whole. For practitioners who do not have access to the Internet a hard copy report will be available in the new year.
The Practitioner Questionnaire
During December 1998 CCRU's Community Relations Practice Project circulated a questionnaire, dealing with many areas of CR practice, to over 160 community groups across Northern Ireland. The purpose of this questionnaire was to highlight the areas of CR that were causing practitioners problems and similarly the approaches that were proving beneficial to CR objectives. The response rate to the postal questionnaire was 51%. Analysis of the responses provided an insight into practitioner’s attitudes across a broad spectrum of CR initiatives and highlighted various themes requiring further exploration through a series of semi-structured interviews. 15 groups involved in a range of CR activities across Northern Ireland were interviewed during this phase of the project, the interviews lasted approximately 1.5 hours.
Semi-structured Interview Phase.
The interviews were semi-structured, which we felt offered the participants the opportunity to elaborate on any points they felt were particularly relevant to their organisation. Ten questions relating to the points highlighted by the postal questionnaire were forwarded to the participants to enable pre-interview consultation if necessary, these questions are available in the Appendix section. The questions dealt with themes such as:
- Community Relations Definitions
- Levels and Quality of Developmental Assistance
- Setting of Aims and Objectives
- Availability and Quality of CR Training
- Elements of a Successful Initiative
- Evaluation and Impact Assessment Methods
- Single Identity Work and its Contribution to CR
- Impediments and Solutions in CR Work
Community Relations Workshops
- Resource Restrictions, Impediments and Solutions
Phase three of the project involved the setting up of community relations workshop sessions to offer the opportunity to 'brainstorm' on issues that were raised by the first two phases of the project, the questionnaires and the semi-structured interviews. These sessions were split into four topics:
- Community Relations and Education
- Community Relations and Training Issues
- The Relationship between Community Relations and Community Development
- Cultural Diversity and Community Relations
In order to encourage debate and discussion in these sessions, experienced practitioners from all four fields were asked to present a paper detailing project perspective and the state of CR in relation to the above issues. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Frances Donnelly, NICIE, for her paper on Community Relations and Education. Billy Robinson, Counteract, for his paper concentrating on Community Relations and Training. Eileen Beamish, Research and Evaluation Services, for her contribution on Community Relations and Community Development and Cathie McKimm, An Crann/The Tree, for her presentation dealing with Cultural Diversity and Community Relations, all of whom offered excellent insight into their particular field. The workshops were a great success and would not have been possible without the contribution of those listed above.
We are now heading into the final phase of the CRPR Project, which will culminate in the CCRU, Research and Community Relations in Northern Ireland Conference to be held in the Tullylagan Country House Hotel, Cookstown on December 9, 1999. Along with the findings from the CRPR Project the conference will offer the opportunity to gain insight into some of the research being conducted and funded by CCRU under the European Commission's Physical and Social Environment Sub Programme (PSEP II). The conference will also see the official launch of the CRPR projects CORPUS website into community relations practice in Northern Ireland which has been constructed under the supervision of Dr. Martin Melaugh, University of Ulster.
CCRU CORPUS Web-site
Dr. Martin Melaugh, University of Ulster, is currently developing the CORPUS Web-site, which will house the findings of the CRPR project. The format and content for this site has been discussed and agreed on after meetings with the project steering group and the CCRU research team.
Following meetings with Norma Patterson, District Council Community Relations Officers (DCCRO) support officer, it was decided that particular benefit would be gained from including sample DCCRO strategy plans on the CCRU site. The CCRU publication, 'Guidelines for the Development of a Community Relations Plan for District Councils' (1998) will also be included on the site.
Sample quotes from both the questionnaire and the semi-structured interviews will be included where relevant. The CRPR project website will also house section by section project analysis, relevant links option, recommended reading lists (with scanned material where possible), literature reviews, Email/comments page and a search engine facility.
The CORPUS website will be a ‘living’ site, which will constantly be updated, and we hope to offer practitioners the opportunity to comment upon current content and suggest inclusions for the future.
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