Transforming Contested Societies After War and Conflict: Peacebuilding through Education, Empowerment and Reflection

Through her partnerships at an institutional, public sector and applied level, Dr Braniff has examined the problems faced in decision-making by individuals, communities, public sector managers and policy-makers in contested and deeply divided societies

Transforming Contested Societies After War and Conflict: Peacebuilding through Education, Empowerment and Reflection

Through her partnerships at an institutional, public sector and applied level, Dr Braniff has examined the problems faced in decision-making by individuals, communities, public sector managers and policy-makers in contested and deeply divided societies

Impact Lead: Dr Maire Braniff

Underpinning research

Dr Braniff has worked steadfastly to champion research in contested societies that are emerging from war, violence and conflict in a way that embeds the significance of research to inform decision-making.

In her work, primary research and analysis has been comparatively rich and underpinned by social science theoretical approaches. With substantive research on the Balkans (Braniff 2012; McDowell and Braniff 2014) and Northern Ireland (Tonge et al 2014; McGrattan and Braniff 2014; Braniff and Byrne 2014; Kelly and Braniff 2015; Murphy, Braniff, McDowell 2014,2016,2017); this work has scholarly impact with practical relevance.

With comparative studies of Colombia, Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, former Yugoslav countries and Argentina Braniff’s work has received prestigious funding and has generated a number of interdisciplinary projects that have played a significant role in societies where peace processes can are often fragile and bound to understandings of the past as well as woven into ambitions for the future.

Through her partnerships at an institutional, public sector and applied level, Dr Braniff has examined the problems faced in decision-making by individuals, communities, public sector managers and policy-makers in contested and deeply divided societies. This has led to practical interventions with marginalised communities, contested spaces and complex histories. Understanding how decisions are taken, the impacts of such decisions, both desirable and unanticipated has emerged as an important point about considering conflict as something that is not necessarily resolved, but rather transformed by activity and applied peacebuilding. Dr Braniff has applied concepts derived from rigorous academic research of conflict studies both to understand the shift from conflict towards peace and to assess how the processes, both high level political negotiation and community perspectives have moved societies beyond violence, advanced intercommunal relationships and enriched the perspectives of those working to create spaces for shaping better futures emerging from war-torn pasts.

Fundamentally based on a partnership approach and an interdisciplinary approach, Braniff’s work encompasses work from Environmental Science (McDowell), Management (Murphy) and Social Science (Byrne, Morrow and Gormley-Heenan), to address the major challenges facing peacebuilding in conflictual societies and spaces. What is unique about this work, is that it tackles the difficult, problematic and often messy aspects of peacebuilding, which frequently become the obstacles to transcending beyond ‘a peace’ infused with the presence and/or threat of violence.

Partners

Dr Braniff’s work has local and international civic engagement and each project on peacebuilding involves inter-institutional or non-academic partners.

With a range of statutory and voluntary sector partners, Dr Braniff has worked to deliver societal change in Northern Ireland. In Civic Empowerment, Dr Braniff (with Byrne) has developed a programme of academic engagement with marginalised communities that have low educational attainmnent (Braniff, Byrne and Bell 2017). This has transformed capacity within communities, developed voice and provided educational qualifications. This has led to partnerships through a number of projects including: United Youth, Comic Relief and Carrick Civic Empowerment projects where participants have travelled through a journey of stating ‘University was never for me’, to a place of ‘I felt safe, able to talk and think for the first time.’

From the cohorts, 2 participants have gone on to register for degree’s at Ulster, and others have continued through the PPD route. This methodology of breaking down the barriers to HEI represents a transferable and useful method as Ulster brings forward its role as a Civic University

As a result of this work Dr Braniff attracted and secured a high level Colombian delegation EAFIT/COMFAMA/PROQUANTIA delegation for a week long study visit on peace and conflict embedding the work and transferring lessons of peacebuilding amongst of key stakeholders emerging from the recent Northern Ireland Trade Mission to Latin America, embedding Ulster’s leading role as a civic university engaged in social renewal, well being and regeneration.

Embedding bold, new initiatives including Peace Tourism, Countering Violent Extremism in the Balkans; both externally funded and tackling contemporary peace and conflict challenges and as such is working with United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the Government of Flanders, UNESCO Spain, the Basque Country as well as Urban Village Teams and local community organisations. Regarding Countering Violent Extremism, with Byrne, Dr Braniff is compiling for the first time a number of dataset of understanding, mapping and analyzing violent extremism in the countries of the former Yugoslavia in partnership with the British Council through DfiD funding. This research project is of international and local significance with a deep and meaningful impact upon tour providers, policy makers, local government, local communities and international bodies.

This project is developing guidelines for the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) in partnership with colleagues in the Government of Flanders, the Basque Country Government and the UNESCO Centre for Cultural Heritage, Spain, Dr Braniff am the research lead on the project (2016-2019). In this project, with colleagues Gormley-Heenan and McDowell, Dr Braniff is working to develop ethical guidelines for conflict-related sites regarding tourism. This is already underway in Northern Ireland with a grant and partnership led-approach from the Executive Office Urban Villages project.

Already, we have transformed community and statutory practice through our approach to peace, conflict and tourism and we use research on the past, space, identity, memory and commemoration to work with communities and public sector to drive through considerations and practice that is ethical and working towards peace. Given the local and international remit of this study, which will see the UNWTO ratify the guidelines at the forthcoming conference and disseminate to all UNWTO sites internationally, the reach and impact of this project is not only meaningful at creating peace internationally, but also embedding scholarly research into the work of international organisations, governments, communities, private sector and volunteers.

The impact has already been noted, with the creation of self-identity work and heritage trails in Ballymacarrat East Belfast (March 2017), a roundtable panel at INMP (April 2017) and the development of new technologies to assist tourism and site access (March 2017). This work will be underpinned by peer-reviewed journals and offers up the opportunity for impact-generating activities locally and internationally in the next 12-18 months.

In addition to this, Dr Braniff is a key partner in a project with QUB (Murphy) around peacebuilding, diplomacy and the ‘hard-won’ elements of peace. This project has received seed funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs to the value of 23,400, but will act as a larger bid to UK and Irish Research Councils in the coming 12 months.  In this project, Murphy and Braniff have secured unparalleled access to archives, personnel and data held by DFA in order to provide an important contribution to the role of diplomats, the Anglo-Irish Division and organizational culture in times of conflict and peace.

Impact

Dr Braniff’s research into peace, legacy and conflict transformation has been wide-spread and enhanced social renewal and societal wellbeing. These include:

  • The access to education of marginalised and non-traditional learners
  • Corporate decisions affection Urban Village areas in Northern Ireland
  • Major party reforms in addressing legacy issues
  • New governmental Reponses to addressing legacy issues
  • Improvements in understanding the role of the Irish government in the Northern Ireland peace process
  • The establishment of single-identity confidence, story-telling and engagement in contested space
  • Adoption by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation of the underpinnings of tourism to advance peace
  • Significant advancement of how public-sector managers and policing bodies respond to dynamic environments after violence

Auditable evidence trails document impact

Keynote Address: Together Building a United Community Engagement Event: invited Keynote address, 21 June 2016, ‘The Space Between: Community Relations in the New Northern Ireland’, to over 200 community and statutory organisations. The event was opened by the two Junior Ministers of the Northern Ireland Executive and featured wide-ranging performances and debates. Dr Braniff addressed the Engagement Event on key trends in community relations and a call to action as well as fielding a Q&A. Dr Mark Browne of the Executive Office chaired the event. It was held at Girdwood Shared Space and the full report is here.

Complementing this, Dr Braniff authored an Ark Report on Community Relations, based on the 2015 NILT survey, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and presented the key findings at a seminar held at NICVA, Belfast to a range of government and community organisations and representatives. This seminar featured a presentation of key findings and a Q &A (6 December 2016). This demonstrates my continued attention to championing the value of social science research for social problems in post-conflict societies.

Dr Braniff has given the following briefings:

  • UK Secretary of State, MP Theresa Villiers, Briefing, 18 June 2014
  • Ulster Unionist Party Annual Conference, (2013) Truth and Justice Address
  • Department of Foreign Affairs,  Ireland, Legacy Division, including Irish Secretariat Ruairi de Burca and Sarah McGrath, The Implementation and Reconciliation Group of the Stormont House Agreement, 9 November 2016.
  • United Nations Special Rapporteur on Truth, Pablo de Greiff 17 May 2016

Dr Braniff was invited to participate in a Workshop, ‘Historians and the Stormont House Agreement,’ 19 October 2016. This report is documented here, which examines the role that historians and social scientists can make to the task of ‘dealing with the past’ in Northern Ireland.