by Brian Harvey Social Research
“The analysis of the Centre’s performance is a positive one. The Centre has maintained, even accelerated, its performance:
- Growth in website traffic, up in all indicators;
- Volume of research reports, publications, paper and grey literature;
- Numbers attending events, 1,297;
- Quality of national and international speakers at centre events;
- Publicity achieved;
- Finance, with income up by 55%;
- Endorsement from political leaders.
Clients of the Centre appraised its work at more than competent, demonstrating the highest levels of professionalism, coupled with commitment and invariable courtesy. Expert opinion likewise gave a high assessment of the Centre’s performance, admiring its quality, output, impact, relevance, value for money, working methods, expertise, vision, tact and diplomacy. Many seemed aware of the Centre’s struggle for resources. The board has performed its role effectively and the Centre is regarded by staff as a good place in which to work.”
“The Centre received numerous endorsements from public figures during the period. The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, expressed the view that the Centre had ‘carved out a very useful role in complementing the work of the North/South institutions’ and had served as an interface between the public sector and non-governmental practitioners. He described its work as ‘important and valuable’ and ‘very useful’.The Joint Secretaries of the North/South Ministerial Council praised the work of the Centre for having ‘played an invaluable role in the development of north/south co-operation’ and said it had greatly enhanced the level and quality between the two parts of Ireland through the activities of its dedicated team. They applauded the Centre’s ‘innovative spirit’ and considered that it had made ‘a real contribution to normalising relationships on the island of Ireland.”
[drawn from a cross-section of persons known to the Centre, key clients, and experts on North/South co-operation]
“Comments were: ‘its projects are always very thorough’; ‘doing valuable work’; ‘doing a great job in challenging circumstances’; ‘the director has an excellent grasp of what is necessary to move things along’;’undertakes very worthwhile work’; ‘nothing more important than North/South reconciliation’; ‘good at publicising events and sending out invitations to people interested in education’; ‘keep up the good work’;’contributes a significant amount of information to the wider policy arena’;’does important work and deserves more exposure.”
[“The researcher contacted the key clients of the Centre – bodies and agencies that had commissioned its work in the past number of years – to ascertain whether the Centre had discharged its responsibilities to them professionally. The views were clear:]
- “The Centre had carried out its responsibilities properly and thoroughly. Typical comments were ‘very good, competent, a good experience’; ‘ran to a high standard’; ‘bringing insights and skills beyond what we would have got from a commercial company’.
- The Centre was considered to be professional, reliable and worked hard. Its staff were ‘a pleasure to deal with’. They did a ‘tremendous job’, provided ‘good support and service’, ‘they do what they have to do – and more.’ All the staff were good – ‘but that comes from the values set down from the director at the top’. They were ‘efficient, focussed, interested and believed in what they were doing.’
- Clients were asked to identify problems that had arisen during the projects carried out by the Centre and none could. “Its staff were unfailingly courteous and respectful at all times.”
- Several commented that the Centre went beyond what was expected, “treating the project pro-actively, bringing fresh energy and commitment, finding imaginative ways to work around problems.”
[“Several experts on North/South issues were interviewed in the course of the research. Their assessment of the Centre’s performance may be grouped as follows:]
- “The Centre was admired and respected for its commitment, energy, political even-handedness and ability to open doors to people who might not otherwise be in contact with each other. It has oiled the wheels of co-operation better than anyone else could, bringing an ever wider range of people into co-operation – ‘not just border people, but as far south as Cork.”
- “Its work was of high quality, substantial in nature, significant in quantity and relevant. What it did was valuable, useful and impactful.”
- All had a sense that the Centre had performed well on minimal staffing and resources. ‘It is transparent, managing an extensive programme, working within tight timeframes and with a small number of staff’. Many expressed puzzlement and disappointment that neither government was prepared to give it stable, core funding.
- Several commented on how Armagh was a well-chosen location for the Centre, one with which both communities in the North could feel comfortable, especially unionists.
- One organisation, whose work had been facilitated by the Centre, spoke enthusiastically of the Centre’s commitment to arranging cross-border contacts and promoting relationships between groups that had hitherto little contact, making the comment that: “Once the relationship was established and got going, the Centre walked quietly away. It didn’t try to hog the limelight or build an empire but let them get on with it. ”
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
[“Expert opinion and other interviewees were asked to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Centre. Their main comments were as follows:]
“Its strengths were seen as its lightness, smallness, flexibility, adaptability, links to government, strong leadership, the profile and credibility of the director, its multi-disciplinary nature, policy relevance, strong information base, reputation, low overheads, efficiency, value for money, ability to get a lot done, ‘punches above its weight’, ‘a lot of expertise in a small place’, being ‘lean and mean’, the fast pace it set, the diplomacy and tact of the director and ‘his ability to conceal his probably high level of exasperation over funding problems’. The Centre was visionary, had good personnel and a high level of commitment. ‘They work hard to inform us and keep us in the loop.’
“The weaknesses of the Centre were seen as the manner in which its work is dominated by the struggle for money (with at times periodic funding crises) and, possibly connected to this, being too small, too thinly spread and over-stretched. It is handicapped by its narrow funding base. The Centre had not connected enough with the NGO community. Some felt it had much lower media coverage than it merited, but also felt that the media were probably difficult to work with in this subject area.