Leadership in the community sector: promoting collaboration and social change in Belfast

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O'Meara, Louise
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University College Cork
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Community development is centrally concerned with people in communities working together to achieve a common goal, that is, to collaborate, whether within local geographical communities, in communities of shared interests or among groups sharing a common identity. Its overarching goal is one of progressive transformational social change. As Belfast transitions from a conflict to a post-conflict society, there is a need for greater, more effective work at local community level in order to address a range of ongoing social and economic issues facing communities, including high levels of disadvantage and division. Given the significance of leadership in building effective collaboration and the centrality of collaboration for community development, it is important to understand how leadership is currently enacted and what kinds of leadership are required to support communities to collaborate effectively to bring about social change. This thesis thus centers on the kind of leadership practised and required to support collaboration for social change within the community sector in Belfast, a city that contains an estimated 28% of the total number of community and voluntary sector (CVS) organisations in Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, 2012). Through a series of qualitative, in-depth interviews with people playing leadership roles in local communities, the study critically explores and analyses their experiences and perceptions in relation to leadership and collaboration. Community development in Belfast today is practised within a wider context of neoliberal policies, characterised by austerity and public spending cuts. Whilst not the only influencing factor, this context has had a particular and profound impact on the nature and role of community development practised, and on the kind of leadership enacted within it. The space for reflection and transformative action appears to be shrinking as the contraction of resources to support community development in local communities continues unabated. Those playing leadership roles increasingly find themselves compelled to spend time seeking resources and managing complex funding arrangements rather than focusing on the social change dimensions of their work. Collaboration as promoted by the state seems to have become an instrumental tactic used to implement its austerity measures and curtail the potential of the community sector. Despite this, local leaders are driving initiatives that attempt to push back, helping the sector refocus on its transformational goals of social change. To do this requires support. Those playing leadership roles require resources, including time, to encourage and enable communities to reconnect with the purpose and underpinning values of community development. Leaders also need support to develop and promote new, progressive narratives and visions and pursue these through building collaboration and solidarity.
Belfast , Leadership , Collaboration , Social change , Community development
O'Meara, L. 2016. Leadership in the community sector: promoting collaboration and social change in Belfast. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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