Learning Beyond Fear: New Events Seeking New Habits - Reflections.

Karin Eyben, Duncan Morrow, Derick Wilson, Libby Keys

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Future Ways is a university-based programme designed to support research and learning for sustainable relationships in both rural and urban areas in Northern Ireland. We are primarily funded by independent trusts and foundations with an interest in reconciliation. Our work is based on five core beliefs:1] Building sustainable relationships and trust requires addressing three inter-related elements at the basis of any democratic society. These are equity, diversity and interdependence. 2] In relationships where there is regard and respect, creativity flows and people grow, change and develop.3] Responsibility for addressing the legacy of division and mistrust in Northern Ireland must not be solely located on those who are most vulnerable such as children or the poorest communities. In practical terms, this means addressing the culture, practice and self-understanding of the middle classes and the core institutions of society including the public services, the voluntary sector and business. 4] The primary task in building sustainable relationships is learning our way beyond fear and what we have taken to be ‘normal’. This requires people with ‘wisdom and judgement’ rather than ‘techniques and skills’. We don’t ‘know’ the answers; we must ‘find them out’.5] We need to move the case for sustainable relationships beyond the moral realm to focusing on the costs to society if we fail to address flawed relationships. In 1997, we published a research report (A Worthwhile Venture? University of Ulster, 1997) which argued that working towards better inter-community relationships in Northern Ireland should cease to be a peripheral interest and low-level policy objective and become a core organisational task for public and civic institutions. A core finding within this report was that although there was wide-spread agreement across different sectors in Northern Ireland that greater interdependence was of central importance, there was less evidence of mainstream understanding and practical programmes beyond the voluntary and youth sectors.As a result, Future Ways embarked on an experimental programme of work with core public and voluntary organisations such as the civil service, local government, churches, community organisations, politicians and the police as employers, civic leaders and deliverer of core services. The purpose was to ‘find out’ what it would mean for those at the centre of public and private life to begin taking trust-building seriously. This meant organisations learning in new ways about how they both shape and are shaped by their political and community context.The workplace in Northern Ireland has been one of the few places where people from different cultures and traditions have come together in the midst of the violence and chaos shaping wider community relationships. The ‘myth’ is that they have come together through leaving their ‘baggage’ at the door. The reality is that relationships have more often been cemented by silence, avoidance and a fear of upsetting colleagues and peers. Organisational learning in this context is learning to move beyond silence.We found it harder to engage the business sector, which often works with different priorities and value base from the not-for profit and public sectors. Nevertheless, there is evidence that the learning and practice models developed within the public and voluntary sectors are filtering into the business world. This emphasizes the need for ‘learning networks’ that cross sectoral lines where those who are able to move ahead faster can share both their learnings and mistakes.This article summarise some of our key learnings from our work over the last four years and the dilemmas that our partners and we faced. We hope that these are relevant to the business, public and not-for profit sectors as building sustainable relationships is a societal task.The challenges of interdependence are universal. These challenges might be sharpened, exposed in a place like Northern Ireland where the costs of ignoring division and separation have been all too apparent. However, following September 11th, we are now all embarked on a journey dependent in part on our willingness to trust and learn across traditional
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-51
JournalReflections: The SoL Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2002

Bibliographical note

Full articles need payment to Society for Organizational Learning at the above web address
Reference text: 1. Eyben, Morrow and Wilson, A Worthwhile Venture? Practically Investing in Equity Diversity and Interdependence in Northern Ireland, University of Ulster,1997. Text available on http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/issues/reconcil/venture.htm

2. The term ‘ethnic frontier’ was proposed by Frank Wright. (Wright, Northern Ireland: A Comparative Analysis, 1987 )

3. Taken and adapted from Peter Senge et al, Schools That Learn, pp. 80-81

4. Morrow, D.J et al, (1993)The Churches and Inter-Community Relationships, Coleraine: Centre for the Study of Conflict, University of Ulster.

5. This work led to the development of an Equity, Diversity, Interdependence Framework – an organisational framework for learning – which will be published in January 2002


  • Organisational Learning
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Reconciliation
  • Policing


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