City-Wide Partnerships – Belfast


The city of Belfast has an important place-shaping role in Northern Ireland and was recently given additional powers by the Northern Ireland government. We were asked to work with the city to create an innovative partnership architecture for the whole city, working more closely with the private sector, with neighbourhoods and with partner agencies.

What did we do

Through facilitated sessions we worked with politicians, managers and partners to overcome its legacy of division and build a strong shared vision and agenda. What was striking was the incredible number of different partnerships that already existed, but also the complex history that led to each one, and the sensitivities involved in making changes. Belfast is a city where history is very important, and while there is widespread support for building a vibrant and growing economic, it is a place where the maxim ‘moving at the speed of trust’ is highly relevant.


Working with the city’s diverse group of political leaders, we were able to map the links between deep seated problems and the obstacles to economic growth without blame or finger pointing – and to pinpoint the areas where new thinking was needed. By interviewing a wide range of partner organisations, we were able to understand the strengths and weaknesses of current partnership working; no-one wanted an unwieldy talking shop. Instead, leaders formulated an approach based on a network of partnerships – each focussed on a very practical problem – but with an central space for leaders to make the right linkages and build strong relationships. While progress would be gradual, to make the network effective we developed and ran a bespoke leadership programme, developing a cadre of managers from across the city to become ‘system enablers’ sharing data and evidence and working collaboratively to support the partnership network.