Dr Peter Doran

School of Law at Queens University Belfast
Northern Ireland


Post-conflict Northern Ireland has witnessed a series of systemic failures in environmental governance that have impacted on significant ecosystem features, including Lough Neagh.

Research Proposition: There is a reciprocal relationship between good governance that skilfully cultivates popular appreciation and valuation of nature and the quality of our ecosystem assets.

This case study will draw on the work of MIT's Otto Scharmer and Peter Senge to engage with the relevant Government and societal stakeholders with an interest in examining the failure of governance around Lough Neagh - Northern Ireland's most prominent body of water, which supports multiple ecosystem services (water provision, fisheries, culture).

The project would be in two phases:

1. Engaging stakeholders across the theme of disconnection. This will entail capturing the network of stakeholders for a commentary on their sense of the environment (sounds and sight and touch). This will lead to a sensory based installation. This is a complex phase but the conversations within it could be captured by a spatial grounded theory method.

2. Working with the emerging narratives across a fragmented governance and stakeholder community. This stage will focus down on key stakeholders (to include those with influence and marginalised). An immersive residential workshop will be used to introduce methods derived from Otto Scharmer and Peter Senge's work with U theory to explore emergent change in this relationship and the prospects for a systems approach to governance and new stakeholder relationships. The objective will be to create an open process lab taking Lough Neagh on a Theory U Journey.



An exploration of the reciprocal [co-benefits] relationship between [post-conflict] governance for societal wellbeing and societal valuation of one of Europe’s most neglected bodies of water.

Research Question:

a. How does the quality of post-conflict governance mediate the prospects for the restoration of public appreciation of ecosystem services?
b. Building on Carnegie UK Trust- School of Law Roundtable recommendations, what interventions in governance and public participation can support a reciprocal restoration of sound environmental governance and wellbeing (Sen et al.)
c. Viewed as a potential ‘commons’ regime, how could the designation and transformation of Lough Neagh into a ‘Peace Park’ embed a vision of societal wellbeing as a critical dimension of the post-conflict political process and political economy.

Relevant aspects of the NERC Call:

• Cultural and social contexts of value, (including the distribution of health and wellbeing impacts between diverse social and cultural groups)
• Optimising value through evidence-informed design of interventions or changes to practices, participation, policies, behaviours or decisions (including understanding the trade-offs and/or potential co-benefits where appropriate)

Urban Ecosystems:

Urban biodiversity and ecosystem processes within green/blue spaces can improve health and wellbeing.

When wellbeing is interpreted broadly, as in the work of Sen and Nussbaum, in terms of ‘human development’ or as the essential capabilities required for individuals and communities to pursue the lives the value, it is clear that there is a reciprocal relationship between:

a. The commitment of governance to societal wellbeing and civic valuation of/engagement with the integral relationships between populations and their fundamental ecosystems;
b. Investment in sound environmental governance as part of a systems approach to ‘whole of government’ paradigm build on ‘natural systems thinking’;

In the context of the conflict and post-conflict governance in Northern Ireland, the reciprocity between sound environmental governance and the state of key environmental assets suggests that the valuation of ecosystem services has broken down for multiple reasons. Many of these appear to be linked to the impact of the conflict on the quality of governance and the subsequent failure to embed societal values and capabilities consistent with sustainable development.

This research project would seek to build on empirical research and to investigate the viability or an intervention designed to reverse the on going decline in environmental governance and subsequent quality of our environmental assets.

The research will seek to show – in a post-conflict setting – that the valuation of ecosystem services is mediated by:

- The quality of post-conflict governance;
- The potential for a societal wellbeing approach dedicated to building capabilities consistent with a popular appreciation for the multiple services provided by Lough Neagh, including its potential cultural value as a ‘Peace Building Commons’.

The research would seek to contribute to:

i. A new understanding of the effectiveness of historical and existing interventions and the prospects for a wellbeing-centred approach in bringing about a restored valuation of Lough Neagh as an ecosystem and cultural asset in post-conflict Northern Ireland;
ii. The associated implications of a wellbeing approach for equality of participation in and benefits derived from Lough Neagh, with a focus on addressing the current failure in governance by testing responses (within government and within interested groups) to a new ecosystem management proposal based on the values of the ‘commons’; and
iii. Proposals to the NI Executive, within the context of a newly adopted wellbeing framework for governance, for new measures for the value of green/blue assets in post-conflict Northern Ireland (linking generative themes around wellbeing to ecosystem appreciation).

Research provider
Research user (business)
Research user (policy)
Arts & Humanities
Social Sciences
Research Area: 
Urban ecosystems
Health and wellbeing