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The Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice

Inclusive, Secure and Enriched | 2 February, 2017


joanne-murphy Dr Joanne Murphy
Lecturer at Queen's Management School | Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice
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Dr Joanne Murphy will never forget the day she and her colleagues went to Brussels to make a presentation on conflict transformation. The date was November 21, 2015 – which turned out to be the day the city’s great security lockdown began.

Joanne says, ‘It was quite an experience. People from Northern Ireland are used to security alerts but this was exceptional – a huge city completely shut down. And there we were, ready for our showcase about mapping commemorative communities, and we couldn’t do it.’

The presentation did go ahead at a later date but the irony of that day has stayed with her.  


Joanne is a lecturer at Queen’s Management School with research interests centred around the management of public sector change during and post conflict. And as a Senior Research Fellow for 2015-16 at the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice, she has also secured a much  sought-after British Academy grant on the often-overlooked role of management in peacebuilding. The project focuses on the experiences of city managers in Belfast, Bilbao and the Kosovan city of Mitrovica and it explores the hidden dynamics of how public servants impact on conflict and the transition to stability.

A Queen’s graduate with a BA in Political Science, Joanne’s first job was with the Community Relations Council in Belfast. While there she also studied for a Masters on cultural management, ‘but I wanted to move to another job and after the Masters I decided to do a PhD, specifically looking at organisational development and change.’  

She describes herself as being ‘extraordinarily fortunate’ to get a place within the PhD programme at Trinity College Dublin and to be supervised by Professor John Murray, one of the most influential figures within Irish management at that time.  

‘But my PhD was in something very unusual within a management school. It was about organisational change in policing.’ It would result in a book – Policing For Peace – ‘which looked at the process of change through an organisational lens rather than a political or criminological lens.’  

After her PhD, she became a research assistant at Trinity on a cross-border European-funded project looking at decision-making in public sector organisations. ‘That took me away from policing, outside my comfort zone, and that was very good for me.’  


The core of what interests her now is how organisations impact on peace-building and conflict processes. ‘Anyone who’s worked in the public sector understands how significant mid-level bureaucrats are in terms of decision-making. Yet what do we think about? – politicians, the community – and a lot of the time they aren’t the ones making the decisions.’

As part of one AHRC grant, former senior civil servants from the Housing Executive, the Northern Ireland Office, the NI Executive, the Arts Council, local councils and other bodies were brought together.  

‘Some of the stories they told were utterly compelling. Suddenly you realised that here were people who were professional civil servants, plunged into extraordinarily extreme environments and expected to cope.

‘One of the really fascinating areas was housing – how housing managers really deftly managed intensely political and dangerous situations, putting themselves in physical danger to try to manage difficult circumstances on housing estates. 

‘What these organisations were doing was actively peace-building, trying to build social processes to move society closer to lower levels of conflict. People tend to see societies emerging from conflict through a financial lens – how do you stabilise the economy – or through a security lens – how do you stabilise the security situation. They don’t see the role of mid-level organisations in building and sustaining peace. Yet without them the whole thing falls to pieces.  

‘Political skills are hugely valuable. Leadership and support of staff are critical. If you have staff with these skills, who know what they’re doing, then look after them because they’re worth their weight in gold.’

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