Research Project on the Common Good – Irish School of Ecumenics

Event date(s): 23 January 2020 to 30 December 2020

Women together in a classroom | CRC NI

To mark the Irish School of Ecumenics 50th anniversary, a new research project on the Common Good was created. It was intended to fill the vacuum created by the discontinuation of the Community Education Programme in 2012.

This new 3-year research project on the Common Good, which began in November 2019, has a number of key aims:

  • Develop a series of civic conversations in strategic locations and with a major conference
  • Engage in action research on the theme: Is there a common good?
  • Produce a book based on research findings which will provide an educational resource
  • Develop a community educational strategy, which would be inclusive of education and action.

The project will be characterised by three core criteria:

  • An ethical focus
  • A contextual approach
  • An educational objective.


Civic Conversations

In this first year of the project, the focus is on developing a series of civic conversations in nine District Council areas, and linking with Border Counties in relevant areas, to explore the question: Is there a common good?

The nine locations are areas where the Irish School of Ecumenics has an ongoing connection through inter-church fora, or where previous ecumenical educational programmes have been located. These include:

  • Armagh, Tandragee, Portadown and Monaghan
  • Ballymena, Carrick and Larne
  • Bangor
  • Belfast
  • Coleraine, Ballymoney and Ballycastle
  • Cookstown, Dungannon and Magherafelt
  • Enniskillen, Omagh and Cavan
  • Londonderry, Strabane and Donegal
  • Newry and Dundalk.


Project Methodology

The project’s methodology is distinctive. By posing a question, the intention is to start with experience as a way into social analysis that is contextual and can become the basis for a critique of systems and structures from an ethical perspective.

The intention is to identify transformative action points which enhance human flourishing and serve the common good. The project understands the common good as the shared values and the norms we voluntarily live by to create a society where we can become our best selves, and where we can support others to do the same. 

In each of the nine locations the same methodology will be adopted.

A panel of three speakers, drawn from the area the conversation is taking place in, will have 10 minutes each to share their perspective on the question: Is there a Common Good?

Their presentations will be a stimulus for a wider facilitated conversation with the audience. Each conversation will last two hours.


Focus Group

A second phase of this project, following a civic conversation in each region, will be the setting up of a focus group, which will be part of the project’s action research to look in more depth at the emerging themes around the common good.

The research from the focus group conversations will be collated and fed into a third phase: the publication of a book. The book will likely include reflections from each of the regions where conversations have taken place. This book will become an educational resource, and in turn will become the basis for designing a community education programme. The research will also contribute to the School’s Masters Programmes. 


Dr Johnston McMaster

Dr Johnston McMaster – in a paper written for an Irish School of Ecumenics inter-church fora conference (December 2019) – summarised the biblical vision for the common good. It helpfully concretises the key ethical principles and practices that are the basis for transforming society on our way to the common good. McMaster writes:

“The common good lies in social justice, just political community, just economics, just environmental relations and just community relations…This covenantal or theological vision of the common good can be summarised in secular language as follows:

  • Practice of social solidarity and compassion
  • The just and neighbourly ordering of public power, resources and life
  • Right relations rooted in distributive and restorative justice
  • Radical inclusivity, a society in which none are diminished or left out
  • No appeal to, use of, or dependence on violence to control or change things
  • Human and environmental wellbeing and flourishing.


Further Information

For anyone wanting more information, or to become involved in the conversations, Dr Cathy Higgins can be contacted by email

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