Census of the Heart

Census of the Heart is a prototype project that set out to capture the emotional state of a nation. While the National Census asks who we are, Census of the Heart wants to know how we are. We decided to get straight to the heart of things by asking you to tell us about your experience of being alive in Ireland in 2016.

Key observations Preliminary report


Phase 1 of Census of The Heart was designed to inspire and engage with the inner world(s) of a nation and start a conversation. Our Preliminary Report scratches the surface providing some rich findings that explore the complexity of being human in Ireland in 2016. These findings show us what people care about and what they are concerned about. Most importantly like all good research the report tells us things we might not have known before, revealing areas ripe for more questions and deeper research. The data gleened offers us a number of key themes, important insights and initial indicators towards areas for further research that could aid Ireland’s social and cultural evolution for future generations.

Evolving the Census

An Intervention

In designing the survey Census of the Heart felt it was important to evolve and add a number of demographic questions outside those currently posed in The National Census. This was to reflect the increasing diverse and complex expressions of people’s life choices in Irish society in 2016.

Gender — The survey expanded the gender question beyond male and female to include the option “other”
Marital status — The survey expanded the relationship question to include 4 additional options
Sexuality — Was also added as a demographic question
Wellbeing — The survey expanded the health question to include a question dedicated to wellbeing rather than just health

The data shows that Census of The Heart respondents engaged with the additional options and questions offered in our survey — eg 81 different words were expressed by respondents outside of male and female categories to describe gender identification.

We also received many encouraging messages online about our demographic inclusion which suggests that the National Census should consider evolving its demographic questions for the 2021 Census.


Being Human

We asked the question “Do you feel cherished in Irish society?” 100 years after the term was featured in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. While we are aware that in the context of the Proclamation the term “cherish” refers to the inclusion of Protestants and Catholics in Ireland 1916, in Census of The Heart the term has a broader socio-economic frame of reference. By introducing the question we wanted to find out if the term “cherish“ was part of the public repertoire. To survive and thrive as a species we believe that our social and economic systems must evolve to ensure people feel cherished meaning valued, protected and cared for in Ireland 2016.

Over one third of respondents disagreed and strongly disagreed with the statement, while another one third sat on the fence. We are left wondering if the concept of being cherished is a foreign one to people in Ireland today. It appears we have low expectations of being cherished and cared about despite the contemporary resonance of the word cherish.

In his paper Remembering the Constitution: The Easter Proclamation and Constitutionalism in Independent Ireland (IBIS UCD 2011). John O’ Dowd states that passage below is the "most well-known and resonant portion of the Proclamation"

“The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally”
The Proclamation of the Irish Republic Easter 1916.

This is borne out particularly in the qualitative data findings to date. It would be interesting to do some further research into people’s understanding and ownership of this as a value in Ireland today. Within this context we wonder if Census of The Heart could be utilised as the foundation to build the tools that explores the relevance and real resonance of values and ideals of the 1916 proclamation for contemporary Ireland by measuring the real human state of affairs on the island of Ireland one hundred years later. We know that documents such as proclamations, constitutions and (some) laws, are full of beautiful words and motivated with noble intentions and ideals. We are wondering whether these words have any significant meaning other than being words on paper or can they affect the course of society's evolution?

“The ideals within the proclamation are as relevant to our nation, our society and our world today as they were when Pearse first read them aloud....they both challenged and directed future generations to retain these ideals when facing a world they couldn’t imagine”
Senator Mark Daly, Irish Independent Jan 2016

National Pride

Yes but...

The National Census 2016 took place on April 24th and coincided with the precise anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. We set out to investigate what the respondents would have to say about their connection to their national identity, national pride, being alive in Ireland in 2016 and what kind of Ireland they wanted to leave as legacy for future generations.

There was a high rating of national pride in the quantitative data. This leaves us wondering if we are seeing a strong national pride in part because of the strength and success of the centenary commemorations. In the qualitative responses, the 1916 commemorations were referenced in a number of ways - nostalgically, romantically, critically and also as meaningful and inspiring.

The qualitative data offers more details on the theme of national pride. In an initial analysis of Q38 the word “proud” occurred 471 times and 8 times in Q34 within a simple frequency search. We note however that although the word proud recurred most frequently, this appeared to be proud to be Irish but not proud of Irish behaviour regarding inequities.

The qualitative data highlights a sense of cultural discontent and dis-empowerment that is worth noting in light of Brexit and the current US Presidential campaign. Further research on Irish identity would be useful here both in terms of separation of individual and state as well as motivations for feeling proud.

“Ireland in 2016 is remembering 1916 and the birth of our nation. We are rediscovering through remembering how our nation was born and who we are. We are emerging from a dark recession. I hope that we are learning from our mistakes in the past regarding the treatment of the vulnerable members of our society.”
One of the answers from Q38
We have some of the highest rates of childhood poverty, illness, illiteracy, and alcoholism, suicide, mental illness, homelessness and drug addiction in Europe. We have failed and continue to fail to provide care for children, the sick and the elderly and any other vulnerable group you care to mention. We have a hugely divided society with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. We are not proud. We allowed this to happen.
One of the answers from Q38


Social Justice & The Call for Change

The overarching emergent theme within the qualitative data was social justice across all aspects of society e.g. health, equality, homelessness, children, the vulnerable and the marriage referendum.

Within Q38, frustration was a noted emotional response, particularly in relation to the divide between the “have and the have not’s” and social inequity. Negative emotions e.g. depression, frustration, despair and disappointment were frequently used in reference to a perception of increasingly materialistic values, neo-liberal agendas and the oft-cited ‘corrupt’ or failing government more focussed on personal gain or economics. The 8th Amendment was also repeatedly mentioned as a key concern and a source of inequity and shame, questioning Ireland’s status as a contemporary country.

Conversely the Marriage Equality Referendum was perceived as a collective “shot in the arm” and was considered something to be proud of, inspired hope and brought with it a sense of potential — if such legislation could be passed then other changes are possible.

“We are so lucky to live in Ireland. We enjoy freedom, choice and we have the right to live our lives how we see fit. It has been exactly a year since we legalised same sex marriage here in Ireland. We are the trailblazers of Europe, of the world even! We were the first country to introduce the no smoking ban in public places, others followed. We were the first to tax the use of plastic bags too. I wonder what is in store for the next 100 years!”
One of the answers from Q38

Family, friends and community were also presented as important factors in the respondent’s sense of support and ability to cope with change. These factors combined with sense of humour could be argued to have contributed to the citizens’ resilience. This could offer useful avenues for further research as a means to build on Census of the Heart to initiate the healing of a cultural psyche and the relationship between psyche and culture as ‘mutually constructed and inseparable’ Shweder, (1991). This has been cited by a number of psychologists and academic as a need for a further research. There has been some consideration around this concept in relation to the Irish psyche
(http://www. ricorso.net/rx/library/journals/miscell/Psych.htm).

Allied with this is the data from Q 35 36 and 37 which relates to civic engagement and citizen action towards creating a future people want i.e. citizens taking responsibility for creating change and not relying only on the Government. Due to lack of funding in Phase 1 we were not in a position to analysis this data. We feel further analysis in phase 2 here is critical.
+ For more details see see Appendix 19 Qualitative Report p.12

Emotional States of Being

Contradiction and Dualism

Census of The Heart set out to assess the emotional state of the nation. In quantitative section we included questions on Wellbeing, Happiness and Emotional States of Being.

In qualitative open-ended questions respondents answered using their own words which allows for subjective understanding and insight into the deeper meanings that underpin their answers in the closed questions from the earlier part of the survey.

Positive emotions ranked higher than negative in the question asking people to identify their feelings (Q27) with the top 3 states expressed as

  1. Grateful
  2. Content and
  3. Positive.

The highest ranking negative emotions were

  1. Overwhelmed (in both the English and Irish language),
  2. Lonely (English) and
  3. Scared (Irish)

In the qualitative data respondent’s also reference overwhelm frequently as well as disempowerment with insurmountable problems and a lack of belief that they can affect change despite statements about the knowledge of the populace’s potential.

A striking feature of the qualitative responses is that over and over respondent’s statements reflect emotional states that are contradictory and dualistic. Most responses held both positive and negative states sometimes in the extreme.

Change and transition was frequently mentioned and the emotions that pertain to change, for example a high frequency of words like safe, safely and safety showed up in question 34. The acknowledgement of change or transition is accompanied with a multiple acknowledgement that there is ‘work to be done’ but lack of knowledge of how to act. There are some harsh references that are blaming or chastising and other references coded to emotional states are lack of confidence or fear.

“To be alive in Ireland is a mix of pride and frustration. Pride in a little nation that never fails to amaze you for its generosity of spirit but frustration at the rising gap between the rich and the poor.”
“I feel I experience a parallel existence. I feel alone and things seem insurmountable. I also see people coming together and rising up, wanting a better future.”

Back to The Future: 2116

Message in a Bottle

There were two open ended questions in the survey that invited respondents to consider the future, consciously taking them “back to the future” from 1916 to 2016 and forward to 2116. These question gave respondents an opportunity to imagine the world 100 years from now and the opportunity to speak to future generations in 2116.

Q34 focused on aspirations for the future. In a preliminary word search of Q34 safe, peaceful and equal were the words most frequently used to describe aspirations for the future.

And Q38 asked respondents to leave an impression of what it means to be alive now in Ireland. Below are the overarching themes that emerged from initial analysis. (deeper analysis is required)

  1. Political and Systemic concerns: infrastructure, government issues and financial matters.
    a. Accountability b. Recession
  2. Ecological and Environmental concerns (around sustainability)
  3. Social Justice:
    equity, diversity, equality and social justice
  4. Social Concerns:
    family, friends and community
  5. Professional Responses:
    teaching, body work, creative work, community development and support work
  6. States of Being:
    a. Emotional Responses: happy, sad and safe
    b. Reflection: Past and Future: 2016–2116
    c. Society, Identity and Status
+ See Appendix 19

About The Census

The 2016 National Census took place in Ireland on April 24, the precise anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. To mark this occasion The Trailblazery created Census of the Heart inviting anyone living on the island of Ireland to participate. We decided to get straight to the heart of things by asking you to tell us about your experience of being alive in Ireland in 2016.

In running Census of the Heart pilot we wanted to start a conversation, a conversation about belonging to a caring society and value based economics. Great conversations start with great questions. Census of The Heart project orients around the human experience including our innate qualities of connection, empathy, compassion and care. We set out to discover our place in history and our place in the future. We want to know what matters to us as individuals, as a society, as a country and as a planet. As a planet we are at a challenging moment in history...

As a small island nation we are also at a meaningful intersection or pivot point. Down the tracks, 100 years from now, future generations will be able to access the National Census 2016 records and find out about us, their ancestors. We saw this moment as a unique opportunity to engage with people in Ireland, inviting them to check in with themselves and to express their voice. Census of the Heart asks vital questions that hold up a mirror helping us to see ourselves as individuals and as a collective.

We have a hunch that Census of the Heart data could contribute to our collective social evolution. We had an overwhelming response (almost 12,000 people which translates into almost half a million answers). Census of the Heart is now a unique repository of knowledge that holds the intimate values, loves, hopes, regrets, fears and dreams of almost 12000 people living on this island in 2016. We have been blown away with the response and look forward to sharing our findings with you.

Thank you for adding your voice, lending your hearts and sharing your world with us. Census of the Heart 2016 is our first step on a collective journey into the great beyond, together. Welcome.

Preliminary report

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What's Next?

Phase 1 is now complete with the launch of the preliminary report.

Phase 2 is about further developing and analysing the data collected in Census of The Heart. We want to take the process further with a dedicated team of experts. We want to drill deeper, down into the COTH data to find emergent themes, patterns, beats, rhythms etc. We also want to cross reference the data to discover the true meaning of key attributes gathered from the survey, which may lead to further research in key areas.

About Us

Census of the Heart is designed & created by Mari Kennedy & Kathy Scott and brought to you by The Trailblazery (Rites of Passage and We Need to Talk about Ireland). In 2009 they founded the ireland : iceland project – a collaborative creative project connecting the islands and people of Ireland and Iceland.

Mari Kennedy is a certified Integral Facilitator, leadership coach and well-being consultant who has been working in the area of personal transformation and cultural change for over 10 years. She is passionate about evolving culture on an individual, organisational and societal level by asking bigger questions, collaborating with others who share a similar vision and leading innovative projects that inspire change. She is currently studying with Diane Musho Hamilton in the US. In her former life, as a marketer and strategist, she worked as Projects Co-ordinator for former President of Ireland Mary McAleese. She is a senior yoga teacher and mindfulness trainer with a decade long yoga and mindfulness practice that keeps her curious,
kind and mostly sane.

Kathy Scott works as a curator, creative producer, communications director & project manager in the Arts, Cultural & Social arena. She is a founder of The Trailblazery, designing and producing events that showcase brilliant ideas, people and possibilities alive in Ireland and the world right now. She co-curated and produced Pilgrimage Project,
a series of multidisciplinary artistic residencies featuring artists and critical thinkers from Ireland, Iceland and Greece. She curates and produces Wonderlust a bespoke stage at Body&Soul Festival. She works and plays with a host of artists, collectives, producers and practitioners to make cultural experiences happen. She is dedicated to the development of international cross – platform arts projects that are bold,
provocative and emotionally charged.

Census of the Heart Team

Dr Anita McKeown Smart Labs UCD — Qualitative research analyst
Angela McCourt TCD — Quantitative research analyst
Kristín Einarsdóttir — Research advisor
Morna O’Hanlon — Research assistant


Communication Consultant — Tom Lawlor
Project Manager — Fran Hogan
Website designed by Zero-G
Website developed by Zero-G and EquiGeek

Lisa Connell, Ciaran Cooke, Ali Curran, Frank Delaney, Dr Loren Duffy, Gary Dunne, Grace Dyas, Róise Goan, Dr. Lizbeth Goodman, Smartlabs, UCD, Brian Howlett, Isabella Inutile, Bjarni Snæbjörn Jónnson, Clare Kavanagh, Dr. Celia Keenaghan, Tom Lawlor, Ruairí McKiernan, Ruth Meehan, Dr Robert Mooney, Amárach Research and Research Fellow at SmartLab / IDRC, UCD, Joan Mulvihill, Clare Mulvany, Mary Nally, Orlagh O'Brien, Eithne O’Brien, Amy O'Donnell, Ciarán ÓGaora, Sean O’Tarpaigh, Hilary O’Shaughnessy, Susan Quirke, Marie Redmond


This statement relates to the privacy practices of the the Trailblazery, and relates to the personal data collected in conjunction with Census of the Heart. The Trailblazery fully respects your right to privacy and does not, as a general rule, collect personal information of any kind, without your clear permission. Any personal information which you volunteer to the Trailblazery will be treated with the highest standard of security and confidentiality, strictly in accordance with the Data Protection Acts, 1988 and 2003

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