A better way to manage dilemmas


Chapter 3


In Chapter 3, The Ethos team interviews using empathy, learning together with stakeholders and deriving insights about the dilemma for the Case Brief.

Learning discussions—whether in one-on-one interviews or group discussions—allow you to explore a dilemma through the eyes of various stakeholders who have lived-experience related to the issue.

The goal of learning discussions is to gather other trusted intelligence that can serve the Ethos Council during a discussion. The notion of trusted intelligence is important to understand because, culturally, we live in a society that loves quantitative data (the larger the sample group, the better!). Gathering qualitative requires a different mindset; that which is ready and able to learn from others’ experiences and stories.

By hosting learning discussions, you will emphasize the importance of deep exploration into the lives of the people for whom you want to solve dilemmas. The process embraces the potential to reframe our definition of the problem / opportunity in order to create better resolutions by engaging users upstream. This human-centered approach offers a deeper level of insight about how people experience the problem differently. It is geared at helping us engage in constructive conflict. There is often a disconnect between what people do and what they say. The interview process aims to lessen this gap by helping you understand human experiences, identify pain points, and gather inspiration from the gains that people have created for themselves through work arounds and other hacks. These are not to be used as solutions but to serve as inspiration for solutions.

Furthermore, because each stakeholder group will be represented on the Ethos Council, these interviews will help you uncover how to create a Council experience that is rewarding to them. It helps us understand why they want to participate, beyond a specific outcome.

Interview illustration
Interview: The Ethos Team interviews using empathy, learning together with stakeholders.

In the interview process, we introduce the tool of Mindful Inquiry—a practice for asking questions that is driven by curiosity and empathy. It is a practice you will continue to use through the Ethos Council. As a practice, it focuses more on what the interviewee is saying than on strict compliance with a set of questions. Mindful inquiry allows the interviewee to direct and guide the learning experience by taking the time to more deeply explore what is being said. Ask clarifying questions to ensure you are not not interpreting what is being said through your own mental models.

While the interview is important for gathering data, analyzing that data into patterns and synthesizing those patterns into insights is an equally important part. It involves continuously asking why is what I’m hearing important, and repeatedly asking why until you’ve reached a foundational insight.

From the interviews, you will gather intelligence that forms the basis for the Ethos Case Narrative Master Document, which will be sent to the Ethos Council members in advance of the Council Meeting. From the data, you will isolate the key Ethos Question (or questions) for them to discuss and ideate around. You should provide patterns and insights from stakeholders to best inform the Council members in advance. You should also use your understanding of the interviewees to recommend participants for the Ethos Council itself.

When you are done with Chapter 3, you will have a strong understanding of your dilemma and how data from stakeholders can best direct discussion and inform ideation.

Prepare illustration
The five steps of the Ethos process

Step 1: Plan Interviews

Define how you want to engage different stakeholders—either in individual interviews or in a group discussion.

Do you want to engage different stakeholders in individual interviews or in a group discussion? To make this decision, consider both the volume of your stakeholders and how they might want to be engaged. You can use one of two scenarios here, both are defined below.

In Scenario A, the interviewer conducts one-on-one interviews with representatives from the key stakeholder groups. Here, there is an opportunity to build and establish trust more quickly and allow for going deeper in the subject.

In Scenario B, the interviewer facilitates a learning dialogue amongst a set of people from the same stakeholder group. This process is repeated for each group. Here, the interviewer is taking a different approach, enabling the dialogue amongst a set of peers to build the depth of the learning. This tool will help you understand participants’ mental models, or where they go in the conversation and how they respond to and engage with others, etc.

Both approaches share the same objective: understanding the perspectives of diverse stakeholders identified in the Framing Meeting. These are all stakeholders (people with direct or lived experience about the issue), and might include staff, subject matter experts, project community members.

Step 2: Invitations

Invite stakeholders to participate in interviews.

Remember that stakeholders are both internal and external to your organization. We’ve included language in the Interview Invitation Template to make this outreach easy. On some level, deciding what tool to use is going to be a factor of time and politics. That said, when possible, use Scenario A if there could be language or cultural barriers between you and your stakeholders.

Chapter 3: Interview

People Involved

Ethos Team
The Ethos Team are the primary point people who own and manage dilemmas. They may be part of your product or program team, legal team, strategy team, or learning team.
Key Stakeholders
Key Stakeholders are individual representatives from the Key Stakeholder Groups who participate as interviewees and / or Ethos Council Members.
Ethos Council Members
Ethos Council Members are external stakeholders who are selected from the interview participants to participate in the Ethos Council. They have lived experience about the dilemma and can engage in generative conflict.

Step 3: Ground Rules

Define roles and confidentiality ground rules at the start of each discussion.

In an ideal situation, two people host the conversation: (1) an interviewer; and (2) a notetaker. This ensures that the interviewer is focused on listening. The meetings can take place in-person or virtually.

Each session should be recorded. It is important to ask for permission to record the conversation electronically. Reinforce that you are recording it for your own recollection and data capture, and the recording will not be used for any other purpose. This is also a good time to discuss confidentiality. At this point, the case is still confidential (according to the Ethos Confidentiality and Transparency Framework). You should ask the stakeholder(s) to respect that confidentiality. You should also confirm that everything in the interview is confidential, and quotes will not be attributed back to a specific person. Don’t forget to remind them that if they do not want anything recorded or quoted directly, they should simply ask to take the conversation off the record.

Step 4: Interview

Conduct individual interviews or group discussions.

Regardless of whether you are conducting an individual interview or a group discussion, the conversation should take 45-60 minutes. Note: group discussions tend to take a bit longer, so make sure to have adequate time for them. The Interview Guide and Script describes the flow of the conversation.

Chapter 3: Interview

Tips and Tricks

Meet people where they are

It is important to both be aware of power and cultural dynamics. Things such as acknowledging your own lived experience can make a big difference in developing trust and rapport with a user. As a white woman, I have experienced… is a helpful framing for putting yourself as an interviewer in context (if you happen to be a white woman, that is).

Try to quickly understand the mental model

Understanding an interviewee’s mental model is important to both empathizing and framing the data they give you. A mental model is how a person understands life, how they make meaning of information, and explains their thought process. Often understanding another’s mental model requires deeply knowing of your own so you can separate them.

Take a beginner’s mindset

This is an opportunity for you to learn. Questions should be approached in an open-ended way; how a user interprets the question and where they go is meaningful to understanding their mental models. Also, avoid assumptions or speculation—make sure to go deeper with responses through further inquiry. Tell me more about that… is always a good response.

Trust different

Your job is to receive information, and learn. Often users will reveal something that goes against your own values or belief system. It is important to receive this information without reaction and without judgement, and to be curious—prompting further inquiry to understand the why behind certain statements.

Do no harm

Your role is that of a researcher, and it is important to operate with ethics. Respect their time and space and their ground rules. It is not your job to insert yourself into a problem they are trying to solve or to even offer advice or consult.

Call me by my name

Empathy requires seeing people, and the best way to signal that you are doing this is to reference an interviewee by their name. It makes them legitimately feel that you want their specific thoughts and experiences.

Express gratitude

This probably doesn’t need to be said, but you’d be surprised. Thank participants for their time and insights.

Step 5: Capture Data

Capture data.

After each interview or group discussion, you will capture the data in empathy maps on the Analysis and Synthesis Tool. You should use one empathy map per interview; also, use one empathy map per group discussion. Empathy maps enable you to capture what you hear someone saying (either as a quick generalization or as a direct quote). It also allows you to capture what you observe people doing. Empathy maps can also document pain points in the stakeholders experience, as well as their gains that add value to their life. Remember, do not label the empathy maps with individual names. Simply refer to them as a participant number.

Step 6: Analyze Data

Analyze the data to find the patterns.

Pattern grouping is a form of analysis that breaks data into patterns to form themes. First, you will gather observations / data and group similar data points together. For each group of data, write a small description (as a factual statement) of what is happening. Capture the item appropriately on the Analysis and Synthesis Tool. Finally, for each group, name the theme by writing a small description of the category and what is included.

Step 7: Synthesize Data

Synthesize the data into insights.

The various interpretations and analysis are combined and recombined to develop new insights and understanding. Synthesis is a generative process, meaning, you’re creating new information beyond the analysis. Gather all groups of data: patterns, interpretations, and other forms / outputs of analysis and research. Play with these data sets. Consider how they might form a narrative. Combine different elements, and consider whether this gives you new meaning or understanding. After you have played with the data sets, identify what insight this gives you about the nature of the dilemma or the problem. Capture this as an insight statement. Ask, So what? What does this mean in terms of either a Job To Be Done or an opportunity space? Define your insight as such.

Step 8: Write Up

Write-Up Case.

The Case Brief will become the foundation of what will eventually become your Case Narrative Master Document. It’s where you’ll write up all the findings from the process so far.

The first step to crafting a Case Brief is to define the Ethos Question, the driving question to be addressed by the Ethos Council. As you collect more data and insights, the nature of that question may evolve. The second step is to outline the background of the dilemma; if there are related issues, this is a great place to name them. Third, you should provide information gleaned from the stakeholder interviews. Here is a great place to name patterns, and provide supporting quotations (without attribution). Given its base is in human centered design, Ethos thrives in storytelling, and we believe the process will yield the best results if you can let the stories or thoughts of individual stakeholders shine through.

Finally, it is important to consider anything else that the Ethos Council members need to know to successfully consider the key question. Often, this includes organizational information, for example, a description of your business model or existing policies that this case may influence.

Congratulations! Once you’ve written the Case Brief, you are about halfway through the case, and you’re ready to move on to the next step.

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Ethos was created and tested over two years by a collaborative team of platform leaders, nonprofit staff, and other social sector professionals led by GlobalGiving. We’ve made it free and easy to use so your team can benefit from our trials and errors.

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