A better way to manage dilemmas


Chapter 4


In Chapter 4, The Ethos Council practices mindful inquiry and embodies the Ethos Principles to develop creative ideas.

The tools in this section will help you prepare for, design, and facilitate an Ethos Council meeting and translate the conversation into a clear set of opportunities, ideas, and supporting documentation for the decision-maker.

We select Ethos Council members from the stakeholders included in Chapter 3. In general, members represent the different stakeholder groups but more importantly is their ability to engage in mindful inquiry and to practice the Ethos Principles. There will be tensions amongst members, and this tension is productive; it will lead to more comprehensive ideas and resolutions to the dilemma). However, not everyone, and particularly those in social purpose organizations, feel comfortable with tension; they often try to avoid it. Mindful Inquiry and the Ethos Principles provide frameworks, but the qualities that people bring to the process are often important. You are specifically looking for people with high emotional intelligence and the ability to engage in constructive conflict. Further characteristics are defined below.

Further, it is important to recognize that the facilitation guide will provide a structure for extracting ideas directly from the Council members. However, it is also important to recognize that the Council discussion itself will provide ideas (or the inspiration for ideas) not explicitly articulated by members. In the analysis of the conversation, it is important to include all ideas explicitly articulated, and it is okay to build on those ideas by adding additional ones. You will find a template and survey for sending all those ideas to the Council member for their prioritization in Chapter 5. Remember, the Council is not making the final decision; they are helping direct the decision-maker to a good resolution that reflects the principles and ideas of stakeholders.

In the final stage of this chapter, the Ethos Case Narrative Master Document is sent to the decision-maker.

Ideate illustration
Ideate: The Ethos Council practices mindful inquiry and embodies the Ethos Principles to develop creative ideas.

Step 1: Identify

Identify and recruit potential Ethos Council members.

The Ethos Council is a trusted group of stakeholders who have been chosen based on their experiential knowledge about a particular dilemma to creatively develop resolutions. When a team decides to pursue a dilemma and has completed interviews, they should be ready to identify people who would be good representatives of key stakeholder groups to participate in the Ethos Council Meeting. Criteria for Council members include people who:

  1. Understand the dilemma.
  2. Are subject matter experts in an area related to the dilemma.
  3. Represent key stakeholder groups identified in Chapter 3.
  4. Ensure diversity (age, gender, geographic, racial).
  5. Are trusted by the final decision-maker.
  6. Have emotional Intelligence.
  7. Have the ability to engage in constructive conflict.
  8. Are able to commit to adequate time to the process.

Recruiting the right Ethos Council members can be challenging, and it takes time. Ideally, you’d choose from among your interviewees, so you know peoples’ perspectives and can anticipate how they might interact with others in the discussion. Here is a template you can use / modify your Ethos Council Invitation Template.

Step 2: Recruit

Prepare the Welcome Letter and Case Brief Summary.

When you’ve found 5-7 people from your stakeholder groups (including a subject matter expert from your staff), send calendar invitations, and prepare a welcome package that includes excerpts from the Ethos Case Brief. Here is the Welcome Letter and Case Brief Summary Template. Send the letter to Council members at least a week ahead of the meeting.

Chapter 4: Ideate

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.
The Decision-Maker is often a member of the Executive Team and holds accountability for attending every major meeting, including the Framing Meeting, and the Ethos Council.
Staff are people who you consider internal to your organization. People within your organization may be the ones to identify and escalate an Ethos dilemma.

Step 3: Welcome Letter

Prepare the Ethos Council Facilitation Guide.

What’s unique about the Ethos Council meeting is that it serves two aims:

  1. To inspire and generate creative ideas for responding to the dilemma.
  2. To deliver a rewarding experience for participants themselves (by responding to their defined needs and interests; their Jobs To Be Done).

During the interviews, you’ll have learned what each Council member values in participating in the conversation. Document those Jobs To Be Done at the top of the Ethos Council Facilitation Guide to help guide your approach to the conversation. Here is a Ethos Council Meeting Slide Deck Template to support the meeting.

Step 4: Facilitation Guide

Host the Ethos Council Meeting.

The Council Meeting itself will be 3.5 hours long (if done virtually), or longer if in person. The decision-maker should attend. The Council Meeting will make use of three main tools: storytelling, Mindful Inquiry Tool, and ideation. We’ve created a Mindful Inquiry Introductory Video (you may have shared it with Council members in the Ethos Council Welcome Letter). This Mindfulness Compass Tool can help ground folks at the beginning of the conversation. The specifics of this conversation are outlined in the Ethos Council Facilitation Guide.

Mindfulness Compass Tool

Mindfulness compass
Mindfulness Compass Tool: How are you arriving at this conversation?

Step 5: Council Meeting

Define the opportunity spaces and specific ideas.

After the Ethos Council Meeting, the Ethos team analyzes the conversation to find the patterns in the ideas. We refer to these patterns as Opportunity Spaces; they contain existing ideas (developed by the Council), and they are fertile ground for further ideation. The document includes both a definition of the opportunity spaces (framed as a design challenge), quotes from the Council members, and specific ideas. Depending on the quality of the ideas, the Ethos team may need to do further ideation around specific opportunity spaces (using the quotes as the basis for ideation).

  1. After the Ethos Council meeting, the Ethos team captures the ideas generated during the conversation in the Analysis and Synthesis Tool (this may require reading the meeting transcript or listening to the recording).
  2. Once all the ideas have been captured, the Ethos team groups them into patterns and defines each pattern as an Opportunity Space.
  3. Next, the Ethos Team captures various quotes (without attribution) to support each Opportunity Space.
  4. The Ethos Team should spend some time adding other ideas to each Opportunity Space.
  5. The Ethos team sends the Opportunity Spaces and ideas back to the Council members to vote on priorities (through the Opportunity Space: Idea Prioritization Survey). Invite them to rate their top two ideas in each Opportunity Space. Use this as a data point, not as a basis to exclude other ideas for consideration.
Chapter 4: Ideate

Tips and Tricks

Do no harm

A facilitator can always do great harm, and this context is no different. The facilitator can latch onto an idea or insight and stop listening which will derail creative resolution. The facilitator can fail to create space for enough exploration and jump too quickly to resolution development.

Push beyond the need for perfect information

While the Ethos Brief should be comprehensive, information will still be imperfect, and there will be perspectives or data points that are unknown. This is an uncomfortable place to be. The Council will still need to drive to resolutions that go beyond getting more information. Remember: Even once an Ethos case is completed and a resolution is made, the case can always be reopened at a later date if warranted, and the process repeated.

Step 6: Sort Ideas

Finish the Case History and prepare the Ethos Case Brief.

Before the Ethos case goes to the decision-maker, the Ethos team completes the Case History Master Deck and the Ethos Case Brief Template. The two documents contain similar information and differ in purpose and audience. The Case History Master Deck is an internal document which captures all the research, analysis, and synthesis in a single place. The Ethos Case Brief is a narrative created to drive to a resolution. It should be clear and defensible, with the goal of forming the basis for a public-facing case study.

Congratulations! 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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