A better way to manage dilemmas


Chapter 5


In Chapter 5, the decision-maker confidently articulates a resolution and a course of action, enabling the Ethos team to design for new opportunities.

Emerging from Chapter 4, you will have new opportunities and new challenges. The Ethos team will need to develop a clear decision/resolution and articulate it to stakeholders, along with a course of action.

The resolution also requires a learning strategy. Each case presents a learning opportunity for the organization and for the sector at large. The nature of the learning will be contingent on the nature of the dilemma. Occasionally, it will require internal process improvements (e.g. changing a policy). In other cases, it will require entirely new solutions and likely some organizational change management.

For example, when decision-makers in higher education understood that the college-going experience of a person of color was not the same as that of a white person, they required new tools (e.g. for navigating the cost of education), new standards (e.g. for assessment), and new processes (e.g. for teaching). The opportunity (and need) was to adapt and to transform existing experiences based on new learning and precedents.

Resolve illustration
Resolve: The Decision-Maker analyzes Council recommendations, then makes and communicates their confident and empathetic decision.

In line with the Ethos approach—grounded in Design Theory and Restorative Justice—we provide a tool to help diverse stakeholders come together to imagine and build the elements required for this type of change and transformation.

In Chapter 4, you will put into play a series of actions that will help your organization grow from, and act on, its exploration of the Ethos case.

Prepare illustration
The five steps of the Ethos process

Step 1: Decision

Make the Decision

When the Ethos Team hands off the nearly-complete Case Narrative Master Document and Case History Master Deck , they should include a deadline for the decision-maker to write-up their decision in the Decision Template. The decision write-up should:

  • Name and directly respond to the Key Questions.
  • Name the harms uncovered during the case, using active (not passive) language.
  • Weave in findings from the entire case, including quotes from interviews and Council Meeting.
  • Explicitly reference recommended ideas.
  • Be specific about what success looks like.
  • Summarize decisions in one-sentence points at the beginning or end.

When the first draft of the decision is complete, you should send it to the Ethos case team—those who have been involved in the process from the beginning—for review within a couple of days. If there is a revision necessary, assign a new deadline to the decision-maker. It’s likely that not everyone will be satisfied by the decision itself, but everyone should at least feel it is clear and defensible, and includes the minimum requirements above. The decision-maker then adds the final decision to complete the Case Narrative Master Document.

Step 2: Action Plan

Begin to articulate the Action Plan for each follow-up project.

The Ethos team and Ethos case team summarize the decision into a follow-up plan and clarify the action items, SMARTIE goals, and MOCHA for follow up. Use this Action Plan and Action Plan Spreadsheet to articulate your plan.

Chapter 5: Resolve

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: Transparency

Define constraints on transparency and openness.

The decision-maker defines constraints on transparency and openness using the Ethos Confidentiality and Transparency Framework Template. This framework has been used since Chapter 2, and throughout the process, it should be updated to reflect your organization’s (or decision-maker’s) comfort level with sharing. Here, the decision-maker needs to determine how public they want to be with the case in general and the resolution specifically. This informs the Stakeholder Communications Plan (and there is a section in the plan to record this decision).

Step 4: Communications

Create and execute a Stakeholder Communications Plan.

The Ethos Team creates and executes a Stakeholder Communications Plan. This plan determines who needs to be communicated with, how they will be contacted, what key messages are important, and from whom the communication comes. Create a timeline for stakeholder communications. Develop specific content as outlined in the Stakeholders Communication Plan. This includes a Case Summary, an external version of the case to share with interviewees and Ethos Council Members. You may want to use Ethos Case Resolution Staff Presentation Template for an internal presentation.

Chapter 5: Resolve

Tips and Tricks

Focus on stakeholder needs

It is easy to be organizational centric. Co-creation offers participants to learn from and utilize different perspectives. Using stakeholder needs as the organizing force is often the easiest way to focus brainstorming.

Consider the incremental and transformational

We start with what we know and we adapt / change based on new information. This will generate incremental ideas which are useful in and of themselves. It is important, however, to also generate a few transformational ideas (i.e. those which do not already exist and have the potential to transform how something fundamentally works). This is more difficult to do, and it is important to create intentional space for doing both.

Trust different

Your job is co-create; the value of co-creation comes from diversity synthesizing into something new. This requires seeking out and trusting that which is different from what your organization currently knows or does.

Step 5: Resolution Letter

Create and execute a Resolution Letter for impacted stakeholders as necessary.

If the resolution indicates that stakeholder relationships will be changing, you should prepare a Resolution Letter that will help you deliver the news. It creates a timeline for adoption and execution of the resolution for impacted stakeholders.

Step 6: AAR

Host an After Action Review.

Following the implementation of this Resolution Plan, the Ethos Team hosts an After Action Review (AAR) to assess organizational learnings. This is not a review of the case specifics or the decision; it is designed to facilitate changes to the Ethos process going forward.

Step 7: New Standards

If necessary, co-create new standards or models.

Occasionally, a resolution will require new standards, policies, new models; this final stage is used to help stakeholders co-create them as necessary. Here, stakeholders come together in a three-hour facilitated workshop to imagine the implications of new learnings, and engage in a creative process to generate new concepts. Use the Co-Creation Workshop Facilitation Guide and Workshop Slide Deck Template to navigate this process. The design challenge will likely be some version of: How might these learnings inspire new standards? What might this standard enable or inspire? The stakeholders can be internal to the organization or more diverse in nature to include different types of stakeholders (relevant to the case). Diversity will drive more innovative outcomes, but it may not always be feasible or necessary (depending on the size and scope of the design challenge).

Step 8: Write Up

Write a Case Study.

Congratulations! You’ve completed the Ethos process! This is no small feat. The GlobalGiving team would love to hear from you. Please tell us how it went, and write up a Case Study to contribute to our collective learning. These are the Case Study and Op-Ed Guidelines, and you can see how other cases have been written up on the Ethos Case Studies section. This write up will not only help you have a public summary to reference, but it will also help the world learn from your experience and decisions.

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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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