A better way to manage dilemmas




Important terms for you to know on your journey through Ethos are defined below.

Key Ethos Terms

Action Plan

The post-decision Action Plan is a tool and template (either document or spreadsheet format) to help the Ethos team and decision-maker articulate the specific next steps for each of the decisions and action items outlined in the decision.


Analysis is the process of dissecting a dilemma into smaller pieces for consideration. Pattern grouping is a form of analysis that groups data into patterns to form themes, is the only form of analysis used in Ethos. These terms are used interchangeably. We use pattern grouping / analysis after all the data collection steps (staff survey, Key Facts Research, Popular Media Scan, key stakeholder interviews, and Ethos Council Ideation).

Analysis and Synthesis Tool

The Analysis and Synthesis slide deck is both a tool and a template to support data storage and processing.

After Action Review

After Action Review (AAR) is a feedback and learning tool we’ve borrowed from the US Army. It is a structured review or de-brief process for analyzing what happened, why it happened, and how it can be done better. The purpose of the AAR in the Ethos setting is to review the Ethos process itself, not the specifics of the particular case.

Case Brief

The Case Brief is a summary of the primary and secondary research and dilemma framing at the mid-point in the process. The Case Brief is delivered to the Ethos Council along with the Welcome Letter at least one week prior to the Ethos Council Meeting.

Case Decision

The Case Decision is informed by the Ethos process, and is a written statement from the decision-maker. This Ethos Decision Template provides guidance. The Case Decision is part of the overall Case Resolution (which includes the Case Decision, the Confidentiality and Transparency decision, the Action Plan, and the Communications Plan), which goes in the Case Narrative Master Document.

Case History Master Deck

The Case History Master Deck is a critical slide deck that will grow as your case develops. As your team moves through the five chapters, you can document your findings in this master deck template. This can be used to keep internal stakeholders informed.

Case Narrative Master Document

The Case Narrative Master Document is another historical document that will evolve as you move through your case. The document will guide you to a more informed decision by helping you frame a narrative from your findings and research. The document concludes with the full Case Resolution.

Case Resolution

The Case Resolution is the full set of plans for resolving a case. It’s not a separate document, but rather it’s the final portion of the Case Narrative Master Document and it includes the Case Decision, the Confidentiality and Transparency decision, the Action Plan, and the Communications Plan.

Case Study

A Case Study is a brief public-facing article that summarizes your entire Ethos Case and Case Resolution. Your Case Study could be published on GlobalGiving.org/Ethos; refer to the Case Study and Op-Ed Guidelines.

Case Summary

The Case Summary is a shortened version of the completed Case Narrative Master Document that’s meant to be more public-facing for external stakeholders (but not as public-facing as the Case Study).

Communications Plan

Based on this Communications Plan template, a Communications Plan helps you articulate how you’ll develop and share the Case Decision and Case Resolution with stakeholders. It also helps you think through how you will facilitate public learning and dialogue.


Data is raw intelligence on a subject gathered through primary and secondary research.


A dilemma is a high-stakes situation that could jeopardize your organization’s integrity, whether it be about your business model or social impact. A dilemma is more complex than a problem because it likely emerged from a broader cultural phenomenon or social issue. It’s most often characterized as a root problem that’s complex in nature and related to multiple symptomatic issues.


Ethos is a philosophy, decision-making framework, and how-to guide designed to help leaders explore, act on, manage, and learn from dilemmas. It was developed collaboratively by platform leaders and their stakeholders in partnership with GlobalGiving.

Ethos Case (or Ethos Dilemma)

An Ethos Case (sometimes referred to as an Ethos Dilemma) is a situation that meets the definition of a dilemma, and also the following criteria:

  • There’s potential for internal and external value creation.
  • There’s an opportunity to contribute to a larger conversation.
  • There’s a portfolio of related symptoms or issues that point to systemic problems we hope to address.
  • The team is willing and able to dedicate time to the case.

The Complete Ethos Playbook

The complete Ethos playbook (also referred to as just Ethos) is a process for dealing with a dilemma that has emerged from more than one related issue. This playbook is principle-based, and will require taking time to learn from and empathize with stakeholders and use their experiences to help your organization define the dilemma and resolutions.

Ethos Principles

Ethos Principles outline the philosophy behind how we approach dilemmas. The principles also form the basis of specific discussion prompts in the Ethos Council Meeting. The Ethos Principles are:

  • Treat all participants with dignity, holding our relationships precious.
  • Minimize harm while aiming to address all stakeholders’ specific needs.
  • Hold space for uncomfortable topics and ideas different than our own.
  • Seek healing, not judgment.
  • Uncover creative resolutions amongst the tensions.

Ethos Lite

Ethos Lite is a framework to help teams quickly understand and decide next-steps a time-sensitive dilemma. Instant-Ethos can be used asynchronously to help teams work together without needing a meeting. However, the same toolset and questions can be used in a meeting.


Interpretation is a process that seeks to assess the rationale or meaning behind people’s actions, words, and language.


An issue is an isolated incident that poses a potential risk to the organization’s integrity and requires attention and / or action by staff. Issues might be symptoms of a larger dilemma.

Jobs to be Done

The term Jobs To Be Done was coined by the innovation guru Clay Christensen. It means understanding the job your user is trying to accomplish, or the job they would hire you to solve. This can be framed as a problem (or pain) they are seeking a solution to; or it can be framed as a gain that would improve their overall experience. Jobs to be Done can be functional (e.g. a drill), emotional (e.g. sense of wellbeing), or social (e.g. status symbol).

Key Facts Research

Key Facts Research is the process of collecting concise pieces of information from credible sources that indicate the state of a given problem. Many of these facts will be sourced internally; others are found from outside sources. They may be statistical in nature, or expert opinions summarized in brief statements.

Ethos Questions

The Ethos Questions are the driving questions to be addressed by the Ethos Council. There are nearly always two; one specifically addressing the problem (e.g. How should we deal with Partner X?, and one considering the problem in its broader context (e.g. How should we deal with partners that cause both good and harm?).

Neutrality Paradox

The Neutrality Paradox is the assumption open platforms should maintain a position of neutrality on moral, ethical, and ambiguously legal issues; however, leaders can’t avoid making decisions. And they seek a better way.

Op-Ed or Opinion Editorial

An opinion editorial written by a stakeholder to a case reflecting on the decision that’s been made. Your Op Ed (or one written by your stakeholders) could be published alongside your Case Study on GlobalGiving.org/Ethos; refer to the refer to the Case Study and Op-Ed Guidelines.

Opportunity Spaces

Opportunity Spaces are created to take your ideation to the next level. After the Council members generate ideas, the Ethos Team groups ideas based on patterns and frames these patterns around a common question. The question, usually framed as a How might we….? question, becomes an opportunity space where you can both store old ideas, and strategically frame new ones.

Pattern Grouping

Pattern grouping is a form of analysis that groups data into patterns to form themes. We use pattern grouping after all the data collection steps (staff survey, Key Facts Research, Popular Media Scan, Interviews, and Ethos Council Ideation).

Popular Media Scan

A Popular Media Scan is a secondary research tool that helps you understand and explore various social issues or cultural phenomenons. A Popular Media Scan will help your team understand how your dilemma fits into the larger cultural context so you can make more informed decisions. A Popular Media Scan tracks broadcast news, social media platforms, magazines, and even television programs.


Synthesis is the process of combining and recombining various various interpretations and analyses to develop new insights. Synthesis is a generative process. It comes after analysis at each of the primary research steps (staff survey, Key Facts Research, Popular Media Scan, key stakeholder interviews, and Ethos Council Ideation).

People Involved in Ethos Cases

Case Team

The Ethos Case Team represents internal stakeholders who are affected by a case. They are tasked with helping at specific points in the process, for example, helping develop an Action Plan for implementing decisions and resolutions.


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. The decision-maker may have an approval role for documents that go to external stakeholders or the public, including the Case Brief, the Case Summary, and Case Study. The decision-maker writes the final Case Decision.

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. The decision-maker should also attend the Ethos Council meeting, but they are not considered a Council Member.

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. They are the people responsible for managing ethical, moral, and ambiguously legal challenges.

Key Stakeholder Groups

Key stakeholder groups are established in Chapter two during the Framing Meeting. These are the groups of people affected by the case, including (but not limited to) those who have or could be harmed, those whose business or financial interests are at stake, and the people who manage relationships with those stakeholders. Interviewees and Ethos Council Members will represent each of these groups.

Key Stakeholders

Key Stakeholders are individual representatives from the Key Stakeholder Groups who participate as interviewees and / or Ethos Council Members.


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. All staff might be involved in a staff survey to understand the nature of the problem in Chapter two. However, only some staff members will become part of the Case Team.

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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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