In this exercise, an interview team tries to find one of the values of an interview subject, then verify it carefully.
Before your first VET:
- Look at the worksheet and make sure you understand it
- Look at the different questions we suggest you ask, to gather info for the different columns
- Finally, make sure you understand the value check procedure.
- Getting Started
- The Interview
- Asking questions
- Looking for Values
- Checking the Value
- Criteria #1 — Attentional Policy
- Criteria #2 — Diffuse Benefits
- Criteria #3 — Was this the Source of Meaning in the Story
- Tips and Tricks
- Introduce the process. Tell your subject what's about to happen. Something like this:
- The way we define a value is that it's (a) contextual - that is specific to a particular context (b) it's "attentional" - meaning that it's how we want to be present in that context and (c) it's meaningful for us to be present in that way in that context.
- Both ___________ and I will be taking notes to try and see who can organize your value better and more efficiently. Every 5 minutes ________ and I will switch who asks the questions.
- When one of us thinks that we have articulated your value, we'll raise our hand and then do a value check to make sure that we captured it correctly.
- There is no right or wrong here. This is your value. Our only role is to help organize it for you. So when we check the value, if it doesn't feel right then please tell us so and we'll keep working on it together.
- Choose an aspect of life. You may want to focus on meaningful experiences related to your design project.
- Ask about a meaningful time. The easiest way to start is to ask your subject about a meaningful time in their life. It's easiest with a meaningful moment—something that happened over 5 minutes or an hour, rather than over months or years.
- Ask about role models. Who do you admire? And how do they live?
- Ask about how they want to approach things. Do they want to write a book? Ask how they want to approach writing it. Etc. (See "How I wasted my 20s pursuing goals")
- Ask about a negative emotion. If they had a strong emotion, there's likely to be a strong value in there somewhere—one they struggle with. You could help. Unfortunately, this is also one of the hardest kind of interviews to run: some emotions tend to be difficult to untangle. (See )Advanced: VETing from Negative Emotions
- About a meaningful time within it. What's something meaningful you've experienced in our app, or ritual or whatever? Or: What ways of acting or ways of relating do you hope to practice within this environment?
- About a meaningless time within it. How couldn't you live?
Hi! We're going to be your guides for this Values Elicitation Team Interview. (make sure you both introduce yourselves). The purpose of this exercise is to help you articulate ones of your values in a specific context. A few important things to know before we get started:
For example, many people say that honesty is one of their values. But what does honesty mean when someone is talking to their kids. How would they describe social justice honestly to a toddler?
One of my values is __________.
So I'm going to start by asking you some questions about a meaningful time in your life and will be helping organize your value into the 3 buckets I mentioned before: Context, Attention, and Meaning.
We all have so many aspects of our lives where values are important. What aspect of your life do you want to focus on today? Work? Romantic relationships? Family? Friendship?
Tell me about a meaningful moment in your life with (insert aspect here) - something that happened over 5 minutes or an hour, rather than over months or years.
(For more advanced VETing, there are other ways to start the interview—from experiences of frustration, meaninglessness, etc.)
The first time you VET, it's easiest to start your interview by asking about a meaningful moment. But this isn't the only, or the best, way to get at someone's vaues.
Here are others things to try:
Or, if you're redesigning a particular social space or system:
Leader. One team member at a time will lead the interview, asking the subject questions about their values. The leader can shift according to a timer, every five minutes or so.
Worksheets. Everyone on the interview team has their own worksheet and listens to the subject's answers. Each team member, on their worksheet, collects the subject's words and phrases into three columns:
- about the context in which something was meaningful
- about what they'd pay attention to in that context, to focus on that meaning
- about why it feels meaningful to them, to pay attention to that, then
You'll need to ask your subject what they were attending to, or appreciating, in their meaningful moment. You're looking for an attentional policy—a way of approaching things that they find rewarding that relates to a context in their life. (Full definition here.)
(See the worksheet for basic questions to ask.)
When an outcome seems important to the subject, you can do a goals to values thing:
- (Future value, most useful) If this outcome happened, how would you finally be able to live?
- (Present value) While pursuing this outcome, how would you like to act / approach things?
- (Past value) What does it mean about yourself when this kind of thing happens? How does that mean you were able to live?
- Hard, but can be super impactful:
- What were you feeling when you learned you had to make this kind of thing happen? → Emotion to Values
- some people experience very little meaning, and most of their emotions are from trauma, these people are hard or impossible to vet. I think few people are like this but it’s a spectrum and as you go in this direction you’ll have more and more provisionally directed non-diffuse false leads.
Looking for Values
Out of the words in your three columns, try to build a sentence like this:
When I approach <CONTEXT> with an eye for <WHAT THEY FIND MEANINGFUL TO ATTEND TO>, life gets <MEANINGFUL STUFF>.
No matter who's asking the questions, everyone should listen to the interview and write words and phrases in the columns as they hear them, attempting to make such a sentence.
Your objective is to go from a story like this one:
To a value like this:
The game ends when one person thinks they can put words in their columns together to form a complete sentence as above. The first person who thinks they have such a complete value should raise their hand or otherwise interrupt, and then run a "value check" (see below) to confirm they've found a real value.
Checking the Value
The purpose of the values check is to make sure you've found a real value (a) by our definition, and (b) for this person specifically. You'll take the value you've written and verify—by asking the subject—that it meets three criteria. To meet the criteria, you may need to modify it slightly, or discard it completely.
Criteria #1 — Attentional Policy
Is this something you really pay attention to? When?
Check if this value is really an "attentional policy" that the subject has. Make sure that this is really a way they try to approach things, and that it has successfully outcompeted other, previous ways of approaching things.
More questions to ask
- When do you want to remember to approach things this way?
- Can you tell me about a time it was important?
- A time it wasn't the most important thing?
- A time it would have been important, and you wish you'd been thinking this way?
- Before you learned this value, was there a different way that you were approaching things? Did this replace that one completely? Why?
- When did you learn this?
- How did it improve things?
Now, let's consider a special kind of policy, which I'll call an
attentional policy. These aren't about performing an action (like taking the trash out, or calling mom)—rather, they are policies about how to think about a thing, what to pay attention to in a context, or how to approach a certain kind issue. They are not about what gets done, but about how you do it. Attentional policies are often about... - how to treat people (perhaps honestly, openly, generously, without mercy); - how to act more generally (perhaps boldly, thoughtfully, carefully); - how to approach things (perhaps with reverence, with levity, with skepticism); and how to keep things (simple, sensual, rocking, full of surprise). - And so on. When can we say that a person has an attentional policy if they've decided to approach things that way "regularly, or in a certain context, without doing a cost-benefit analysis every single time". ...You have to choose, in a context like giving feedback at work, which attentional policy to consult. You must pick one or two. To make the cut, such a policy must improve upon and replace any previous policies you had for the same context, without causing an undue cognitive burden. This eliminates policies which sound meaningful—such as being completely present, or endlessly compassionate—but cannot compete with our other concerns.
Criteria #2 — Diffuse Benefits
What are the benefits of having your attention on this, or approaching things this way?
Check if the subject feels the value has "diffuse benefits", and does not track any particular benefit as the main reason to do the value.
Make sure they don't care too strongly about any one of those benefits.
- If any single benefit was removed, would they still choose to live this way? (Because there are so many!)
- Do they pay attention to the outcomes when they approach things this way?
- Or, are they so satisfied as to the meaningfulness of living this way, that they don't track the outcomes?
You've passed criteria #2 if they can't name all of, or don't track, the benefits, but they sense there are many.
Some attentional policies—such as being vulnerable with friends, or bold in your writing—have dozens of benefits, or even unknowable benefits. In this case, it makes sense to approach things this way, without checking if it has desired results—often, without even a clear idea of what results you'd look for. The criterion of having diffuse-benefits eliminates what we do provisionally—things we do only to fit in with our friend group, or to achieve a specific goal, or only because of good sensations.
Criteria #3 — Was this the Source of Meaning in the Story
If you had been in exactly this situation, but your attention had not gone to this specific thing, would it still have been a meaningful moment?
Finally, check to see if this value was the source of the meaning in the subject's story.
The last thing to do is bring it back to the story that the subject started with. Ideally, the value you've found will be the main thing that made the subject's story meaningful.
If the subject says "no", you've named the main value in the story!
If your values passes all three checks, announce your success!
- You can use the value you've found to design for them. If your design is successful, and helps them live how they value, you'll have brought meaning into their life.
- If you VET values often, you'll discover that every human is a source of wisdom. Values encode people's hard-won lessons, things which have inspired them, and so on. They're worth collecting!
Tips and Tricks
- Especially if you're VET- ing solo, can ask for 1-2 minutes of silence in between, to collect your thoughts and notes and give it a jab at articulating a value - by Louise Tiernan
- When VET-ing in Teams or around groups you will spend continuous time with, revisit Values Articulations to see how they might , and how clearer context and wording can be added to refine them.