In this exercise, you'll try to find one of the values of an interview subject, then verify and articulate it precisely..
This exercise assumes you already know what a value is, and have a basic understanding of how to articulate it, according to HS.
Before your first VET:
- Read this whole page and:
- Look at the worksheet and make sure you understand it.
- Have a copy handy for your interview.
- Familiarize yourself with the different questions we suggest you ask, to gather info for the different columns
- Make sure you understand the value check procedure.
- 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. A value is your vision of how you should be in order to live the good life.
- I will be taking notes to make sure I really get to your value. If I think I have your value, I'll tell you, so you can tell me what you think.
- This is your value, not mine. My 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. There are no wrong values- this is what is meaningful for you!
- Choose an aspect of life. You may want to focus on meaningful experiences related to your design project.
- Ask about a meaningful time. Start by asking for meaningful time in their life. It's best to have 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! I'm going to be your guide for this Values Elicitation Interview. (make sure you both introduce yourselves). The purpose of this exercise is to help you articulate one 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 we would get specific and nerdy on that and find something like: "When having difficult conversations (that's a context) pay attention to the hard things that need to be said to get everyone on the same page (that's how we want to be), in order to be really connected and honest (that's the source of meaning that arises from being that way.) That might be someone's concrete way of living their good life.
One of my values is __________, for example.
Any questions? (Pause!)
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 Source of 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 regards to (
insert aspect here) - something that happened over 5 minutes or an hour, rather than over months or years. Make sure it's a story in which you were either doing something or appreciating something, not something that just passively happened to you.
(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 values.
Here are others things to try:
Or, if you're redesigning a particular social space or system:
Worksheets. Prepare a fresh worksheet for each interview. You'll collect 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 achieve meaning
- about how it feels meaningful to them, when they pay attention that way
You'll need to ask your subject what they were doing, 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.)
Sometimes people will describe a meaningful event where what they cared about was mainly about (a) achieving a goal, or (b) gaining some sort of social status/being liked). In these cases you could either ask for a new story (suggested for beginners), or try one of the questions below to get at a value.
Identifying a goal motivation:
- Identify the outcome desired
- Would the subject prefer for this outcome to be obtained magically without effort? In other words, does the subject care about reaching the end state, or about being a certain way?
- (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
It's best to try to get to a new story as soon as possible. So see if you can ask something like "Can you tell me a time you were able to live like that?"
If you are asking for a new story, you might say something like "It sounds to me like this was really meaningful -because of the outcome/because other people's actions. I'd like to focus on a story that was meaningful because of the way you were. Can you think of a time that was meaningful because of how you approached things, and would have been meaningful even if you failed/nobody knew about it."
You might get a story that was meaningful because of (c), internalized ideological commitments. In that case, you're screwed. To identify an internalized norm, you might get a feel by seeing how the interview subject feels about this 'value' with regards to others. Do they feel that they need to do this too? In that case it's probably an internalized norm. But if they feel that they would like to offer this value to others at their own discernment, it's likely a value.
- 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 <am in this CONTEXT> I'll <WHAT THEY FIND MEANINGFUL TO ATTEND TO>, so life gets <MEANINGFUL STUFF>.
Your objective is to go from a story like this one:
To a value like this:
You'll be able to bridge from the story to the value by asking questions and scaling it to the proper level of abstraction. Whenever you can use the original phrase the subject said- do so! If you think you need to change it- try to offer both the original phrase and your idea.
"You said that you realized you could 'be there' for him. Is that about contributing to his life?" (GOOD!)
"You said that you realized you could 'be there' for him. Is that about keeping up to tabs with what's happening in his life?" (meh...)
If the interviewee's face lights up because you understood them, that's a good sign, and you can keep your interpretation. But if they seem even a bit unsure, it's best to stick with their original wording.
If you ask for another time Florencia felt this way and she responds with a time she was with Jessica, her 12 year old neighbor, you might abstract it to <my relationships with a young person>. This is something you can verify by directly asking.
The same holds true for turning specific actions into broader policies. This is hard, as you know from articulating your own values. When you interview, you'll have to offer these abstractions to the student to make you've got it right. But don't worry if you didn't- getting it wrong is bringing you closer to their value, too!
When you think you have a complete value in this formula you should run a "value check" (see below) to confirm you've found a real value.
Using the questions from the worksheet, you should be able to get the interviewee to give you data.
Important interview tip: one of the most important things you can do once you have a feel for the first story is to find another story, that the subject lived by this 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. Using the checklist below you'll make sure that it is. Some are marked with a V, this means that this is a criteria the interviewer should check mentally. Others are marked I, meaning that this a criteria that needs to be checked in sync with the interviewee.
Make sure you really have an attentional policy. You want to know what the interviewee is attending to in this moment.
The checklist for attentional policy is:
To check this value is the main source of meaning from the story you could ask:
- 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?
Some 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?
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
- You can (should!) 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