Vetting 2.0

Vetting 2.0

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.


Try this first with interview subjects who are very patient. In your first VETs, it might take an hour of interviewing to get one good value from your subject. Once you've practiced, you can get it down to 10 minutes—more suitable for busy people.

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.

Getting Started

  1. Introduce the process. Tell your subject what's about to happen. Something like this:
  2. Intro blurb
  3. Choose an aspect of life. You may want to focus on meaningful experiences related to your design project.
  4. Otherwise, if you're open to any part of life, ask something like this:
  5. 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.
  6. 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.)

    Read more

The Interview

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

Asking questions

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:

  1. Identify the outcome desired
  2. 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?

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:


Your objective is to go from a story like this one:


Florencia: "I was having my last dinner with my family in Mexico, about to fly across the Atlantic back to Europe, when my little nephew turns to me and said 'I love you Auntie'. In that moment, I realized I could be there for him, in his life, even though he lived very far from me. And I realized he wanted me to be there for him."

To a value like this:


"When I approach <my relationships with a young person> with an <eye for how I can contribute to their life and be present even from afar, and learn how to support them over time, adapting to new ages and circumstances>, life gets <purposeful, connected, wondrous, alive> "

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.

Example of rephrasing:

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:

Is it a good improvisational directive? V
Is it something the interviewee was actively doing- (Not something they wish they did) V/I
If the subject could reach this out come without having to live this way (magic Genie, or somebody else, etc.) would they prefer that? I
Is it necessary or constructive to the source of meaning? I

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

  1. 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