In my post last week, empathy maps were introduced as a tool for business model development, leadership system design, and management design. This post builds on that foundation and proposes the use of empathy maps as a framework for qualitative data collection and analysis with the purpose of developing theory. As management researchers, we often investigate the human perspective by interviewing participants who have experience with, or knowledge of, a particular phenomenon. The purpose of the interviews is often to gather what some qualitative researchers call a “thick rich description.” It is the need for the details of a situation or thick rich description that often drives us toward a qualitative approach in the first place. There are a wide variety of tools, techniques, and methods to collect and analyze this type of data (Miles and Huberman, 1994). While the empathy map is a technique that has become popular in business model design and the development of viable value propositions (Osterwalder and Pigneur, 2010) it can also be used to build theory in social science.
The empathy map can be used as an interview guide to find out what participants see, hear, think and feel, say and do, along with the key pain points and their idea of success. For example, if you are researching how unethical behavior by leaders is perceived by and influences followers you might ask a series of empathy map questions such as:
- When was the last time you saw a leader in the organization do something unethical?
- What did you see him/her do?
- What did you hear him/her say?
- What did you think when you saw and heard it?
- How did that make you feel?
- What did your co-workers say about the situation?
- What did you say?
- What did you do?
- What is the biggest dilemma you faced in this situation?
I recommend taking very few notes during the interviews so that you can stay engaged with the participant and help guide the conversation as it unfolds. However, a blank empathy map with only the labels and the questions for each section could be used as a note taker for each interview. This allows you to capture a few keywords, thoughts, ideas that might help you guide the dialogue. Note – I recommend that you record the interview sessions so that you can have verbatim transcripts for analysis in a computer-assisted data analysis application such as NVivo.
Once the data is collected, you can then analyze the data using empathy maps to develop an integrated “picture” of the situation. There are a variety of tools, techniques, and methods available to analyze the thick rich description to develop explanations and build theory. Two tools that I use extensively during this process are visual displays and a computer-assisted data analysis application such as NVivo. I typically employ a wide variety of visual displays such as those described in Miles and Huberman (1994) to provide additional insights to those developed through coding and computer-assisted analysis. Empathy maps are a useful visual display that can be used along with the analysis of the transcripts to help make sense of the data and gain additional insights. The combination of coding and analysis using computer-assisted analysis applications and visual displays such as empathy maps can be powerful and generate insights that are otherwise not possible using only one tool or technique.
5 Keys to Success
Regardless whether you are developing a new business model, a leadership model, a variety of management systems, or conducting research, empathy maps can provide a structured way to collect and analyze data to gain a deeper understanding of another person or group. Here are five tips to consider if you decide to “experiment” with empathy maps.
1. Plan Ahead
Develop, get an expert review and test an interview guide before you go but be prepared to deviate.
2. Develop Rapport
Take a short amount of time in the beginning of the interview to develop a minimum level of rapport with the participant. Start with some “soft” questions or “small talk” to get them talking. If you “jump in” asking invasive questions it might feel like an interrogation and the person won’t give you the data you need.
3. Be Flexible
An interview guide is a baseline for deviation. Use the interview guide as a starting point but go with the flow and don’t be afraid to delve deeper into issues raised by the participant.
4. Don’t Talk
Except to keep the other person talking. Don’t try to impress the participant with your knowledge. Instead, ask naive questions to get the participant to talk. The objective is to get the other person to talk about a tangible situation in a way that you can gain a rich understanding of the multiple dimensions of their perspective.
5. Let the Participant Have the Last Word
End with an open-ended question that allows the participant to tell you about things you didn’t think to ask about. At the end of an interview, I often ask the participant if there is anything that I didn’t ask but should have. Or, I will ask if there is anything else they would like to tell me. Sometimes this doesn’t produce any new insights but sometimes I find a real “gem.” Either way, it gives them the opportunity to surprise you. 🙂
Want to see an example of an empathy map? Download my workshop slides on empathy maps for business models AND Google “empathy map” and select “images” and you will see hundreds of examples. Now go try it for yourself and have fun! Remember, if you are not having fun, you are doing it wrong!
Enjoy the journey!
- Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage.
- Osterwalder, A., & Pigneur, Y. (2010). Business Model Generation. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.