Liberatory Consciousness in Action: Engaging Community through Empathy Interviews

Empathy interviews are a method for understanding the experiences of people whose lives are directly impacted by policy decisions. These interviews can help you identify the root causes of challenges members of your community are facing, and can uncover powerful solutions that will have a real impact on community members’ lives. 

To get started, you could use empathy interviews to:

  • Hear directly from students and families about how existing mental health supports are helping them with pandemic learning, and find out where gaps exist.
  • Get insight from  teachers on the barriers they face when implementing culturally responsive and sustaining instructional methods. 
  • Gather perspectives from community members on how to leverage federal funding to advance equity for students.

The interview should focus on hearing from members of the community, including students, who are often marginalized from the decision-making process. By deeply listening to stakeholders’ experiences, you can uncover problems, needs, and inequities that need to be addressed. 

The stories you hear in empathy interviews can help you refine an issue statement, better understand the root causes of an issue, evaluate the impact of policy changes, and design equitable, responsive solutions.

Conducting empathy interviews to drive impact

Here are some best practices to keep in mind when engaging in empathy interviews:

  • Select participants with equity in mind. Invite participants who are most directly impacted by the issue or policy in question and whose identities and experiences are often marginalized in the decision making process. Consider students, families, community members, and school staff who are not typically asked for their opinions on policy matters or who do not feel their needs are being met by the current system. 
  • Assemble an interview team thoughtfully. Empathy interviews can take a lot of time. Depending on your specific goals and the number of participants you hope to hear from, it may make sense to bring together a team to conduct interviews with you.
  • Be transparent. Make sure it is clear to interviewees why you are conducting the interview and how the data will be used. For example, participants will need to know if you are capturing identifying data in your notes, who will see the raw interview data, if you are capturing, and if and how their responses will be anonymized.
  • Craft high-quality prompts. Questions should be concise and open-ended and should invite interviewees to share about specific experiences. Examples of high-quality prompts include, “Tell me about the last time that you did X,” “What is most important to you about X?” “What advice would you give someone else about X?” and “What feelings came up when X last occured?”
  • Facilitate effectively. Some key considerations to keep in mind while conducting your interviews are:
    • Ask about concrete experiences, not hypothetical opinions.
    • Ask follow up questions like “Why?”, “Tell more more about…?”, or “What was that like for you?”
    • Pay attention to and make note of nonverbal cues and what they can reveal about interviewees emotions. 


Learn More about Empathy Interviews

For more best practices, check out the resources on interviewing for empathy from the Design Methods for Education Policy toolkitThe Coherence Lab, and Learning Forward.


  • How can empathy interviews help you uncover and disrupt inequity in your community?
  • Whose perspectives will it be most critical for you to hear in the interview process?
  • What is one next step that you can take to begin the process of planning for empathy interviews?


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