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What mindset should we have for the empathy stage? Have a read of key attitudes to have when using the Empathy Tools.
People remember stories

Empathy and Mindsets

Empathy is the first stage of the design thinking process. In this stage we are learning as much as we can about our challenge. As our challenges involve people, we are taking the time to understand and learn peoples real needs and motivations. This means we need to ask “why” a lot!

We value empathy because:

  • The stage helps us identify those that are effected by the challenge or are associated with the challenge in any way.
  • It uncover the users needs and expectations.
  • It allows us to understand user motivations and aspirations.
  • It describes peoples journeys and experiences.
  • It allows us to understand the context the challenge exists in.

Relating this to our challenge the Empathy stage in the process asks us to:

  • Identify our stakeholders
  • Find out how the Waikato River and its associated waterways are being or have been utilised (directly and indirectly)
  • Find out what people want the Waikato River to be and why they want that
  • Create a narrative to understand the past, present and future of the Waikato River
  • Identify the relationships the Waikato River has within different contexts (e.g. political, environmental, economical, social, technological, legal).

The mindsets we use in the Empathy stage are always important as a quick reminder here are the main ones for Empathy.

Focus on Human Values

Focus on the people we are designing for. Ensure the person is at the centre of the process and we can unlock ideas we would never have thought of. This requires us to be embracive of all cultures and ensure people can share information safely and openly.

Assume a Beginners Mindset

During the empathy stage we assume a beginners mindset. This concept comes from Zen Buddhism which refers to the idea of letting go of all preconceptions, forgetting everything you know (or think you know) about a subject, a project, or a person as if it was completely new. The beginners mindset means you can create as new. You are allowed to ask the obvious questions as the answers may surprise you, but most of all it means you are not making judgements on the information (or the source of the information) too early.

*Waiho o Whēako, ki te taha, kia aka, kia mohio “Leave your experiences to the side so you can learn and understand”

Active Listening (but ask Why)

Active listening means we are listening to understand the challenge from our users point of view. The only time we are talking is to ask “why” and to extrapolate on answers. This can be difficult as we are not there to “sympathise” we are there to “empathise”. A way to ensure we are actively listening is to always be curious, immerse ourselves in user stories to learn, and withhold any judgement. Remember what you learn is your users reality (even though it may not be yours).
Asking why is really important. We are trying to uncover peoples motivations and needs. And a persons’ first answer rarely tells us this. Asking why, allows us to uncover the real desires of our user!


Our challenge is to increase the number of swimmable rivers and lakes in the Waikato from 30 % (rivers) and 73 % (Lakes) in 2019 to both waterbody types achieving more than 80 % by 2030.

The largest stakeholders in the Aotearoa setting are the Iwi associated with the river, the Waikato Regional Council as they regulate the land and waters in the area, agricultural users due to their use of and impact on the Waikato River and the recreational users.

1) What other stakeholders do you think are useful to get perspectives of? Post in the comments section.

If you are doing your own project:

2) Who are the main stakeholders related to your project. List them in order of importance. Why are they in that order? Post in the comments section.

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