Empathy Talks:
A conversational toolkit fostering empathy on complex issues

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Empathy Talks are a pathway to creating micro-moments of connection and reflection on sticky issues of community concern.
By gathering voices from the field and creating a mutual felt sense between humans, Empathy Talks aim to build capability and practices leading to system transformation – offering ways to feel heard and see each other, be more reflective, and change perspectives on issues impacting our livelihoods and futures.

Connecting with Felt Sense

Systems change is often blocked by a lack of empathy, by not creating a shared felt sense and a greater understanding of the conditions that hold a problem in place.

Suspending Judgement

To achieve systems change, everyone should be prepared to see how their own ways of thinking and acting must change.

Creating a Brave Space

Shifting system conditions are more likely to be sustained when starting with empathy, when we connect, relate and also start understanding privilege and underlying power dynamics.

For all types of groups and organisations

“This is where system transformation begins, in small clusters of deep coherence. This is what Empathy Talks allow to create: small fractals which are able to engage a larger resonance. One at a time.”

Sebastian Wolf SiebzehnrüblSystemic Consultant and Initiator of Empathy Talks

Empathy Talks are designed for organisations, curious to learn from the field and wanting to overcome the limitations of classic research. Companies seeking to connect with clients and their respective needs as well as for the development inside any group or organization, trying to bridge silos, for instance between engineering and design. They are equally designed for anyone addressing topics impacting their communities at scale, on matters of social, environmental and cultural importance.

Empathy Talks have been used for topics such as:
• Relationships and influence in education in 
Michigan, USA
• Polluting habits and heating systems in 
Silesia, Poland
• Pandemic and politics in Berlin, Germany

Driving relational change

“Empathy Talks offer a way to meet each other at heart-level on sticky issues we might typically shy away from, to find some common ground, to have ‘a-ha’ moments, and to realise that our actions and futures are inherently intertwined.”

Kate GoodwinSystems-led Designer of Empathy Talks

For sustainable and climate-resilient futures, we need to shift human perception and human behaviour alike. System change starts with seeing the other. For now, in our current socio-political environment, we are often rather polarized.

"A great methodology to get unstuck."

David StorkholmKaopilots

"That is a super powerful tool."

Krzysztof BilinskiClimate-KIC

“Being more effective at systems change, starts with listening in an active, present way, rather than merely consuming information or data.”

Chris OestereichUNDP, Catalyst 2030

“To empathise is to protect yourself from interpretation.”

Gianluca GambetesaComplexity Surfers

“I feel reassured - because there is a prospect of change.”

AnonymousSilesia, Poland

“ … it could never happen normally! … so abnormal experiments are needed!”

Aleksandra GoldysClimate-KIC

How to create micro
moments of empathy

“Empathising with others can take vulnerability, which for many of us might need safety and courage. Empathy Talks can make this possible, by creating safety and role-modelling the courage to let go, and try a little vulnerability. By practicing being vulnerable with ourselves and others, we can take one step closer towards one another.”

Tasman PapworthInteraction Designer and Facilitator of Empathy Talks

By bringing together diverse voices in the field Empathy Talks aim to build capability and practices leading to system transformation. For best results, we recommend allowing at least two weeks for planning an Empathy Talk.
This gives you time to invite participants, work out where and when the Talk will be held, do a practice run or two, and get the Activity Board ready.

  • An Empathy Talk takes 1.5-2 hours, depending on the number of participants.
  • It can be done in-person using cards, or online. See Downloads for all the materials you’ll need.
  • Wherever you choose to hold an Empathy Talk, it’s important the space feels inviting and trustworthy and is neutral for all participants. Keep comfort in mind. Make it a brave space!

Downloads to get started

Guide to Empathy Talks

Get to know what an Empathy Talk is and how it works, and how to prepare a Talk in your location.

Guide to Empathy Talks (PDF)

Empathy Talks Glossary

Learn the language of Empathy Talks.

Empathy Talks Glossary (PDF)

Empathy Talks Cards

Print your own Empathy Talks Cards for in-person use. The PDF includes a Guide to Empathy Talks and printing instructions.

Empathy Talks Cards (PDF)

Empathy Talks Preparation Board Template

The Preparation Board helps you get ready to do an Empathy Talk. Learn how Empathy Talks work, plan your Talk topic, identify and recruit participants, plan the Talk location, and feel generally prepared. Note: the board is a view-only template, please email for a copy.

Preparation Board Template (Miro)

Empathy Talks Activity Board Template

The Activity Board is for use in online Empathy Talks. Follow the boards step-by-step to run your Empathy Talk. Includes a Guide to Empathy Talks and a link to the Preparation Board. Note: the board is a view-only template, please email for a copy.

Activity Board Template (Miro)
Empathy Talks were developed by Systemic Design Group team members Kate Goodwin, Tasman Papworth and Sebastian Wolf Siebzehnruebl, as educational experiments for EIT Climate-KIC.

We would like to thank the following individuals for their invaluable contribution to this experiment (in alphabetic order): Aleksandra, Andreas, Anja, Björn, Chris, David, Dhari, Ewa, Fabian, Gianluca, Herbert, Inna, Izzy, Josh, Karima, Krzysztof, Leah, Leonie, Louis, Lukas, Malika, Marcin, Nadia, Nina, Nikhil, Niv, Paul, Philipp, Ryan, Solla and many more ...

Start to embrace empathy and host your own talk now

Let's Talk!

We would like to thank EIT Climate-KIC for the opportunity to embark on this learning journey to design Empathy Talks and to contribute to the foundations for a sustainable systems transformation.

“We believe that empathy and optimism are at the heart of effectively resolving the messes we are embedded in.”
*inspired by a slogan on a bag, (c) ideatico

(c) The Likehearted (formerly Systemic Design Group), 02023

All rights reserved with EIT Climate-KIC and Sebastian Wolf Siebzehnrübl

All images by UNSPLASH

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