What is the Foursquare Protocol? Foursquare Protocol In A Nutshell

The Foursquare Protocol is an ethical decision-making model. The Foursquare Protocol helps businesses respond to challenging situations by making decisions according to a code of ethics. It can also be used to help individuals make decisions in the context of their own moral principles. It consists of four steps: gather the facts, understand previous decisions, assess the degree of similarity to past events, and assess yourself.

Understanding the Foursquare Protocol

Decision making is arduous at the best of times, but decisions that raise ethical issues can be particularly challenging.

While legislation can help guide decisions relating to discrimination and conflicts of interest, the law only covers so much. In many business scenarios, an understanding of how to behave ethically is vital. 

An oil company guided by the law alone would seek to drill in countries with weak legislation to maximize profits. A similar company guided by ethics, on the other hand, would consider the impact of drilling on the environment and the local community.

The four steps of the Foursquare Protocol

The Foursquare Protocol involves four different steps. Only once each step has been completed should a decision be made.

The four steps are:

Step 1 – Gather the facts

Separating evidence from opinion is critical. Evidence can be directly observed or obtained from conversation or research. Foursquare Protocol creator Stephen Goldman notes that the quality of the final decision depends on the quality and breadth of the facts gathered.

Step 2 – Understand previous decisions

How were similar situations resolved in the past? What was the nature of penalties or punishments? The latter question is important because it ensures that the business acts fairly. It also ensures that decisions are consistent with previous company actions or similar companies in the relevant industry.

Step 3 – Assess the degree of similarity to past events

With the list of previous actions, assess the degree to which they are like the current event. Here, it’s important to note the significance of being able to make distinctions between past and previous events. 

Some distinctions will be insignificant, while others are more critical. The ability to discern between the two makes a skilled ethical decision-maker. A company may identify that the legalization of recreational marijuana is a critical distinction that will force them to review their drug policy. 

Step 4 – Assess yourself

After assessing the facts, it is time to make a situation. Three factors must be considered before doing so:

Any self-interest that may hinder your ability to decide

A common form of self-interest occurs when the decision-maker stands to benefit financially from a course of action. An individual who reprimands a subordinate that is also their friend is also compromised.

Consider a role-reversal

How would you feel if you were on the receiving end of your own decision? This gives the decision-maker the necessary empathy to make an ethical decision not based on personal gain.

Instinct and intuition

What is your get telling you to do? While logic is an important part of ethical decision making, so too is emotion. A HR manager faced with the task of mass terminations may have their gut tell them that it is unethical to fire those with the most experience.

Key takeaways

  • The Foursquare Protocol is a model that helps businesses make decisions based on ethics.
  • The Foursquare Protocol advocates that a four-step process be followed before a final decision is made. The process has a focus on fact gathering and comparative analysis of previous, similar events.
  • The Foursquare Protocol recognizes that logic combined with instinct, intuition, and empathy results in the most robust ethical decision making.

Key Highlights

  • Ethical Decision-Making Model: The Foursquare Protocol is an ethical decision-making model designed to guide businesses and individuals in making decisions based on a code of ethics. It is particularly useful for addressing challenging situations with ethical implications.
  • Addressing Ethical Challenges: The Foursquare Protocol helps organizations and individuals respond to ethical challenges that may not be fully covered by legislation. It encourages considering the ethical implications of decisions beyond legal requirements.
  • Four Steps of the Protocol:
    1. Gather the Facts: Collect evidence from credible sources, separating facts from opinions. The quality of the decision depends on the quality and comprehensiveness of the facts gathered.
    2. Understand Previous Decisions: Examine how similar situations were resolved in the past. This step ensures fairness, consistency, and alignment with previous company actions or industry standards.
    3. Assess Similarity to Past Events: Compare the current situation with previous events to determine the degree of similarity. Distinguish between significant and insignificant distinctions to make informed decisions.
    4. Assess Yourself: Consider personal biases, self-interest, and emotions. Reflect on whether self-interest could hinder impartial decision-making, empathize with the impacted parties, and listen to instinct and intuition.
  • Ethics vs. Law: While the law provides guidelines for certain ethical issues, ethical decisions often require more than just legal compliance. The Foursquare Protocol encourages decision-makers to consider broader ethical implications beyond legal boundaries.
  • Example Scenarios: The Foursquare Protocol can be applied to various scenarios, such as businesses making environmentally conscious decisions beyond profit maximization or individuals facing personal moral dilemmas.
  • Empathy and Instinct: The protocol highlights the importance of empathy and intuition in ethical decision-making. Considering how one’s decision would impact others and trusting gut instincts enhances the ethical dimension of the decision.
  • Robust Ethical Decision Making: The Foursquare Protocol emphasizes that combining logic with empathy, instinct, and intuition leads to more robust and ethical decision-making outcomes.
  • Application in Business: The protocol is particularly relevant in business contexts where decisions can have far-reaching consequences on stakeholders, reputation, and overall ethical standards.
  • Value of Comparative Analysis: The Foursquare Protocol’s emphasis on understanding previous decisions and assessing similarity enhances decision-makers’ ability to apply consistent and fair resolutions to ethical challenges.
  • Incorporating Personal Growth: Assessing oneself in the decision-making process encourages self-awareness and personal growth, fostering a culture of ethical behavior and responsibility.
  • Holistic Ethical Evaluation: The Foursquare Protocol contributes to a holistic evaluation process, allowing for comprehensive analysis of ethical implications before final decisions are made.

Other Brainstorming Frameworks

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciate Inquiry (AI) is an organizational change methodology that focuses on strengths and not on weaknesses. Appreciate Inquiry was created by management professors David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in the 1980s. The Appreciate Inquiry is also known as the 5-D Cycle, an iterative cycle describing five distinct phases, made of define, discover, dream, design, and destiny.

Round-robin Brainstorming

Round-robin brainstorming is a collective and iterative approach to brainstorming. Brainstorming is an effective way of generating fresh ideas for an organization. Round-robin brainstorming is a balanced approach, employing an iterative, circular process that builds on the previous contribution of each participant.

Constructive Controversy

Constructive controversy is a theory arguing that controversial discussions create a good starting point for understanding complex problems. A constructive controversy discussion is performed by following six steps: organize information and derive conclusions; presenting and advocating decisions; being challenged by opposing views; conceptual conflict and uncertainty; epistemic curiosity and perspective-taking; and reconceptualization, synthesis, and integration.

Affinity Grouping

Affinity grouping is a collaborative prioritization process where group participants brainstorm ideas and opportunities according to their similarities. Affinity grouping is a broad and versatile process based on simple but highly effective ideas. It helps teams generate and then organize teams according to their similarity or likeness.

The Fishbone Diagram

The Fishbone Diagram is a diagram-based technique used in brainstorming to identify potential causes for a problem, thus it is a visual representation of cause and effect. The problem or effect serves as the head of the fish. Possible causes of the problem are listed on the individual “bones” of the fish. This encourages problem-solving teams to consider a wide range of alternatives.


Rolestorming as a term was first mentioned by personal development guru Rick Griggs in the 1980s.  Rolestorming is a brainstorming technique where participants pretend they are other people when sharing their thoughts and ideas.

Reverse Brainstorming

Reverse brainstorming takes advantage of the natural human tendency to more easily see problems than solutions. What’s more, many individuals when placed in a traditional brainstorming environment will find it difficult to become creative on command. Reverse brainstorming is an approach where individuals brainstorm the various ways a plan could fail. 

Lotus Diagram

A lotus diagram is a creative tool for ideation and brainstorming. The diagram identifies the key concepts from a broad topic for simple analysis or prioritization.

Futures Wheel

The futures wheel was invented in 1971 by Jerome C. Glenn while he was studying at the Antioch Graduate School of Education.  The futures wheel is a brainstorming framework for visualizing the future consequences of a particular trend or event.

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Read Also: RACI Matrix, 3×3 Sales Matrix, Value/effort Matrix, SFA matrix, Value/Risk Matrix, Reframing Matrix, Kepner-Tregoe Matrix.

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