Ellen Goodman

Ashoka Fellow
Boston, United States
Fellow Since 2015
My work: Helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care.

Check out this video of Ellen's work:


Related TopicsCivic Engagement, Health & Fitness, Aging


This profile was prepared when Ellen Goodman was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2015.
The New Idea
That most Americans die in a way that’s counter to their wishes is no secret: According to the Centers for Disease Control, 70 percent of people want to die at home and yet 70 percent die in hospitals and institutions. At the root of that disconnect is a cultural problem, rather than a medical one: most people’s wishes for their end-of-life care aren’t known, for the simple reason that conversations about end-of-life are hard conversations, particularly with the people you love the most.

Ellen launched The Conversation Project with a simple goal in mind: to spark a conversation where people live, work, and pray. Through a combination of storytelling, tool development, and network-building among faith communities, companies, and aligned community-based organizations, Ellen is working to raise public awareness around the importance of having the conversation, and to equip people with simple and accessible tools that they can easily use at home.

Ellen began by developing a “Conversation Starter Kit,” in collaboration with a team of medical experts, chaplains, and writers. The easy-to-use toolkit is designed to help people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care. Powering its distribution is a grassroots network comprised of a wide array of organizations and individuals who want to help spark the conversation within their own communities—ranging from clergy, to hospices, to local Chambers of Commerce. Recognizing that each local organization knows its own community best, Ellen and her team support the network with a resource center, event planning support, media outreach, and access to a peer community with whom they can each share learnings and best practices.

A journalist by training and syndicated columnist, Ellen understood that the key to culture change lay in leveraging the media to get people to talk about and think about end-of-life issues more regularly. She is thus working closely with a range of cultural influencers and trusted voices in healthcare to share stories about the decisions they faced, and to help people realize that they aren’t alone. Since its launch in 2012, more than 142 groups in 35 states have jumped on board The Conversation Project, and the Conversation Starter Kit has been downloaded over 130,000 times.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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