Developing And Using Appropriate Questions

Questions differ in their power.


1. Focus Questions: identify a situation and the key facts needed to understand issue. In a community polling process, these questions focus on how participants think about the particular issue. The key to frame such questions is to be open and non-partisan in the questions and the tone of the questioner. The question should be equally valid to the respondent, no matter what their position is on the issue.



    • 'What aspects of our community life concern you?'


    • 'What do you think about the logging of old growth redwoods?'


    • 'How has the violence in our community impacted you?'


    • 'What are you most concerned about in your community?'



2. Observation Questions: are concerned with what one sees and the information one has heard...



    • 'What have you heard or read about this situation?'


    • 'Which sources do you trust, and why?'


    • 'What effects of this situation have you noticed in people?' In the community?'


    • 'What do you know for sure? What are you uncertain about?'



3. Analysis Questions: focus on meaning ascribed to events. Here the questioner is trying to discover how the respondent thinks about the situation; what motivation is ascribed to key participants in the story; and the relation between individuals and events. 'Why' questions are appropriate here. The questioner might be surprised. Sometimes these questions trigger strong feelings, or unanticipated emotions.



    • What do you think about - ?


    • What are the reasons for - ?


    • What is the relationship of - to - ?



4. Feeling Questions: are concerned with body sensations, emotions, and health. It is important to not skip over these questions, as feelings often interfere with thinking, trust, and imagination. Listening to and honouring the personal consequences of an event or issue is important in freeing participants to think objectively and clearly. You do not have to 'fix' the feelings - but as a questioner, listen respectfully and when you sense the person is ready, move on. They may return to this level from time to time naturally. Some people may wish to spend very little time in the feeling level, while others may get lost in feeling and need encouragement to move into a more dynamic discussion.



    • 'What sensations do you have in your body when you think or talk about this situation?'


    • 'How do you feel about the situation?'


    • 'How has the situation affected your own physical or emotional health?'



5. Visioning Questions: are concerned with identifying ideals, dreams, and values. Articulating dreams and visions makes them a bit more real, and their power is undeniable. Such questions stop pushing things as they are and focus on how things can or could be.



    • 'How would you like it to be?'


    • 'What is the meaning of this situation in your own life?'



6. Change Questions: are concerned with how to get from the present situation to a more ideal situation. As future alternatives take form, they are examined. Often the vision is partial, but people are able to identify pieces that need to change. Later, these specifics can be worked into a cohesive whole.



    • 'What will it take to bring the current situation towards the ideal?'


    • 'What exactly needs to change here?'


    • 'What are changes you have seen or read about?'


    • 'How might those changes come about? Name as many ways as possible - '


    • 'Who can make a difference?'


    • 'How did those changes come about?' (Learning the change view offers insights to strategies for change)



7. Consider All the Alternatives: such questions examine alternatives arising from the vision and the ways things can change. There are many ways to reach any goal. If a person is examining only two alternatives, perhaps more feeling work needs to be done. Be sure not to give more time, enthusiasm, or focus to any one alternative, even if you think it is best. Also, search out alternatives that seem at first glance to be odd or unusual. These ideas may have the seeds of other more viable alternatives, or suggest other ideas later on. You may focus on creating alternative visions or alternative ways of achieving the changes mentioned above. Some people will get overwhelmed with questions that ask for 'all the ways', but will continue to create if you simply request more ideas one at a time. Stay open to new ideas popping up throughout the process.



    • 'What are all the ways you can think of that would accomplish these changes?'


    • 'How could you reach that goal? What are other ways?'


    • 'Be sure to tell me if other ideas come up - '



8. Consider the Consequences: Explore the consequences of each alternative. Conscientiously examine each alternative for personal, environmental, social, or political consequences, giving the same amount of time and energy to each alternative. Returning to feeling questions may be beneficial. 'How would your first alternative affect your other choices?'



    • 'What would be the effect of using the runoff for your garden?


    • 'How would you feel doing (name each alternative)'


    • 'What would be the political effect if you did - ?'



9. Consider the Obstacles: Each alternative has inherent impediments to achievement. Focusing on obstacles is an important first step in removing them. It is more useful to focus on what keeps a person, group, or institution from changing, rather than pressuring them to change. Choices are most clear when the change and the obstacles to change are visible to both the questioner and respondent.



    • 'What would need to change in order for alternative 'a' to be done?'


    • 'What keeps you from doing - ?


    • 'What prevents you from getting involved?'


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