Strategic questioning addresses the question: 'How can we participate in the creation of change?'
Strategic questioning also assumes the direction and energy for change is contained in the people involved in the situation, but it must be brought to the surface and helped to ripen, individually and collectively. Strategic questions are designed to do that. As all good community developers know, if you want to know what needs doing, ask those involved. For example, 'What will it take for us to begin listening deeply to each other?'
Any strategic question has many possible answers. In any case, when asking a strategic question, it is important not to assume you know the answer. If you do, you won't hear the real answers when they emerge as you won't likely have provided enough space for them to fully unfold.
The unfolding of good answers is in many ways more important than the answers themselves. During that unfolding, peoples' relationship to the situation comes into focus and evolves - and the WILL to create change emerges. The power of the answers are rooted in the truth and passion that lay in the heart of the individual answering the question. The power of the question itself is merely its leverage in releasing that truth and passion into the world.
'There is a real competence that can be learned in schools, but the wisdom, experience and will to make change, as well as to create the environment and culture for change is in all of us.' That's what strategic questioning activates.
The supreme test of a strategic question is the change that ultimately happens as a result of it. A strategic question involves us and all potential answerers 'in the innate, spontaneous imagery which organically draws us forward to appropriate realities of the future. Strategic questioning is a context-altering process since the asking of questions opens up alternatives in a social context, as well as providing ideas about which strategies are imbedded in the society they are working in.'
The most important skill in strategic questioning is that of looking for action in static communication, being able to recognize movement and the intention for movement - and then feeding that perception back to the person involved. What would our world be like if every time we were listening to a gripe session, someone would ask, 'I wonder what we can do to change that situation?' and then listened carefully for the answers and helped that group begin to work for change?'
How to Design Strategic Questions
Strategic questions can:
- find where attention is focused: i.e., 'What are you most concerned about in your community?'
- clarify what is seen or known: 'What effects of this situation have you noticed?' (Try not refer to the situation as a problem for that may work against creative thinking.)
- clarify what is felt: 'What sensations do you have in your body when you think or talk about this situation?'
- identify ideals, dreams and values: 'What about this situation do you care so much about?'
- identify the change view: 'What will it take to bring the current situation towards the ideal?'
- evoke personal involvement: 'What do you like to do that might be useful in bringing about these changes?'
- get something started: 'Who do you need to talk to?'
Note: Questions later in the above list tend to be longer-levered than questions nearer the beginning.
Things to avoid:
- 'why' questions - which tend to rationalize the present rather than explore options
- disguised suggestions ('Have you considered - ') which are manipulative
- yes/no questions - which wrap up without generating real exploration
- closed questions - which limit our sense of possibility. Feel the increasing openness of the following questions: 'Why don't you work on poverty?' 'What keeps you from working on poverty?' 'What would need to be different, for you to work on poverty?' What kind of support would help you work on poverty?