Strategic questioning is a technique often employed in Citizens' Juries or when an initiative requires participants to formulate questions to pose to a panel of experts or witnesses.
Problems and Purpose
According to prominant activist and changemaker Fran Peavey, Strategic Questioning is "a way of talking with people with whom you have differences without abandoning your own beliefs and yet looking for common ground which may enable both parties to co-create a new path from the present situation. In every heart there is ambiguity; in every ideology there are parts that don’t fit." (Ede, 2012).
Employing strategic questioning enables participants to move from 'communications of the first kind to the second'. For example, the question "why is the sky blue" is of the first kind - it has a 'correct' answer and the questioneer learns little else about their interviewee. In contrast, communications of the second kind - and those developed under the strategic questioning technique - calls forth new information, alternative suggestions and demands creative thinking.
Origins and Development
Strategic questioning has been in use since the late 1990s.
How it Works
Participant selection varies depending on the overarching deliberative method employed. For example, citizens' juries may use a targetted or randomised selection method but employ strategic questioning during the jury phase in both cases.
Strategic questioning is split into two exercises: the identification and asking of context questions followed by the formulation and posing of strategic questions.
Sharon Ebe distills these two different categories of questions as follows:
Context questions reside include:
- "Focus Questions: gather information that is already known, identifying the situation and they key facts necessary to understand the situation. Example: ‘What are you most concerned about in your community?’
- Observation Questions: concerned with what someone has seen and the information someone has heard regarding the situation. Examples include: ‘What do you see?’, ‘Which sources do you trust and why?’, ‘What do you know for certain and what are you not sure about?’
- Feeling Questions: concerned with body sensations, emotions, health. Examples include: ‘How do you feel about the situation?’, ‘How has the situation affected your own physical or emotional health?’
- Visioning Questions: concerned with identifying ideals, dreams and values. Examples include: ‘How would you like it to be?’, ‘What about this situation do you care so much about?’"
Strategic questions include:
- "Change Questions: move from the static to the dynamic, how to get from the present to a more ideal situation. Examples include: ‘Who can make a difference?’, ‘How did those changes come about?’, ‘What will it take to bring the current situation towards the ideal?’
- Considering Alternatives: questions which enable someone to imagine or identify (preferably more than two) alternatives. Examples include: ‘What other ways could you meet your goal?’, ‘What are the consequences of each alternative you see?’
- Personal Inventory & Support Questions: identifying someone’s interests, potential contributions and the support required for them to act. Examples include: ‘What would it take for you to participate in the change?’, ‘What support would you need to work for this change?’
- Personal Action Questions: designed to get to the specifics of what to do, when to do it, and how. Examples include: ‘Who do you need to talk to?’, ‘How can you get others to work on this?’"
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Strategic questioning can be used in several different contexts and wields various results. Some context when strategic questioning is helpful include:
- "[When] your organisation is undergoing major change
- When you need to understand the life experience, rationale or degree of commitment of the resistance to your campaign
- You have been working on something for a long time and have run out of ideas
- You are feeling isolated or are cynical that anybody cares about the things you care about
- Your group is fragmented and conflicted – strategic questioning will help clarify positions and look for new alternatives
- A group only sees one or two alternatives and needs to do some creative thinking together"
There may not be a 'right' answer let along one answer that follows from the strategic method technique. However, Peavey sees this not as a downfall of the method but as an intended positive:
"People need to come up with their own answers. Questioning can catalyses this process. A powerful question has a life of its own as it chisels away at the problem. Don't be disappointed if a great question does not have an answer right away. A very powerful question, a long lever question, may not have an answer at the moment it is asked. It will sit rattling in the mind for days or weeks as the person works on an answer. The seed is planted, the answer will grow. Questions are alive!"
While strategic questioning may not immediately yield a 'correct' or 'obvious' answer to the initial question, it gets participants thinking and, from there, other techniques may be employed to wittle down these various thoughts and conclusions into a managable list of points of consensus.
For example, when strategic questioning was used in the Western Australian Citizens' Jury cited above, various different conclusions were drawn which were then divided into three different themes. From there participants worked to draw up recommendations from the information collected. The final list of recommendations was compiled and, after being accepted by the Executive, a small number of jurors were chosen to come up with an action plan.
Ede, Sharon, "Strategic Questioning - Asking Questions That Make A Difference". http://www.cruxcatalyst.com/2012/05/21/strategic-questioning/
Peavey, Fran, "Strategic Questioning: An Approach to Creating Personal and Social Change". http://www.jobsletter.org.nz/pdf/stratq97.pdf
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