Powerful Questions

Adapted from Sally Ann Roth  Public Conversations Project c. 1998

Here are some questions you might ask yourself as you begin to explore the art and architecture of powerful questions. They are based on pioneering work with questions being done by the Public Conversations Project, a group that helps create constructive dialogue on divisive public issues.

  • Is this question relevant to the real life and real work of the people who will be exploring it?
  • Is this a genuine question—a question to which I/we really don’t know the answer?
  • What “work” do I want this question to do? That is, what kind of conversation, meanings, and feelings do I imagine this question will evoke in those who will be exploring it?
  • Is this question likely to invite fresh thinking/feeling? Is it familiar enough to be recognizable and relevant—and different enough to call forward a new response?
  • What assumptions or beliefs are embedded in the way this question is constructed?
  • Is this question likely to generate hope, imagination, engagement, creative action, and new possibilities or is it likely to increase a focus on past problems and obstacles?
  • Does this question leave room for new and different questions to be raised as the initial question is explored?

Resources:

The Art of Powerful Questions (pdf) 14 pages  by Erik E. Vogt, Juanita Brown and David Isaacs

Optional Resources:

Systems Thinking (pdf) 30 pages from From Stuck to Unstuck: Overcoming Congregational Impasse by Kenneth A. Halsted

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