the Right Question

I’ve written before about our friends at The Right Question Institute, authors of the book Make Just One Change. I can testify–from having gone through their training myself–that it is not just disadvantaged and marginalized people who don’t know how to ask questions that elicit what decisions are being made, by whom. If you can’t find that out, in many situations, you are powerless. But you can learn it in a matter of an hour or so if you experience The Right Question model, as I did. Leon Neyfakh describes the process in an excellent and prominent Sunday Boston Globe piece, entitled “Are we Asking the Right Questions?” Here is a flavor, but read the whole thing:

Figuring out what makes a good question—or rather, what kind of question will get us the information we want—isn’t such a simple thing, even for grownups. It requires stopping to think about what we’re trying to find out, what the person we’re talking to might know, and what words we should use to coax them into helping us. Donald Rumsfeld infamously said in 2002, in reference to the Iraq war, that there were “known unknowns” as well as “unknown unknowns,” or “things we do not know we don’t know.” The statement was mocked at the time, but in fact it reflects the difficult abstract reasoning we all engage in when we’re trying to fill gaps in our knowledge. Being good at asking questions is the art of identifying those gaps, sorting them, and figuring out how to fill them. Considered that way, it is a strange skill: “the ability to organize your thinking around something you know nothing about,” said [Dan] Rothstein.

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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