What is a “good question”?
Dear collaborative discussion friends,
This week we are highlighting an activity that helps participants craft “good questions” from a place of curiosity. It helps participants move past their own assumptions about others’ values, experiences, and perspectives. This activity encourages participants to unearth what stakeholders truly care about, hope for, and fear in connection to a particular issue.
This activity is contributed by Lori Britt, Professor at the School of Communication & ICAD Co-Director at James Madison University, and is one of the many activities in the Culturally Responsive Collaboration Module.
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This week’s activity:
Asking “good questions” to gain a deeper understanding of another’s experience
This activity helps participants by providing a framework of six different types of “good questions”. Participants are invited to examine their own assumptions about how different stakeholders view a complex topic. They then use the framework provided to develop their own set of questions to gain deeper insight into the true hopes, fears, and desires of these different stakeholders in regards to this issue.
Select a Topic
Select a complex topic that is important to your discussion group, something they are passionate about. As preparation for this activity, consider Activity 5.1 Identifying Your Civic Passion.
Create Stakeholder Charts
Invite participants to form small groups (4-6 ppl).
Have participants create a list of stakeholders for the issue using this Identifying Stakeholders Worksheet from Activity 5.2 Developing an Awareness of Stakeholders. Ask participants to think about the following questions:
- How does each stakeholder define the issue?
- What are their major concerns?
Explore Assumptions about Stakeholders
Prompt participants to reflect on their assumptions about what stakeholders think about the issue and the sources that informed these assumptions. These sources could range from personal experience and media sources like online news websites or blogs to information they learned in school. Invite participants to create a list of these sources. If required, participants can spend a few minutes researching to compile their list.
Identify Questions to Ask and Assign a Stakeholder to Each Group
Invite participants to now think about what questions they would need to ask these stakeholders to understand how they actually define the issue and their true hopes, fears, and desires concerning this issue. Explain to participants that the purpose of asking these questions is to test their assumptions about these stakeholders. They should move past these assumptions to gain deeper insight into the true lived experiences of these people.
Also have participants identify which stakeholders it would be crucial for them to communicate with to learn more about this issue. Have each small group write their top 5 stakeholders on a whiteboard, shared screen, or other surface visible to everyone. Select a few of the different stakeholders listed and assign each small group one of these stakeholders.
Craft “Good Questions”
Using this Question Chart, have participants write 3-4 “good questions” to ask the stakeholder assigned to their group. Encourage participants to craft these questions from a place of curiosity and wanting to deeply understand this stakeholder’s viewpoint. The Question Chart includes six types of questions to help guide participants:
- Grand Tour questions are used to understand how an activity or event usually transpires from start to finish or how a social setting is organized.
- Memorable Tour questions give insight into a turning point or “first”.
- Timeline questions give insight into how things have changed over time.
- Example questions ask someone to provide examples and the types of examples people offer often reveal their concerns and values.
- Experience questions ask about someone’s experiences and the types of experiences people offer often reveal their concerns and values.
- Questions that help articulate the ideal and identify tradeoffs ask someone how they think something “should work” in an ideal world and what they would be willing to give up to get that. People’s responses offer insight into what they consider to be the ideal and what they define as acceptable tradeoffs.
The full description of Activity 4.6 Asking Questions to Promote Curiosity includes reflection questions, a practice journal prompt, and additional resources to help participants dive deeper.
If you try out this activity, please share with us what you think:
We hope this toolkit activity helps participants recognize their own assumptions and practice the skill of curiosity to create “good questions” in order to gain a deeper understanding of others’ true experiences, motivations, and concerns.
- Mark your calendars! Our next community gathering is this Friday, May 5th at 2 pm (EDT). All are welcome! Register here.
- The Interactivity Foundation is organizing a 3-part interactive, small group conversation series, exploring dimensions of The Economy & Democracy. Join us for the second session this Wednesday, May 3 at 2pm (EDT). Invite your students! Register here.
- The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley is offering the Bridging Differences in Higher Education Learning Fellowship. This is a great opportunity for any leader in higher education — faculty, administrators, staff, or students — who wants to foster more constructive dialogue and understanding on US college campuses. Recipients will be be part of a 8-month facilitated virtual learning community from September 2023 to April 2024. The application deadline is May 22, 2023. Learn more and apply today!
- The School of Public Affairs at American University is hosting an online conversation about dialogue and pedagogy, “Can We Talk? Defining, Practicing, and Protecting Dialogue in Higher Education” on June 13th and 14th from 1pm – 5pm (EDT). Over the two days, this event will have four 90-minute sessions, each beginning with a short keynote followed by an interactive facilitated discussion. All are welcome! Register here.
- We are also accepting nominations for our Pilot Coach Training for Undergraduate Students which will take place this fall. Space will be limited. You can learn more or nominate a student by emailing Shannon at [email protected]
Looking forward to collaborating,
Ritu Thomas & the Collaborative Discussion Team