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Asking Questions to Promote Curiosity

Image created using photos by Rémi Rémino and Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

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:

Activity 4.6 – Asking Questions to Promote Curiosity

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.

Activity 4.6 – Asking Questions to Promote Curiosity

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:

Rate Activity 4.6

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.

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Looking forward to collaborating,

Ritu Thomas & the Collaborative Discussion Team