In our experience with creating scenarios and prehearsals, we found that probing possible futures is best done with an open and inquiring mind. We find that it helps to begin the process by framing conversations with a question rather than a theme or issue. However, crafting meaningful questions is much more tricky than most of us expect. In our workshops we like to spend a significant amount of time coming up with the question that digs deep into what the participants are interested in.
On this page we collect insights from different fields that can help us ask better questions.
A great article on the Art of Powerful Questions, with ideas on how to craft questions that are relevant and engaged.
Shoshin (初心) is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner's mind”. It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.
Asking questions invigorates thinking, learning, action, and results. Interpersonal questions are used for speaking and communicating with others. Internal questions are used for thinking, learning, and reflection within oneself. In either case, one best arrives at effective answers and solutions by route of the best questions. Traveling this route requires resisting the expediency of easy answers and immediate concentration on solutions. Rather, it depends on thought-provoking questions that get to the heart of the matter and can yield more effective answers and solutions, both in the short term and the long term. Reinforcing an ”inquiring mindset” in the context of action learning bolsters the habit of questioning and the quantity and quality of questions asked, which can also contribute to generative learning well beyond the experience itself.
“Questioning insight and questioning processes are the very core of action learning, people tend not to know what to ask and also to be judgmental instead of curious about the underlying causes of the problem.” (Dilworth, 2008, personal conversation)
Albert Einstein: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper questions to ask, for if I knew the proper questions, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”
A team (or individuals on a team) could also use the QDARr model (Question (reflection), Decision (reflection), Action (reflection), Reflection (reflection), back to Question) as a guide for collaborative inquiry, “a process consisting of repeated episodes of reflection and action through which a group of peers strives to answer a question of importance to them.”
The inquiring mindset that is reinforced individually and collectively by participating in action learning could also lead a team to search for questions they may have been missing altogether. They might even discover that every question missed is a crisis waiting to happen.
The Practical Primacy of Questions in Action Learning by Marilee Adams, Ph.D.
Good questions are at the heart of good inquiry. They should be higher-order, rich, worthy, essential and/or fertile. They are often open-ended (have no right or wrong answer) but are backed by subsidiary questions which are usually closed. Get the initial question right and the rest of the inquiry flows well.
Inference Questions. These questions ask students to go beyond the immediately available information (Bruner 1957). “What do you know by looking at this photograph?”
Interpretation Questions. If inference questions demand that students fill in missing information, then interpretive questions propose that they understand the consequences of information or ideas. “Imagine if Frost compared the woman to an ordinary canvas tent instead of a silk one-what would change?”
Transfer Questions. If inference and interpretation questions ask a student to go deeper, transfer questions provoke a kind of breadth of thinking, asking students to take their knowledge to new places. “Imagine that you are a film critic and write a review of “Little Red Riding Hood” as directed by one of these individuals.”
Questions about Hypotheses. Typically, questions about what can be predicted and tested are thought of as belonging to sciences and other “hard” pursuits. But, in fact, predictive thinking matters in all domains.
Reflective Questions. When teachers ask reflective questions, they are insisting that students ask themselves: “How do I know I know?”; “What does this leave me not knowing?”; “What things do I assume rather than examine?”
An Arc of Questions: Across a long arc of questions and answers, they pursue an investigation in which simple factual inquiries give way to increasingly interpretive questions until new insights emerge. For an observer, there is an impression of a kind of mutually constructed improvisation unfolding (Mehan 1978, 1979). In this improvisation, teachers keep questions alive through long stretches of time, coming back to them days, even weeks, after they have first been asked.
From The Art of Questioning by D.P. Wolf