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Fran Peavey, Strategic Questions and some revolutionary social change work. - strategic questions manual - strategic questions handbook doc - downloadable/printable pdf doc

excerpts - the questions

Strategic Questioning : An Experiment in Communication of the Second Kind, by Fran Peavey


I imagine questions as falling into "families." The question families increase in fluidity, dynamic and strategic power as you go down from family to family. The first group of questions are NOT strategic questions but are necessary in order to have enough information in order to create the strategic questions. In any questioning campaign or session one would start near the top of the family order and work down to the more powerful strategic questions. Let me explain each "question family" and give some key words for that family:

0. FOCUS QUESTIONS identify the situation and the key facts necessary to an understanding of the situation.

"What are you most concerned about in your community?"

1. OBSERVATION QUESTIONS are concerned with what one sees and the information one has heard regarding the situation. Notice: I do not refer to the situation as a "problem" for that would set a field which may work against creative thinking.

    * "What do you see?" "What do you hear?"
    * "What have you heard and read about this situation?"
    * "Which sources do you trust and why?"
    * "What effects of this situation have you noticed in people, in the earth?"
    * "What do you know for sure and what are you not certain about?" 

KEYWORDS: see, hear, know, find, etc.

2. FEELING QUESTIONS are concerned with body sensations, emotions and health. "What sensations do you have in your body when you think or talk about this situation?"

    * "How do you feel about the situation?"
    * "How has the situation affected your own physical or emotional health?" 

KEYWORDS: feel, suffer, tired, angry, sad, frustrated, needs, etc.

3. VISIONING QUESTIONS are concerned with identifying one's ideals, dreams, and values.

    * "How could the situation be changed to be just as you would like it?"
    * "What about this situation do you care so much about?"
    * "What is the meaning of this situation in your own life?"
    * "How would you like it to be?" 

KEYWORDS: hope, wish, like, love, better, justice, etc.


4. CHANGE QUESTIONS are concerned with how to get from the present situation towards a more ideal situation.

    * "What will it take to bring the current situation towards the ideal?"
    * "What exactly needs to change here?"
    * "Who can make a difference?"
    * "What are changes you have seen or read about?"
    * "How did those changes come about?" 

(Here you are trying to find the individual's change view that will greatly impact the strategies for change she will believe in.)

KEYWORDS: what will it take..., how could.

5. CONSIDER THE ALTERNATIVES Try to imagine more than two alternatives (contrary to our cultural training, the world of resistance is not dualistic). Be alert for other alternatives to pop up in other areas of questioning. Do not rule out any alternative.

    * "What other ways could you imagine meeting your goal of change?"
    * "Yes, maybe that does sound like a crazy idea, but what is the wisdom in that alternative?"
    * "What are the consequences of each alternative you see?"
    * "How might those changes come about? Name as many ways as possible." 

KEYWORDS: alternative ways, imagine, and all the ways imaginable

6. PERSONAL INVENTORY AND SUPPORT QUESTIONS are concerned with identifying one's interests, potential contribution and the support necessary to act.

    * "What would it take for you to participate in the change?"
    * "What do you like to do that might be useful in bringing about these changes?"
    * "Tell me what is special about you."
    * "What aspects of the situation interest you the most?"
    * "What support would you need to work for this change?" 

KEYWORDS: what will it take, part of the change, your part, everyone has a role, etc.

7. PERSONAL ACTION QUESTIONS are those which get down to the specifics of what to do, how and when to do it. The actual plan begins to emerge.

    * "Who do you need to talk to?"
    * "How will you get an introduction to them that will establish your credibility?"
    * "How can you get others together at a meeting to work on this? 

Usually in working on the streets using strategic questioning, one does not get to the lower level of questions like obstacles and resistance. The earlier questions of feeling and thinking (analysis) are important and the visioning and alternative ways of achieving the social goals are very important in street polling.

For your notes:

AVOID questions that suggest specific alternatives ("Have you considered..."), yes/no questions, and "why" questions.

The openness of a particular question is obvious at the gross extremes, but becomes far more subtle and subjective as one deepens one's understanding of the technique. For example, feel the difference between "Why don't you work on poverty?" and "What keeps you from working on poverty?"

May I repeat: strategic questioning is not manipulative. It's not my job to figure out what a person should do and then somehow get her to do it we need to stay completely out of the way. My opinions will not serve. Of course, I have opinions; if I cannot put my opinions sufficiently to one side, I may need to warn the questionee to watch for my leaning toward my own ideas. My opinions will not be empowering to the person being questioned, and will not be useful. Best to put them in my pocket when doing strategic questioning. The questionee needs to figure out where they need to move and the greatest service that I can be is to ask good questions, rephrase back what I hear, and be a channel for the questionee to see her own path. If we're really trying to find out what's appropriate for the questionee the most helpful thing to do is to ask long lever questions, examine what emerges, and value that.

Most people, maybe you, have had the experience of going to a friend for advice and found yourself saying things that surprised you. You were saying things with a wisdom you didn't know you possessed, putting ideas together in a fresh way that seemed clear, coherent and profound. Without giving advice the questioner-friend helped you think freshly and come up with a plan of action that felt clear and uncluttered with all the upset and confusion that beset you before the conversation. Yet the friend was only listening with a quality of attention and questioning that brought forth this wisdom from you. If advice was offered it was probably in an empowering way, "I personally think you might consider.... (an option) but whatever you decide I will love and respect you. I know you will know best what to do."

When using strategic questioning in a campaign or social change situation, one might similarly say, "I think.... But I surely don't see the picture through your eyes. Let us work to find an alternative that meets both of our needs. Even if we differ in our opinions, I respect you and will work with you to find the best way to deal with our common situation." Strategic questioning does not require that the practitioner be codependent and forget about her own opinions. It only means that you carry your opinions in a way that does not interfere with dialogue, respect and co-creation of alternates.


Another aspect is that ethical strategic questioning looks at the many options equally. Supposing Sally says she could move to place A or B or C. It's not up to me to say to myself "I think place C is the best, and I should encourage her down that path." If you're conscientious about your questioning, you may question even handedly, with the same enthusiasm, interest and time at all options. Not only that but asking if there are any more options that occur while looking at A, B, and C. Out of the questioning a brand new option may emerge.

At this point I would again urge the questioner to watch for questioning that focuses on only two options. We are so accustomed to binary thinking where it's either A or B, that often C or D cannot emerge. Open up, consider all the options. Usually when someone is only considering two options, they simply have not done the creative thinking to look at all the possibilities. They will be sorry down the road for having only considered so few options. A friend whose daughter had run away was trying to decide whether to let her get on the train in a few hours, or to go to the train and insist that she come home. We worked at that level for a while, and then a new option came up--why not run away with the daughter and take the twelve hours on the train to sort things out. Because she was scared and hurt, she had been unable to think of this fine option. It was the kind of option that she would have thought of a month after the event when the feelings had subsided. Then she would have kicked herself for not thinking of it at the time.

People are usually comfortable when they have two options and think they can make a decision at that level. The world is far more complex and exciting than two options would indicate; but having two options creates the idea that a decision, however limited, is being made.


The most important skill in strategic questioning is that of looking for action in static communication. Being able to recognize movement and the intention for movement is key. Then feeding that perception back to the person involved is important.

In social change the key skill in addition to the above is the ability to plan a campaign based upon what the questioners have heard in the field. The necessary skills are creating literature that uses the logic of the people, finding tactics that people are waiting for, providing leadership, and developing activities that use the change strategy already residing in the people.

Strategic Questioning : An Experiment in Communication of the Second Kind, by Fran Peavey


1. Focus Questions gather information that is already known. This is not a strategic question though it is necessary for strategic questioning to work. This part of the dialogue helps create the context for the questioning. INFORM THE QUESTIONEE WHAT WILL BECOME OF THEIR ANSWERS AND IDEAS

"The board of directors has decided to ask the members (staff, each other) about their thinking about the personnel policies of this organization. What issues in our city (organization, project, etc.) concern you?"

"The city council is asking us to gather ideas about what to do about the floods which every few years inundate our city. Would you be willing to talk with us for a few minutes about this matter?" "What are your concerns?"

2. Observation Questions are concerned with what one sees and the information one has heard regarding the situation. Notice: I do not refer to the situation as a problem, for that would set a field, which may work against creative thinking.

"What do you see?" "What do you hear?"

"What effects of this situation have you noticed in people, in the earth?"

"What do you know for sure and what are you not certain about?"

"What do you read about this situation?"

"What information do you trust?"

"When you look at the river, what do you see that concerns you?"

"What effects of the floods have you noticed?"

"What information do you need to gather about this situation?"

3. Analysis Questions (thinking questions)

"What do you think are the causes of....?"

"What is the relationship of ......?"

"What are the main economic structures that affect this situation?"

"What are the main political structures that affect this situation?

"What are the main cultural structures that affect this situation?"

"What are the main social structures that affect this situation?"

"What is the meaning of this in our community?"

4. Feeling Questions

"How do you feel about .......?"

"How has this situation affected you in your body?" "In your feelings? In your dreams? "

"How has this situation affected your feelings in your family?"

"How has this situation affected your feelings about your community?"

"How has this situation affected your feelings about our organization?"


5. Visioning Questions are concerned with identifying one's ideals, values, and dreams

"How would you like it to be?"

"What does your heart long for?"

"How could our group be more effective in working toward our goal?"

"If we wanted to build a revolutionary change what would we do?"

"What of your own attitudes could change in order for to this goal to be met?"

"What will it take to bring the current situation towards your ideal?"

"How could the situation be changed so it was just as you would like it?"

"What about this situation do you care so much about?"

"What is the meaning of this situation in your own life?"

6. Change questions are concerned with how to get from the present to a more ideal situation.

"How could the situation be changed for it to be as you would like it to be?"

"What exactly needs to change in our organization?"

"What changes have you seen in your lifetime that compares with the changes that need to happen here?"

"How did those changes occur?" (Here you are trying to find the individual's change view, which will greatly impact the strategies for change she will believe in.)

7. Considering all the alternatives. Examine each alternative to getting to your vision. Make sure you are considering more than two alternatives and be alert for other alternatives coming up at any time.

"What are all the ways you can imagine to make the changes you need?"

"How could you reach that goal? What are other ways?"

"What would it take for our city, organization to do....?"

"What would it take for you to work on this project?"

8. Consider the Consequences for each alternative. Ethical questioning spends as much time and energy on each alternative, not focusing on the alternative favored by the questioner.

"How would your first alternative affect others in our group (city, etc.)?"

"What would be the effect on the environment?"

"How would other sectors in our town respond to each alternative?"

"What political effect would you anticipate from each alternative?"

"If we use windmills for generating electricity, what could be the consequences of slowing down the wind?"

9. Consider the Obstacles

"What would need to change in order for alternative "A" to be done?"

"What forces in our society would push against this goal?"

"How would the staff, (the KKK, the director) respond to your proposal?"

10. Personal Support Questions

"What support would you need to work for this change?"

"What groups, unions, religious organizations do you belong to?"

"What support do you need to do......?"

"What would it take for you to participate in the change?"

"What do you like to do that might be useful in bringing about these changes?"

11. Personal Action Planning

"Who do you need to talk to about your vision?"

"What are your first steps?"

For your notes:

As we talk about change, see where we want to resist or work on another alternative, we make the path. This is the way we all work ourselves through fear to a more powerful position and action. People will of course speak about suffering when offered the opportunity to do so. Don't be afraid of upset. The person is trying to relieve her own discomfort and figure out what to do. Listening to suffering is one of the most important things a social change worker can do.

Don't only listen, but let the suffering fully into your heart. The temptation is to think that this is only individual suffering. I think all individual suffering is tied to our collective suffering. There are institutional and community ways of addressing each suffering which ameliorates that suffering, or at least gives the suffering meaning.

Confront your own limitations of heart, your own helplessness. When you ask questions about the important things in life you're going to touch sores. In the questioning you may touch some of the wounded places inside of yourself and you may feel uncomfortable. Well, guess what? If we are to change, it is going to feel uncomfortable--which is what changing involves. When you go to the edge of what is and what is yet to become, it is not an easy journey. Sometimes upset is going to come. Be patient with yourself and each other. It's o.k. to feel creepy. It doesn't mean you're a creep. It means you feel creepy. It means you live in a creepy world. When you feel creepy you're part of the world feeling itself. You're part of the world feeling itself into healing and it's all right.

Help each other through it. So don't be afraid of upset. It's only pain moving, nothing more, and nothing less.


We have begun to find a way to display and analyze the answers to questions which are the product of strategic questioning. We develop a whole collage of answers that can be analyzed and used by a group to move forward strategically. Without some kind of a computer program to do this we can simply report back the results of strategic questioning exercises, and write them on large pieces of paper or a blackboard. We then look these responses as a group and draw conclusions which move us toward new strategic goal.

When we put such ideas up on the board we frequently code them: we gather all responses which show the logic, the way that people think about our area of interest and put a large LO for logic next to those items. Those items will help us in making leaflets, writing articles explaining our position. We need to understand the logic of the citizens in order to know how to appeal to them regarding our issue. We put a large LA next to items which give us language, which people use in explaining this issue or in attacking it. Next to objections to our position, we put the symbol OB. We must know what the objections are to our position (if we have one) in order to frame our strategy. If the main objection to the idea is the cost, then this objection needs to be taken into account in all leaflets and speeches. ID can mark ideas that come forward to questions such as "what would you like to do to help the river?" We put a CV to indicate change view. A further refinement has been suggested that when an idea or an objection or logic occurs within the questioner, the symbol would simply be circled.

A good example of how strategies can change based upon asking good questions might be seen in some research done in India by an economics professor. He wanted to find out what people would be willing to do to help the river become cleaner. Through asking questions he came to find out something quite unexpected: people would be willing to pay more taxes if the river was clean--only after the river was clean but not before.

In my imagination this is how it happened: He was asking questions of what people would be willing to do, noting them down in his notebook, and possibly one person said "I would not be willing to pay taxes if the government promises to clean the river because I have not had positive experience with the government living up to its promises."

At this point the questioner intuitively asked, "if the river was cleaner would you be willing to pay more taxes?" In his notebook he writes down this idea and notes it with an ID circle indicating that it was his idea. When going back over his notes he remembers this idea and adds it to his research questions along with ideas that other people have had. Where ideas come from is not so important as that they do come. But it is important feedback for the individual who had the idea to remember that a new idea did come and was effective. We need to see ourselves as changing and evolving individuals. It is also helpful to see our common strategy developing through the work and insights of our members.

OBJECTIONS: to your campaign, group or to the nature of the present conditions.

LOGIC: causal relationship; why is something important, what are the motivating forces?

LANGUAGE: what words and phrases do people use to describe their response or their rationale?

STRATEGY OR IDEAS: what options do people favor, what new thinking do you hear?

CHANGE VIEW the strategies and tactics which the person attributes previous successful changes.


But what about those in politics who have basically been taught to manipulate people into thinking the way they think? In the old model of power we've been taught to think that we're superior and that we have the point of view which everyone else needs. One of the basic transactions we have been taught as human beings is to feel secure if there is agreement. So I have to manipulate you to agree with me (at least superficially) or I only reveal the parts of myself that you will agree with or approve of. This results in one rarely examining where one feels called to change in conversations with others. Strategic questioning is not useful in proselytizing or fundraising.

I suspect we are never really objective. But we can be ethical about how we question people and what we do with what they say. I believe very deeply that any individual does not consciously know most of the ways we need to change in order to survive into a healthy future. I also believe that together we do know, if only in a passive place in our minds, some if not most of the changes we are going to need to make, but that those ideas are clouded by fear, guilt or passivity. Those change ideas are constricted by an inadequate sense of self, which does not allow us to dream that we are big enough or secure enough to change.

If I use really open questions we may learn a new way together or I may at least witness a human being expressing what she sees as a path. Since each of us is weeding in a different row, I am interested in you finding the weeds in your row as well as in discussing my row and all my weeds. Each person works at a job, cares for a plot of land, nurtures children or parents or friends, has some relationship to transportation and therefore has a unique view on the areas needing change for the future. Questions encourage inventions, whistle-blowing and courage: all aspects we need more of now and in the days to come.

copyright 2003 fran peavey.

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Last edited September 7, 2017 3:01 pm CentralTimeUSA by MichaelHerman
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