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Blog #6 - the art of a good question

On the art of a good question in community development

A key element of effective community development is the skill of being able to ask a good question. Think about what it’s like when you’re at a party or event, and someone talks at you. In contrast, how does it feel if someone asks a couple of gentle questions? Perhaps you hate parties, and don’t like people asking you questions, but it does at least signal the person’s interest in you.

Learning to live with the ‘passion of not knowing’ (a term of one of my favourite philosophers) is crucial so that we lean into everything with the curiosity and stance of unknowing. From that stance, we can learn to question.

But the kinds of question in community development are crucial. Feel the energetic difference between the following three simple questions:

· What are the needs in your community?

· What are the strengths in your community?

· What are your stories of living in this community?

Very different questions, generating different energies and potentially very different collective action.

At my workplace, a colleague and I are gently trying to persuade the workers to shift from asking:

· How can we help you?, to

· How can we be helpful?

Slightly different energy and intention!

Think also, as a community worker, if you ask someone a question and they reply with anger. Something like, ‘I’m weary of you people talking, and never doing anything’. Our options in replying are many, but the simply question of, ‘I hear you’re weary, and I’d love to understand that more. Can you please tell me more about that weariness so I can do better?’ will probably generate a better way forward than most other questions.

So, think about your skill of questioning. Try to bring consciousness and care to this subtle but potent art.

What are your questions?

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