Asking the right questions

Building Movement Project’s second report in the 5% shift series was “Asking Powerful Questions”, and this one featured reStart, Inc., one of my advocacy technical assistance clients and an organization doing tremendous work to engage volunteers more deeply as cause ambassadors, using questions to provoke their thinking about what causes social problems and how we can combat them together.

I have always championed asking many, many more questions–maybe because I spend so much time with young children, who never let concern about how others might view them (or who might get tired of answering) stand in the way of asking all of the questions that come into their minds.

Their most frequent question, and the one that is most important for social justice advocates, I think, is “why?” (followed, of course, by “why not?”)

And reStart, Inc. asks ‘why’ a lot.

Why are people homeless? Why do we fail to fund programs that work? Why are so many people with mental illnesses on the streets? Why has homelessness among families worsened?

But, critically, they ask these questions not just among themselves, bemoaning their challenges or even analyzing data–they ask these questions as a form of engagement, a way to bring volunteers over to the ‘we’ side of the equation, part of the team that, together, will end homelessness, while they also serve those experiencing it.

This shift, befitting the series, didn’t require massive infusion of new resources, or new staff people, or even much more time.

It’s just that, now, instead of seeing volunteers primarily as a task to manage or a resource to exploit, reStart approaches them as co-creators of social change, and asks the questions that, collectively, invite volunteers to build that world together.

What questions do you ask? To whom? And what are you not asking that you think you should?

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