Asking the right questions – it’s all in the framing

For some people the tricky part of engagement can be actually making the decision to engage and working out how to go about it.

While it’s vital to have a strategy that informs engagement, it’s equally as important not to skip past the nuts and bolts of what outcomes you really need.

The way we frame our questions is what helps us to get the most value out of our engagement, and make it meaningful to participants.

Framing questions the right way can make all the difference to how many people participate and the depth of responses you get. We’ve seen it first hand running some of the largest engagement projects in Australia.

We know what works when it comes to yielding responses, and making the responses meaningful. Often the questions you choose set a benchmark for future engagement. People will feel that their responses are thought through and valued.

Tips to consider when framing questions:

1. Unusual Questions: Ask questions you might not ordinarily ask. For example ask questions about topics the community is passionate about even if the topic can be difficult. Seek feedback on people’s vision for the future of an area, or what they perceive are the biggest impacts on their lives. This might be something you’ve never asked before.

2. Trade-off questions: What is it that we might we need to trade off in order to achieve something which is of equal or greater value to us? Are we willing to live with one decision if it means gaining something else?

3. New ideas: We might need to expand thinking beyond what is considered the obvious. Do we need to ask for alternative ideas? Will these ideas yield results that can be applied to improve a situation?

4. Surprise: It’s not always about asking the questions people expect us to ask. We might ask for deliberative input into a decision, rather than just an opinion.

5. Complex: Incorporating more complex questions might assist in getting more meaningful feedback, but people need to be able to relate to and understand the questions.

6. Visual: Questions which involve visual elements, such as pictures, can help people to come up with more relatable ideas in a way they understand, but can also help us to understand what motivated their response.

7. Be in charge: It’s easy to provide answers when you don’t have to decide or implement those decisions. Instead, think about putting people in the role of decision maker. What would they do if they had to weigh up the information, consider the right decision criteria, and then decide.