Strategic Questions


A shift in the conversation is created by being strategic about the type of questions we are asking one another. Strategic questions and the speaking they evoke constitute powerful action. This is because the nature of the questions we ask either keeps the existing system in place or brings an alternative future into the room.

The existing conversation in our communities is organized around a set of traditional questions that have little power to create an alternative future. These are the questions the world is constantly asking. It is understandable that we ask them, but they carry no power; and in the asking, each of these questions is an obstacle to addressing what has given rise to the question in the first place:

For example, all of us often ask, or are asked:

How do we get people to show up and be committed?

How do we get others to be more responsible?

How do we get people to come on board and to do the right thing?

How do we hold those people accountable?

How do we get others to buy in to our vision?

How do we get those people to change?

How much will it cost and where do we get the money?

How do we negotiate for something better?

What new policy or legislation will move our interests forward?

Where is it working? Who has solved this elsewhere and how do we import that knowledge?

How do we find and develop better leaders?

Why aren't those people in the room?

If we answer these questions directly, from the context from which they are asked, we are supporting the mindset that an alternative future can be negotiated, mandated, engineered, and controlled into existence. They call us to try harder at what we have been doing.

The hidden agenda in these questions is to maintain dominance and to be right. They urge us to raise standards, measure more closely, and return to basics, purportedly to create accountability. They are not really about returning to basics, they are about returning to what got us here. These questions have no power; they only carry force.

All these questions preserve innocence for the one asking. They imply that the one asking knows, and other people are a problem to be solved. These are each an expression of reliance on the use of force to make a difference in the world. They occur when we lose faith in our own power and the power of our community.

These questions are also a response to the wish to create a predictable future. We want desperately to take uncertainty out of the future. But when we take uncertainty out, it is no longer the future. It is the present projected forward. Nothing new can come from the desire for a predictable tomorrow. The only way to make tomorrow predictable is to make it just like today. In fact, what distinguishes the future is its unpredictability and mystery.

Questions that have the power to make a difference are ones that engage people in an intimate way, confront them with their freedom, and invite them to co-create a future possibility.

Achieving accountability and commitment entails the use of questions through which, in the act of answering them, we become co-creators of the world. It does not matter what our answers to the questions are. The questions have an impact even if the response is to refuse to answer them.

To state it more dramatically: Powerful questions are the ones that cause you to become an actor as soon as you answer them. You no longer have the luxury of being a spectator of whatever it is you are concerned about. Regardless of how you answer these questions, you are guilty. Guilty of having created this world. Not a pleasant thought, but the moment we accept the idea that we have created the world, we have the power to change it.

Powerful questions also express the reality that change, like life, is difficult and unpredictable. They open up the conversation – in contrast to questions that are, in a sense, answers in disguise. Answers in disguise narrow and control the dialogue, and thereby the future.

Questions themselves are an art form worthy of a lifetime of study. They are what transform the hour.

Here are some questions that have the capacity to open the space for a different future:

What is the commitment you hold that brought you into this room?

What is the price you or others pay for being here today?

How valuable do you plan for this effort to be?

What is the crossroads you face at this stage of the game?

What is the story you keep telling about the problems of this community?

What are the gifts you hold that have not been brought fully into the world?

What is your contribution to the very thing you complain about?

What is it about you or your team, group, or neighbourhood that no one knows?

These questions have the capacity to move something forward. By answering these kinds of questions, we become more accountable, more committed, more vulnerable; and when we voice our answers to one another, we grow more intimate and connected.

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(edited and adapted from) Peter Block “Community – The Structure of Belonging” 2008 and Peter Block “Civic Engagement and the Restoration of Community” 2007

for more on Strategic Questioning see also


Strategic Questioning (1997) by Fran Peavey and vivian Hutchinson

download from here 



The Answer to How is Yes (2003) by Peter Block

available on Amazon.com here



Peter Block “Community – The Structure of Belonging”
now in a second edition, revised and updated
Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 2nd ed. edition (July 17, 2018)

available on Amazon.com at

Or buy from Bookshop.org / Support Independent Bookstores