Burning Questions Collection & Prioritization Program

Helping front-line persons identify and prioritize their burning questions

How does this program operate?

  • This program runs on a two-year cycle. The latest cycle was held in the Summer of 2020.
  • For each cycle, the program invites leaders of organizations and funders who are very interested in addressing negative impacts of industrial animal agriculture in low- and middle-income countries to review the existing list of questions, remove questions that are no longer relevant or important, and submit new questions they consider of most significance and salience to their current work.
  • Each question must conform to a set of criteria (e.g. must deal with practical issues, not philosophical ideas).
  • The target for each cycle is to have 12-18 participants.
  • After assembling a new list of questions, all participants prioritize the questions using an exercise modified from a well-established process for prioritizing healthcare treatment uncertainties.

How are the "burning questions" used?

  • The “burning questions” collected in this program inform the kind of work to be supported and funded by the initiative’s Fellowship program and the Research Planning Grants program.

Why collect "burning questions"?

Actual questions asked by actual persons render what needs to be “understood” and “deepened” tangible:

  • Deepening someone’s understanding – a worthy goal though it is – sounds vague and nebulous. Bringing things down to earth and making them tangible is a must. As we are talking about deepening the understanding of a particular group of persons (who are real and can be contacted), why not ask persons in that group what are the important practical things they don’t understand? Why not ask them to write down their burning questions?
  • The list of questions is an actual list that one can hold in one’s hands to guide one’s work. One can also use the questions to focus attention on particular kinds of data to collect and research to undertake that match the questions. 

Asking important questions is a tried and proven technique:

  • Whether in the scientific or social sphere, those who have achieved remarkable breakthroughs and come up with effective, lasting solutions often have a set of core questions as the bedrock on which their endeavors are based.
  • For example, “Always ask important questions and answer them reliably” is a motto familiar to those who conduct randomized trials/ RCTs because that has served as the guiding principle of the medical science experts who pioneered this method.

Questions invite discussions and exploration: 

  • A person asking a question is saying, “I don’t have (all) the answers; please tell me more”.
  • Persons pay more attention to and engage more thoughtfully with things that they recognize as responses to questions they themselves have asked. 

Inviting a range of different front-line individuals to share their questions is more “participatory” than having a few individuals decide what the focus areas should be.

  • Why not come up with questions and priorities ourselves? Why take all the trouble of approaching a range of front-line persons?
  • Workable, enduring solutions are more likely to be found by considering multiple perspectives, and using a multi-disciplinary systems approach rather than ourselves or each front-line group working in silos.
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