Why Collect and Focus on Front-Line Persons’ 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?
  • Asking people directly and sincerely what they need and what kind of help they would like to get is hugely valuable.
  • The list of questions is an actual list that one can hold in one’s hands to guide one’s work. One can look at this list and gauge whether “understanding” has increased (e.g. by ascertaining whether the person asking a question gains deeper understanding after being given sound information and analysis relevant to the question). 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.
  • Questions provide more opportunities than unequivocal statements for clarifications, explanations, and back-and-forth that is essential to gaining a fuller, more sophisticated understanding of a problem.

Inviting a host of different front-line individuals to provide and share their questions is more “participatory” than having a few individuals make all the decisions; it also encourages cross-pollination among all the participants:

  • Why not come up with questions and priorities by consulting a handful of experts (as is customary with funders)? Why take all the trouble of approaching a range of veteran front-line persons?
  • Firstly, Tiny Beam Fund values highly a bottom-up, participatory, co-production approach.
  • Secondly, comprehensive, enduring solutions to this complex problem are more likely to be found by using a multi-disciplinary systems approach. Each group working in silos and without reference to the big picture is probably suboptimal. Therefore, the wider the range of front-line persons sharing and being exposed to ideas and questions outside their own camps – even in subtle ways – the higher is the chance of arriving at solutions that are substantial and far-reaching.