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The Power of Questions

Living here in Oregon, I’m a continent away from my dad, but we manage to keep really good conversations going about the issues affecting us in our different states. And he’s always sending me clips from his local paper or links to news articles.  Then we exchange long emails or phone calls about what we’re thinking. These exchanges remind me of the kitchen during dinnertime when I was growing up. More than anything else, I hear the noise of the six of us simply talking and discussing the things that mattered in our house, our family, our neighborhood, our town and beyond.  Even now, when we get together for a holiday meal, we come around to the really important issues in the public square. We shove our chairs back, pound the table, argue a little, get up for another helping, and keep talking.

This week, my dad sent me an article he thought I’d like from the Boston Globe about how questions could drive learning, innovation, business strategy, and creativity and even help in our relationships with decisions makers.

In “Are We Asking the Right Questions?” Leon Neyfahk writes, “Wielded with purpose and care, a question can become a sophisticated and potent tool to expand minds, inspire new ideas, and give us surprising power at moments when we might not believe we have any.”

And it got me to thinking about what we’re doing here with Oregon’s Kitchen Table. This experiment relies on decision makers and our advisory board – a fantastic, dedicated group of civic leaders – working hard to make sure they’re asking questions that will inspire new ideas from all of you.

Soon, we’ll be sending all of you who have signed up and taken a seat a series of questions (what we’re calling a “consultation”) about an important issue in our state. And even beyond that, we think that Oregon’s Kitchen Table will itself become a potent tool to inspire you to become interested in participating in public issues at the local, regional, and statewide levels.  We hope you will think about the kinds of questions we all need to be asking each other to get to the innovative ideas that will lead to good solutions in our state. And we hope you’ll take your questions back to the conversations you’re having at your kitchen table.

As Dan Rothstein, who heads up the Right Question Institute, says:  “It’s essential to democracy. . . .You want citizens to be able to ask good questions.”

Sarah Giles