Sunday, November 28, 2010

Divergent Questions: Another Kind of Power

If you have been following the last couple of posts, you know what's coming next: making the case for the power of divergent questions.

What is a divergent question?
Think about Frost's "The Road Not Taken": Two roads diverged in a yellow wood... Divergence is the possibility of difference, of going in different directions. When we are talking about questions, we're referring to a question that can reasonably generate a variety of responses. For example:

How might we approach this problem?

Do you hear the intention behind that question? It acknowledges that there is more than one legitimate answer. We can imagine a facilitator asking that question to start a discussion about multiple possibilities. As a result, this question encourages broader thinking.

We need to answer three questions about divergent questions:
1. How do you phrase them?
2. Why would you bother?
3. When do you use them?

How to phrase questions intended to generate divergent thinking
This is the easiest part. In terms of the wording, the difference between convergent and divergent questions is subtle; in terms of the response, the results are worlds apart. Divergent questions are open to multiple responses. That's it. The easiest way to make that happen is to take a convergent question and insert a "do you think" in the middle:

Convergent: Who is the best actor on the stage today?
Divergent: Who do you think is the best actor on the stage today?

Never mind that the question, even phrased convergently, was asking for an opinion. What we're after is phrasing that opens up the discussion.

Here's another way: Change present-tense verbs to "might":

Convergent: What type of therapeutic intervention would help this child?
Divergent: What type of therapeutic intervention might help this child?

The key in phrasing is that our purpose (as described in the last post) is to use the kind of question that is right for the situation and the part of the discussion process we are in.

This is getting long again. Let's look at the why and when in another post.

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