Strategic questioning is a form of action inquiry created by change agent Fran Peavey. Strategic questioning assumes that the direction and energy for change is contained in the people involved in the situation, but that it must be brought to the surface and helped to ripen, individually and collectively. Strategic questions are designed to do that.
In short: If you want to know what needs doing, ask those involved. If it is your own personal problem, ask yourself. And then listen deeply.
"We truly listen if we sense ourselves to be in danger. Imagine, for example, that there is a murderer at large and we are alone in bed in the middle of the night and there is a noise downstairs. At times like these, we stop moving, our entire body, inside and out becomes very still until nothing is left but a heartbeat. Even our breathing becomes inaudible. Our concentration is focused totally on the sound. Animals, sensing danger, stop in their tracks and literally prick up their ears to listen.... We need to listen as if our lives depend on it."
:- from "Matsumoto News: A Newsletter" by Karen Hagberg; March 1990
NOT KNOWING is an essential ingredient in strategic questioning. Any strategic question worthy of the name has many possible answers. If you are asking a strategic question, never assume you know the answer, or you won't hear the real answers when they emerge. You won't give them enough space to unfold fully.
The unfolding of good answers is in many ways more important than the answers themselves. During that unfolding, peoples' relationship to the situation comes into focus and evolves - and the WILL to create change emerges. Any answer's power derives from the truth and passion that lie buried in the heart of the answerer. The power of the question itself is merely its leverage in releasing that truth and passion into the world.
The supreme test of a strategic question is the change that happens as a result of it -- sometimes after a while...
Movement and Leverage
It is important to notice that when people are complaining or wishing, there is potential action trapped inside them. Their complaint or wish tells you where that action would like to go. You can feed back their trapped life energy in the form of a question - e.g., "If you were in charge of things, what might you do to deal with that?" - that helps the complainer or dreamer connect up with their potential role as an active change agent. If you listen well to what they say, and keep asking strategic questions, you can creatively accompany them on a journey to discover their own power, a power they may not have known they had.
The more change a question evokes, the more "leverage" it is said to have. Questions with yes/no answers, "why" questions and questions confined to just a few options tend to be low-leverage questions. Questions which help people clarify their feelings and dreams, questions which help them explore how they think change happens, questions which ask how they'd like to take action or which help them think about what needs to happen to get started - these are all high-leverage questions.