Creating Big Questions for Investigation

Adapted from the Detroit Future Schools guide to transformative education.

When you want to create a participatory framework for people to work within, generating big questions is a good place to start. Big questions offer a structure for focused investigation and understanding the root of the problem. Here are a few steps to help facilitate a group in generating big questions when starting a new project.

STEP 1: Identify something you want your project to change or transform in your community.

For example if digital literacy is a challenge in your community, you can brainstorm all the ways in which digital literacy is effecting your community then pick a topic that resonates with your team.

STEP 2: Identify the skills and practices you want to develop with your community in the process of implementing this project?

Brainstorm what opportunities for growth there are within your project. Can you strengthen existing relationships while building a mesh network? Are you able to train new people in your project along the way? Are there opportunities to connect people that were not connected before?

STEP 3: Create a question that both investigates the change you want to see and the skills and practices you want to develop.

Major topic + skills or practices you want to develop = big question

Think through how the skills and practices developed will impact the topic you choose in the first step. the community. If your topic is community owned communications infrastructure and the skills or practices you want to develop is story telling your question might look like: How does a community-owned wireless network help people tell their stories?

If the topic is Digital Access to improve economy and you want to develop deeper relationships within the community, then your big question might look like: What can the role of media and technology be in building new economies rooted in relationships?

STEP 4: Create a series of questions that allow you to investigate the big question.

Take a moment to understand what questions you will need to ask in order to begin to investigate your big question. With the question, what can the role of media and technology be in building new economies rooted in relationships? You could further investigate by asking, What do we need to understand about our community to begin this work? You could also ask, How are people currently using media and technology to build relationships?

Generating at least 4 supporting questions will help you understand the scope of work and capacity needed to complete your project.