Questions Paving the Path to Change

April 26, 2010 15 Comments
Many road signs featuring question marks symbolizing uncertainty

|Photo by Qoncept||

With another public offering of Pathway to Change on the horizon (May 4-6), I’ve been putting my thinking towards how best to encapsulate this robust course, which focuses on skills and frameworks for designing and facilitating collaborative change efforts.  The genius behind IISC’s courses in general (for which I can take absolutely no credit) is the simple elegance of the visuals that capture many of the essential ideas and steps.  That said, we can sometimes find ourselves awash in images and wanting something a little more to the point to guide us.  For these purposes, I’ve boiled the course down to a series of key questions that stand behind the various models.  So here is the Curtis’ Notes version (which also applies to a related course, Engage for Results, that we offer to foundations in partnership with GEO):

(1) Develop a “Big Picture” Frame for the Change Effort

  • What is driving or impeding this effort (social, cultural, political, economic, environmental factors)?
  • Where are we now with respect to this effort?
  • Where do we want to be?

(2) Identify Stakeholders (Individuals and Groups)

  • Who will be impacted by this effort?
  • Who has final decision-making power or will implement key decisions?
  • Who has resources and expertise that might support this effort?
  • Who might block this effort?
  • What is the pattern of connections (network map) and what are the power dynamics (power map) within the overall field of stakeholders we are considering?

(3) Determine Levels of Involvement of Key Stakeholders

  • Of the stakeholders we identified, who needs to be at the core of making key decisions relative to this effort?
  • From whom do we need input?
  • Who do we need to keep informed?

(4) Enroll Stakeholders by Making the Case for the Change Effort

  • What is the risk of doing nothing?
  • What do we stand to gain by acting?

(5) Create a Process Map of the Change Effort

  • What conversations/agreements do we need to have/build, with whom, in what order, over what period of time, and to what end?

(6) Get Going, Start Convening, Facilitating . . .

  • . . . and keep asking the same questions above, tweaking as you go.


  • This is really helpful. We too have found in our work the power of asking the right set of questions in the appropriate order can really move a group forward. A question (smile),. does the “where we want to be” question in Phase 1 refer to ….what would be different as a consequence or our collective action? Putting on my evaluation hat of sorts, we have found this question to often be the most difficult for groups to address. Of course, the answer should be flexible and infomred by new perspectives and input but it helps to have some sort of north star in mind.

    We tend to work with organizations, so not sure if this will be heflpul to you but we have developed a framework based on the stages of organizational development
    that we use as reference for determining what are the most appropriate questions given stage while also recognizing that an org or community effort is likely to have different elements at different stages.

    Welcome comments.

  • Curtis says:


    Thanks for your comment and the link. I look forward to diving into your framework. As for your question, the “where we want to be” question is a tricky one, and one that we sometimes have different ideas about internally as to what we are looking for. In general, we are looking to identify the gap between what is and what some future desired state. That said, we are not necessarily talking a fleshed out vision statement. That typically gets worked out by stakeholders later in the process. Here we are looking for something that creates some resonance and draw without being overly deterministic as to the ends we seek. For example, one client I am working with has labeled that future desired state as including an accessible and equitable system for early childhood education and care. Now what is meant by “system” is left open. This could be a de-centralized network of community agents, it could be something that is a hybrid of this and state supports. In addition, we try to make sure that the “where we want to be” speaks to multiple dimensions of success, that is results, yes, but also process and relationship. When we get there, what do we want to be able to say has been different about HOW we got there and continue to operate, and what do we want to be able to say about relationships, patterns and quality of connection between stakeholders. You begin to see why we need a 3 day course to cover this!

  • Thanks Curtis,this is helpful.And yes, the devil is in the details about where we want to be and it is tricky….

  • Curtis says:

    Indeed, Jara! One way I like to think of it is that we need to strike the balance between giving enough direction to, as Jon Haidt puts it, “direct the rider and motivate the elephant,” while leaving enough room for emergence and creative possibility. And as you know there is tremendous power and potential in the very conversation about where we want to be (and who we want to be) that we would be well served to tap. More about that in Thursday’s post and next installment in the “Collaboration for Sustainability” series.

    Thanks again for the great comments!

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