Organising with Elicitive Questions

Consider a common problem for many groups: keeping new members engaged. We may see people join our meetings but never return. Sometimes we just forgot to give them information about when or where the next meeting is. But oftentimes, it’s because we haven’t listened well to them finding out what motivates them, what inspires them, and what tasks would excite them (rather than just being told what tasks they should volunteer for).

Elicitive questions are about eliciting — drawing out, instead of organising by just telling people what to do. It’s based on the idea that idea effective organising helps people get what they want, helps people want what is consistent with their values, and clarifies and aligns their values. Elicitive questions are an important tool for accomplishing all of this and can be used in training, organising, facilitation, and almost any group process.

Elicitive questions are not:

  • yes or a no questions
  • “why” questions that often stir up resistance or allow people to wax philosophical or invite rationalization
  • long, complex questions that are hard to digest
  • a way to trick someone into the “right” answer

Instead, elicitive questions:

  • connect people more deeply with their own selves
  • create motion and options by assuming people have wisdom
  • are short and simple
  • often ask the unaskable questions

Examples of elicitive questions:

  • When you look at this plan, what excites you? What parts do you want to work on?
  • Specifically, when has that happened?
  • What parts of the proposal do you agree with?
  • How could you imagine us working together?
  • What would it take to convince you to…?
  • How did you get involved in this work on climate change? What keeps you going?

Elicitive questions have multiple benefits. The person asking the questions gets information and gets to connect with someone’s deeper motivations and considerations. Elicitive questions help you understand people who disagree with you. By asking rather than arguing you get their perspective, discover how they are framing the issue, find common ground with unexpected allies, and collect data. In that way elicitive questions can strengthen relationships.

Elicitive questions encourage the person being asked to express their assumptions and beliefs. They assist people to look beneath the surface, like peeling layers of an onion. Elicitive questions can help someone be more reflective about their own choices — and learn from themselves, which creates empowerment.