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153 Visioning anything

This article lays out inventing and updating an organization, movement, or process, as illustrated with a Quaker setting. One refines the questions before attempting the answers. The model must be adapted according to current objectives and subject matter.

Brainstorming the foundation

Accomplishing a goal requires reality-based vision that takes a current state to a higher level. A successful set of questions keeps innovation and implementation real.

Impractical questions

How you put a question almost fully determines the answer you will get. The question itself conveys expectations of orientation, setting, and scope. Very few questionnaires are useful; the worst offenders are political "opinion surveys" in which the questions point to a very narrow range of thinking. My local Quaker Meeting regularly turns down the suggestion to launch worship with a query, because that beginning might distract attention from something a Friend is already thinking that should be shared. Queries can be very limiting, even if we use the disclaimer "not limited to."

Productive questions

The Buddha stepped down from princely status to wander the countryside asking questions. The fact that there are lineages of "Buddhist" teachings tells me that hearers have added their own impressions of the questions and possible answers. That doesn't spoil the neutrality of the original attempt by the Buddha to get people to think.

Socrates went to the agora and asked enough questions to get himself killed. I suspect the public backlash resulted from a lack of understanding of the open-ended nature of the questions. People were embarrassed, unsure of themselves, when required to look beyond pat answers.

Studs Terkel, a noteworthy oral historian, brought forward remarkable insights with his skill of drawing out the most authentic feelings of his interview subjects. The resulting radio programs are realistic and soul-stirring.

Hypothetically, let us dispatch the above interviewers to crisscross a given population such as a local community or our whole nation. Do you suppose their results would be significantly different models of that population? What would they report in common? How would the analyses differ? It matters significantly who is asking the questions, and how.

With those examples in mind, I see visioning as a process of talking to people-lots of talking with lots of people. In our surveying, we must keep our underlying purpose hidden so that we will not skew the answers toward a specific end we have in mind, as explained above in the paragraph about questionnaires. The subjects must not slant their stories to what they think we want to hear.



In the current Quaker illustration, the unspoken underlying question is roughly "what does it mean to be Quaker?" From that we hope to optimize our model of the organization, describing its constituency and processes. For the visioning stage, we do not state that question. We are not asking subjects to do homework. We are trying to measure what makes the subjects tick. Ze must be relaxed, candid, and genuine in ways we can detect and understand.

Our operating questions are also not shared explicitly: (a) What can we do to make Quaker practice appeal to the public around us? (b) How can we adapt our Quaker behavior to involve more people with us? Those aspects are our homework as we evaluate our work. The questions we ask the public are intended to illuminate where people are, not to task them with our burden.

Before we implement our "asking conversations" (research survey), let us be clear that explicit question sets are not necessary or helpful. We can answer our questions by mingling and participating with the subject population: attend local churches, support civic organizations, fellowship in clubs and recreational activities, and talk to people on the street and in their homes about the things that interest them. Being observant, we gather the desired measurements without using conscious, explicit questions. Instead, we simply share life events with sensitivity. we experience the answers we seek. In other words, we ask the following questions subliminally, unobtrusively becoming "the salt of the earth."

The questions are necessarily open-ended and constantly in the background during our interactions with Quakers and non-Quakers alike. We are measuring without disturbing.

Sample questions for a Quaker setting

When you want to promote good social behavior (make peace), what do you do? Tell me about an activity or event in which you felt positive.

What do you want organizations, teachers, or public figures to ask you to do? Do you want them to ask for support for unpopular opinions? -such as?

For Quakers to be helping society, what should we do at the invitation of others?

What should we invite others to do?

Do any of your present or past ideas feel burdensome or impossible? Has anyone ever told you they are impossible? How do you reassure yourself that you had a good idea, if that is your true feeling?

Who are people who appreciate your viewpoints? How do you find and befriend them? Does that ever lead to doing something together?


Taking a measurement must not disturb the thing we are measuring. In physics, some particles cannot be "seen" because hitting them with photons would displace or alter them. The measurement must be neutral to the environment of the thing being measured.

By emphasizing open-ended thinking and diversity of researchers, I am suggesting that this would be an expansion of the concept of "Quaker" without foregone conclusion or purpose. This is not converting people to Quaker ways. It is including other people (as they are) in our ways. They will perceive us as including ourselves in their best-behavior ways. We are addressing social needs, not promoting Quakerism. In this adaptation, Quakerism survives.

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