FAO Capacity Development

Using socratic question

When to use it

This tool can be used when initiating dialogue to facilitate organizational change (in the orientation phase) or when starting an MSP.

What it is

This tool uses the Socratic method, which is named for the Greek philosopher Socrates. It emphasizes the use of thought-provoking questions to promote learning (instead of offering opinions or advice). Socratic questions are probing and open-ended; they encourage creative ideas and self-discovery.

How to use it

This method should be used during brainstorming or meeting sessions around a set of specific, strategic, open questions that encourage reflection and imagination rather than simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers.

Examples of suitable ‘open’ questions include the following:

Questions that clarify organizational goals:

What would you like to see happen in this organization?

How would you like the change to occur?

Why do you want this change?

What do you want to change?

What will things look like in a year if everything goes as planned?

What are the consequences of not changing organizational goals?

Questions that clarify motivation for change:

Why do you want this particular change?

Why do you say that?

How will you benefit?

Why is this change important?

Who will benefit from this change?

Questions that uncover basic assumptions:

What are your assumptions about this change process?

What other assumptions also could be valid?

How do you know that what you believe is true?

Why do you believe this change is needed?

What do your peers think about this situation?

What would happen if..?

Source: Haneberg, L. “Organization development” ASTD Press (2005)

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