Facilitation Skills: Effective Questions

Relating Skills — Asking Effective Questions

If you want people to take action, you must refrain from giving the answers.

Several factors need to be considered in forming a question and making it effective in terms of what you are trying to accomplish:

Wording of the Question

Subject Matter or Focus of the Question 

Facilitators need to think carefully about the content focus of their questions. Is the group stuck because it needs more information? Are they having problems organizing their thoughts? Are emotions getting in the way? Are they trying to act before everyone is on board? The following identifies four different areas about which to ask questions:

  • Is it a knowledge question seeking facts, clarifying concepts, asking for a generalization about a topic?
  • Is it a process question asking people to predict what will happen, compare and contrast two situations, synthesize ideas, or choose a solution?
  • Is it an affective question asking people for their opinions, feelings, attitudes or beliefs?
  • Is it a behavior question asking how participants can apply new knowledge, what will they do differently now than before, or how they can solve a problem?

Open-ended or Closed-ended Questions

While facilitators use both open- and closed-ended questions, they know that the open-ended questions result in answers with greater diversity and richness.

  • Convergent or closed-ended questions usually elicit a limited number of responses or “right answers” (e.g., What is a convergent question?).
  • Divergent or open-ended questions elicit multiple answers (e.g., What questions should I ask the class about wetlands?).


Adapted with permission from Soil and Water Conservation District Outreach: A Handbook for Program Development, Implementation and Evaluation. Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Soil and Water Conservation, 2003.