Posted in Design, Research

Don’t look for answers. Ask questions!

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A question is defined as a problem, a matter of debate or discussion, a subject or doubt, or a matter to be inquired into. At early stages of our lives, we instinctively learn to explore the world by asking questions. No wonder that, according to studies, a 4-years old kid might ask their mother 390 questions a day. As we grow up, this curiosity seems to decrease and we start exploring the world by looking for ready-made answers. 

Moreover, at schools, students are rewarded for memorizing answers whereas asking questions is not unrewarded, but even mostly it is not taught. Waren Berger associates this to political agendas:

 … and why schools don’t teach or encourage questioning—is that questions challenge authority and disrupt established structures, processes, and systems, forcing people to have to at least think about doing something differently…

As we progress in education, transforming from taught to research programs, many students struggle with doing a research mainly due to facing difficulty with the core task of conducting a research: asking the right research question. Alongside to this difficulty comes the underestimated time and effort that many students think they should dedicate for crafting the research question.  In his famous quote, Einstein illustrated the time needed to ask the right question compared to the time needed for finding the answers. When asked about what he would do if he had an hour to solve a problem and his life depended on the solution, Einstein said:

I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.

As such, philosophers and thinkers have discussed the importance of questioning and suggested different methods and approaches to go about questioning. Here I will briefly illustrate two useful models we might adopt in research/education and any other aspects of life.

Berger suggested using a three-part model consisting of Why-What If-How. According to Berger, a common approach questioners take to go about tackling problems is structured as follow:

  1. Encountering a non-ideal situation (Why)
  2. Coming up with possible solutions (What if)
  3. Implementing a solution (How)

The model illustrates the action-taking element, however, when action is not taken and rather a theory is developed, Berger refers to it as a philosophical solution based on his formulas:

Q (question) + A (action) = Innovation

Q (question) – A (action) = Philosophy

Another model by Fran Peavy referred to as ‘Strategic Questioning‘ where he proposed seven key features to shape a strategic question:

  1. A strategic question creates motion
  2. A strategic question creates options
  3. A strategic question avoids “Why”
  4. A strategic question avoids “Yes or No” answers
  5. A strategic question is empowering.
  6. A strategic question asks the unaskable questions
  7. A strategic question is a simple sentence

This type of models, however, works only with humans. In the information age where computers are heavily relied on in everyday tasks, it is only ‘answers’ that we can get from computers, as Picasso puts it:

quote-computers-are-useless-they-can-only-give-you-answers-pablo-picasso-23-13-20

As such, Berger raised the question:

In addition to its capability to provide answers for almost anything, can Technology help us ask better questions?

Can we come up with models, just like the one mentioned above, for computers to go about generating questions ?

Or to be more realistics:

Can we come up with models help us utilize technology to generate better questions?

If you have an answer please share it (:

Some useful resources:

http://rightquestion.org/education/

Author:

I am Tag. An informavore, activist and a free thinker. As a PhD student in Computer Science and a female Saudi activist , my main interests fall in the use and deployment of technology to address women's issues in Saudi Arabia. Thus, my blog is focused on -but not limited to- this area. I have been writing in blogs, social media and newspapers for a while but that was in Arabic (my native language). However, being in the UK now and doing my PhD in English, made me consider starting to write and blog in English. (This is a new blog, started May 2016)

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