This is a method developed by Peter Block and spread through friends. I learned it from Eric and Elaine Hansen and its many applications changed my life as I’ve shared it widely myself. It’s simple, powerful, easy to understand and takes people deep and changes the communities they’re in together.
Here’s Peter Block introducing it.
As Block points out, we typically approach social issues through analysis, dissecting problems and assigning blame. This approach assumes that the world is out there with us separate from As Block points out, analysis is interesting but not transformative. And it’s transformation we want!
As Peter points out, a powerful question is one that’s personal, ambiguous – and anxiety-producing. It’s ambiguous and anxiety-producing for much the same reason: The question can either be answered superficially or very deeply. We have to decide for ourselves how much we want to reveal, and that decision is inherently stressful. The questions are instances of a potentially infinite set that he organizes around five conversational areas which he names Possibility, Dissent, Ownership, Commitment, and Gift.
Questions are introduced with a clarifying distinction between how we often unthinkingly frame the conversation and how we might more usefully frame it. The distinction with Ownership, for example, is between ownership and blame. Blame makes someone else responsible and leaves us off the hook. A powerful Ownership question might be: “How much risk are you willing to invest in the solution?” or “How participative do you plan to be in this process?“
A good dissent question might be: “What have you said yes to that you no longer mean?” The distinction here is between dissent and lip service.
Notice how you can be very revealing in your response to such a question if you wish, but you can also be more self-protective. It’s up to you! Either choice is equally good and passing, is always available, a 100% good option. Passing is itself an empowering act that makes the space safer for everyone because it validates our right to choose. It’s a form of authentic dissent. Passing is not a lesser choice reserved for timid people who don’t really get it. It’s the better choice when it’s right for the speaker to pass.
Many elements of ASG build trust by giving choice to participants. Personal choice is respected at every stage. There’s a demonstrated understanding that nothing need be added, no coercion, for example, for people to tell the truth or to find new solutions for themselves.
Asking powerful questions and giving participants a space to grapple with them in the public sphere – with no fixing or advising or other assumed superiority – is a core we-space skill. It’s surprisingly fun too, and powerful relationships and friendships can and often do emerge from doing it, strengthening one’s sense of scenius. Participants themselves become the drivers of their own process. The experience of working with such questions with others gives powerful fodder for personal reflection.
Powerful questions ask us to notice and make room for what’s been put out of awareness – and to do this in a convivial public sphere. When a powerful question is asked in a group, people take notice. They’re curious, interested, and alive – all ears. As mentioned, they need and deserve the right to pass with honor. They need full freedom to answer lightly, deeply, or however they choose. But with that freedom, trust builds in the room. What might have been a chatter fest or a tense jockeying for airtime suddenly becomes a series of human moments to be shared together.
Block strongly advocates that facilitator and co-participants alike refrain from attempts to fix, advise, or help, and to replace those urges with curiosity. The form allows people to have their own experience and be in charge of how they are with it. This radical allowing promotes safety in the group and allows for more vulnerability and disclosure. There’s a natural tendency for next steps to emerge by themselves.
This small group work is very well-suited to citizen activism and lays a foundation for work on all kinds of personal projects that can be done with others. It fosters collective intelligence and forward momentum among people with a common cause.
The admonition against fixing, advising, or “helping” allows a speaker his or her own experience with no supposition that we the listener know better or even that we the listener had just that same experience some other time. Actually we didn’t have the same experience some other time. We had our own experience another time and the speaker had theirs. In the process of developing our own unique voice we let others have their voices, uniquely theirs expressed their ways.
This can include their silence.
A first question usually centres on Connection: With all you could be doing with your precious time, why was it important for you to be here today? Or, What did you have to put aside in order to make room to be here today?
At the end is a separate Gifts conversation that allows us to express personally and directly what has touched us in the meeting.
Questions are answered in small groups of three or so because smaller groups allow for intimacy, safety, and air time. The flow goes from the small group to the larger circle, back and forth. In the middle of a meeting are a couple of questions that relate to life areas such as Ownership, Possibility, Dissent, Gifts, Commitment, and Dissent.
Those are a few of the core elements of the foundational we-space practice. They’re usually experienced as a powerful energetic hit. Peter Block says that each meeting should be an example of the future we want to create, and the ASG methodology qualifies for that.
New creative enterprises can be built on top of this foundation. The mysterious interplay of human creativity and the field is at work here and new enterprises spring from it.
Come practice and imagine how the process can transform a community you’re part of.