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Craft Questions

Make sure you set aside some quality time to focus on what you really want to know from the community you’re engaging. Your goal is to make questions simple, inclusive, and relevant to the experience of residents. Here’s a  guide to crafting great questions (PDF ↓).


  • Pick an issue that was mentioned frequently in the information needs survey and initial listening process.
  • News peg. Research any current conversations or happenings related to this topic; a city council debate, a forum, a new law, an effort by a local non-profit, a recent report or release of data that pertains to the topic, either nationally, or locally.
  • Develop 2-3 questions for each topic that will get people sharing their own experience and anecdotes. Start simple with a question anyone can answer, and work your way towards something a little more in depth. See examples here.
  • Make it personal. Get responders to share personal anecdotes and speak from experience. Not, “What do you think?” as much as, “What did you experience? The goal is to get participants sharing personal examples, representing what they witness in their own lives.


Planting Questions in New Orleans

In Action

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New Orleans, Louisiana

The question “Who do you Love,” might not jump out as having anything to do with reporting, but it does. When the Listening Post New Orleans project wanted to grow participation, they decided to literally plant questions around the city and see what came back at them. At first glance, asking obvious news related questions seemed like the way to go. “How are you impacted by policing?” “What does affordable housing mean to you?” or “How has New Orleans recovered from Katrina?” to name a few. But not everyone is engaged by the news, at least not in overt ways. So the project settled on some questions anybody might be drawn to answer, including “Why are you Mad?” “Who do you Love?” and “What’s Missing in New Orleans?”. The team put those on campaign signs with a phone number to text answers to, and placed them all over the city.

One of the many responses that were texted in simply had the name “Mary.” The participant then got an SMS invitation to stay involved in the project, and that they’d get news and questions every month related to life in the city. And while that initial impulse to participate was initiated by a more emotional prompt, this person began getting and sharing news with the Listening Post about everything from public transit, to affordable housing, to taxes.

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