High Quality Questions and Radical Efficiency

One of the key elements that makes a circle work is having a high-quality question that is the shared focus of circle participants.

For example, in restorative justice conferences the core question is: “what can be done to make things right?”

The UK’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts –NESTA–recently published a research paper titled “Radical Efficiency: Different, Better, Lower Cost Public Services” (Download here).  It describes an approach for rethinking social services based on a set of core principles. The restorative circles model pioneered by Dominic Barter in Brazil is one of the case studies used to illustrate how these principles look in action.

The principles themselves can be reframed as high-quality questions. So I’m advocating that restorative justice and restorative practices programs consider having circles with staff and consituents that focus on these questions. This is an example of what I think of as “restorative inquiry,” which I believe is a critical process that must be ongoing if we are to maintain the deep integrity of what we do. Here are the principles as articulated in the NESTA report, and then each principle translated into questions:

  1. Principle: Make true partnership with users the best choice for everyone.
    • Question: What does it mean to be in true partnership with those we serve?
  2. Principle: Enable committed, passionate, and open-minded leaders to emerge from anywhere.
    • Questions: How do we know when leaders are trying to emerge? How do we react to this? Do we believe that the leadership of volunteers, teens, parents, and other community members is desirable? What can we do to encourage these leaders? What does this principle imply about our own leadership role in the circles we convene?
  3. Principle: Start with people’s quality of life and not the quality of your service.
    • Questions: What does it mean to “start with people’s quality of life?” How can we be attuned to peoples’ quality of life?
  4. Principle: Work with the grain and in the spirit of families, friends, and neighbors.
    • Questions: What does it mean to “work with the grain?” What are the implications for our practice as professionals to work “in the spirit of families, friends, and neighbors?”

Perhaps you will think of other questions that can help you and your co-workers explore these principles. I’d like to know how it goes.


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