Ask Questions in Seeking Answers

DSC00689In the last few posts on Ask Little Falls, I’ve brought up the fear of speaking publicly about the city’s problems and the need to thoroughly analyze issues facing the community.

How can we raise issues without ranting or getting everyone else unnecessarily worked up? How do we minimize blowback (on ourselves & our organizations) when bringing problems to the fore?

One secret is in learning to ask good questions.

When you ask a question in public, so long as your tone is one of genuine inquiry and not a veiled accusation, people shouldn’t see that as a negative. You’re not on the attack or being impolite. You’re seeking information, which helps in the analysis phase of solving the city’s problems.

So, what kinds of questions are good ones to ask?

When it comes to city or county government, because our country has been set up to be “by the people, for the people,” all citizens have a right and a duty to ask questions. Some good questions for governments include ….

How is our tax money being spent? What does that ordinance mean in practical terms? How was this decision made and who was involved in making it? Is this based on state law? What kind of data was used in creating this ordinance or making this decision? What does this law/ordinance/decision mean for average citizens like me?

When it comes to nonprofit organizations, one of the expectations is that these organizations operate with a certain measure of transparency as part of their nonprofit status. Their Articles of Incorporation, bylaws, and annual financial statement (the IRS 990) are supposed to be open to the public. Good questions for nonprofits include …

What is  your mission statement? How does the organization carry out its mission?  Is the nonprofit effective in meeting its mission? How is the nonprofit funded? Is it a membership organization? If so, how does one become a member? How is the board chosen? How long do board members serve? Is there an annual meeting? When is it ? Is it open to the public? Can the public attend regular board meetings? How does the nonprofit engage the public?

You can ask questions like these directly of government officials or nonprofit boards and staff. Watch how those questions are answered, or not answered, as the case may be. If government or nonprofits are not open to answering your honest questions, that tells you something. You may need to ask more questions, perhaps not directly to the organization, but by checking other sources. For example, the IRS 990 forms of most nonprofits can be found online through Guidestar. (Sign up for a free account in order to access the 990s.) Articles of Incorporation and bylaws for nonprofits can be ordered through the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office.

Even if you don’t ask these questions aloud to anyone outside yourself, the act of asking can help clarify your thoughts and allow you to do some analysis that can give you direction in moving forward on a local issue.

As you can probably guess from the name of this blog, it has been following the premise of asking questions in seeking answers. What questions do you want to ask?