Clearly framing what matters is one of the key aspects of good process facilitation. Framing is about creating a boundary around all the possible conversations that could arise. Effective framing of a participatory process does the same as the frame of a painting: it separates the painting from the rest of the wall and draws our attention to what's inside it, without being overly present. As with a painting, start by focusing on the painting as a whole, then look at its the technical aspects - with framing it's best to first talk about the content and the purpose of the conversations, then give instructions about the process and the rules of engagement.

At the beginning of a participatory process, it's important to clearly explain what the participants can expect to experience. A framing therefore contains succinct answers the 6 “W” questions - What, Why, hoW, Who, When and Where. 

Aside from defining the boundaries, framing can engage people's imagination, making the theme and purpose of an event more tangible and exciting. One approach to making the “what” of an event more engaging for the participants is to frame the theme as a question. Questions invite curiosity, dialogue and participation. Our brains are wired to look for answers to questions, to actively engage with them. 

For example, notice what happens in your mind/body when you read a statement or a question:

  • Climate and sustainability action is vital for you.
  • Is climate and sustainability action vital for you? or What is vital for you in climate and sustainability action?

Asking a good question is an art in itself, which takes time and practice.


When crafting questions, consider how they are constructed, what is their scope and what assumptions might be hidden in the question.


Construction is about phrasing of the question. Questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no, this or that are less engaging than questions that start with “how”, “what” or “why”.

For example, a question “will we survive this winter” can be more engaging when asked as:

  • how will we survive this winter?
  • what will we do to survive this winter?
  • why is this winter so threatening to our survival?
  • what if this winter becomes a threat to our survival?

What (if), how and why questions are open enough to invite engaged conversations and multiple perspectives. When you ask a why question, check that it's a question that evokes curiosity rather than coming across as patronising, as this could make people defensive (e.g. Why are you here? vs. Why design CSAW through co-creation?).

A powerful question is clear, memorable and probing, able to stir conversations and encourage creativity.


The scope is about tailoring the question to the participants' situation. I.e. where can the participants make immediate difference? If the scope is too big it may shut down conversation (e.g. how do we solve climate change?). If it's too small, it might not provide enough challenge (e.g. how will changing all the light bulbs in your home help with climate change?). The scope of the question should consider what are the boundaries of effective action for the people involved (e.g. for students – how do we incorporate climate and sustainability in all that we do at this university?)


Every question has assumptions built into it, assumptions that might not be shared between the participants. It's helpful to check if the question encourages learning, reflection, collaboration and/or exploration (rather than blaming or justifying). Be especially aware of negative assumptions in the question (e.g. “what did we do wrong?” could be better phrased as “what can we learn from what happened?”).

To engage a diverse group of participants, the question should be as inclusive as possible. It is worth examining whether the question assumes a particular worldview (e.g. “What technologies will solve climate change?”, or “How do we convince everyone to stop flying?”). You can ask yourself how you would look at the question from a different belief system, then rephrase the question in a way that would welcome answers from different perspectives (e.g. How can your field address the effects of climate change? or “What could sustainable travel look like?”).

In summary

Our hypothesis is that framing a theme as a question encourages the participants to engage. When creating a question it's important to think about how it is constructed, what is its scope and how to make it inclusive of multiple perspectives.

Read more about The Art of Powerful Questions in this article.


What is matters to you in climate and sustainability in general and CSAW in particular?

If you're committed to CSAW it probably means that you care about climate and sustainability. Let's assume you're all here because you believe that climate and sustainability is important. You might be motivated by interesting possibilities in this field, or you sense some disturbance or problem in it. At this moment you're probably sitting here with more questions than answers. This exercise aims to surface some of these deeply held questions, to understand what matters for this group related to climate and sustainability.

1. Think about:

  • What is vital for you in climate and sustainability?
    • What matters to you? What is at stake? What is the core issue?

2. Formulate your thoughts as a question for CSAW (in duos/triads)

  • Think about the construction, scope and the assumptions of the question
  • One question per person
  • Write your question(s) on a separate card / post-it

3. Listening circle: One person reads their questions out loud and places the card/post-it on the board. If someone has a related question they read the question and place it close to the one already on the board. If there is nothing related, the next person to the left reads their question and places it further away on the board. The outcome of the exercise is an affinity map.

4. Identify some core themes/topics/issues that are emerging from the questions.

  • csaw/framing.txt
  • Last modified: 2020-10-29 12:55
  • by maja