The Right Question Institute’s work spans the fields of education, health care, family engagement, and democracy. To support our initiatives in these areas, we publish books, articles, blog posts, research, and make media appearances.


Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions
Rothstein, D., & Santana, L. (2011). Make just one change: Teach students to ask their own questions. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press. (Foreword by Wendy D. Puriefoy.)

Microdemocracy: A New Starting Point for Democratic Action (in progress)

Education Articles

Learning to Ask Questions: A Pathway to and Through College for Students in Low-Income Communities
Santana, L. (2015). Learning to ask questions. About Campus, 20, 26-29. Retrieved from

Making Questions Flow
Rothstein, D., Santana, L., & Minigan, A. P. (2015). Making questions flow. Educational Leadership, 73 (1), 70-75. Retrieved from

A Pathway Out of Poverty for Students in Low-Income Communities: Learning to Ask Questions
Santana, L. (2015, May 21). A pathway out of poverty for students in low-income communities: Learning to ask questions. Voices in Education: The Blog of Harvard Education Publishing. Retrieved from

The Right Questions
Rothstein, D., & Santana, L. (2014). The right questions. Educational Leadership, 72. Retrieved from

Sharing the Power of the Question
Rothstein, D., & Santana, L. (2012). Sharing the power of the question. ASCD Express, 7 (13). Retrieved from

Setting Off and Sustaining Sparks of Curiosity and Creativity
Rothstein, D. (2012, January 13). Setting off and sustaining sparks of curiosity and creativity. Voices in Education: The Blog of Harvard Education Publishing. Retrieved from

Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions: One Small Change Can Yield Big Results
Rothstein, D., & Santana, L. (2011). Teaching students to ask their own questions: One small change can yield big results. Harvard Education Letter, 27. Retrieved from



Questioning for Learning
ASCD (interviewer), Rothstein, D. (interviewee). (2015, September). EL video: Questioning for Learning. Retrieved from

The Necessity of Asking Questions
Head, A. (interviewer), Rothstein, D. (interviewee). (2015, April 21). Dan Rothstein: The necessity of asking questions. Project Information Literacy, Smart Talk Interview. Retrieved from

‘A Holy Curiosity’: We Can Vastly Improve Education by Teaching this One Skill
Rothstein, D. (2014, March 14). ‘A holy curiosity’: We can vastly improve education by teaching this one skill. WBUR: Boston’s NPR News Station. Retrieved from

Teaching Students to Ask the Right Question
Krasney, M. (interviewer), Rothstein, D., & Santana, L. (interviewees). (2012, October 17). Teaching students to ask the right question. KQED Radio. Retrieved from

Educators Want Students to Ask the Questions
Young, Robin (interviewer), Rothstein, D., & Santana, L. (interviewees). (2012, August 23). Educators want students to ask the questions. Here and Now. Podcast retrieved from

Did Socrates Get it Wrong?
Rothstein, D. (2012, March 4). Did Socrates get it wrong? Talk presented at Tedx, Somerville, MA. Retrieved from

Make Just One Change
Weber, Matt (interviewer), Rothstein, D., & Santana, L. (interviewees). (2011, November 2). Make just one change. Harvard EdCast. Podcast retrieved from

Raviv, Dan (interviewer), & Rothstein, D. (interviewee). (2011, October). CBS News. Retrieved from

Healthcare Publications

Alegría, M., Polo, A., Gao, S., Santana, L., Rothstein, D., Jimenez,
A., Hunter, M.L., Mendieta, F., Oddo, V., Normand, S.L. (2008).
Evaluation of a patient activation and empowerment intervention in
mental health care. Med Care, 46(3), 247-56.
Read article summary:

The Cambridge Health Alliance Center for Multicultural Health Research delivered the Right Question Project – Mental Health (RQP-MH) intervention, with minority patients receiving mental health services. This intervention included a Question Formulation Technique (QFT) and a Framework for Accountable Decision-Making (FADM), two techniques developed by the Right Question Institute. The RQP-MH intervention aimed to improve patient-provider interactions and to increase patient involvement and decision making, by building patients’ skills to obtain information from providers, clarify expectations of treatment, and become active participants in care. This study implemented RQP-MH in a three-pronged approach:

  • RQP-MH Coaching to Care Managers
  • RQP-MH Trainings for Patients
  • Treatment Adherence and Fidelity Checks

After adjusting for age, sex, race/ethnicity, and education, intervention subjects were over three times more likely to be retained in treatment than comparison patients. In terms of engagement, intervention patients were over four times more likely to be engaged in care than comparison patients.  When assessing the intensity of visits for   having at least one visit, intervention subjects were 28% more likely to be engaged in treatment than comparison patients.

RQP-MH Intervention Model
Click here to read the full article published in Medical Care

Cortes, D.E., Mulvaney-Day, N., Fortuna, L., Reinfeld, S., Alegría,
M. (2009). Patient—provider communication: understanding the role
of patient activation for Latinos in mental health treatment. Health
Education & Behavior, 36(1), 138-54.
Read article summary:
This article explores the qualitative data from the Cambridge Health Alliance Center for Multicultural and Mental Health Research study summarized above. Open-ended questions were asked in interviews (75% of which were conducted in Spanish) to describe the processes participants underwent while becoming activated and empowered.

The study results show that patient activation and patient empowerment are interdependent. By applying Finfgeld’s empowerment model, the authors found that patient activation – as realized through RQP-MH – included the four stages of empowerment (participating, choosing, supporting, and negotiating).

Many participants enthusiastically embraced the RQP-MH strategy, a strong example of how this skill-building strategy challenges stereotypical models of Latinos as passive and deferential to authority in health care contexts. The authors conclude that RQP-MH improves patient-provider communication, a key first step in addressing disparities in health care quality.

Responses from participants when asked what they learned from the RQP-MH strategy:

“Just more direct, processing what I want to get out of the visit before going, setting goals, having questions I want to ask when I’m there. Making better use of my time, having a plan”

“The survey [training] helped me a lot explaining myself and getting my point across to let him know how I feel instead of letting him tell me how I feel…”

“Now, if something happens to me, we decide together.”

Click here to read the full article

Deen, D., Lu, W.H., Rothstein, D., Santana, L., Gold, M.R.(2011).
Asking questions: the effect of a brief intervention in community
health centers on patient activation. Patient Education and
Counseling, 84(2), 257-60.
Read article summary:

This article presents additional results from the study exploring a brief delivery of the RQI-developed patient activation intervention (PAI) in community health centers in New York City. Medical students delivered the 10-minute intervention to patients in the health center waiting rooms. Two evaluation measures were used:

  • Patient activation measure (PAM): assesses patients’ knowledge, skills, and confidence to manage their health care.
  • Patient’s preference for control (PPC) scale: determines the degree to which patients wanted to be involved in their care

The PAI improved PAM scores regardless of their original PPC. One-third of the study participants moved from lower to higher levels of activation as determined by the PAM, with patients who began with lower levels of activation showing the greatest improvement. The PAI was determined to be efficient in its activation of low-income minority populations, priming them for more effective encounters with their physicians and establishing a precedent for patient activation initiatives in other community health center settings.

The full article is available for purchase here

Lu, W.H., Deen, D., Rothstein, D., Santana, L., Gold, M.R. (2011).
Activating community health center patients in developing question-
formulation skills: a qualitative study. Health Education & Behavior,
38(6), 637-45.
Read article summary:

First-year medical students delivered a 10-minute patient activation intervention (PAI), developed by the Right Question Institute, to low-income, racial/ethnic minority patients of several community health centers in New York City. The PAI aimed to improve these patients’ communication with their physicians and to increase patient activation on the Patient Activation Measure®. The intervention was performed while patients waited to be seen by a physician and can be delivered by people with limited medical training. It included the following five steps:

  1. Understanding decisions
  2. Choosing a focus for the health care visit
  3. Brainstorming questions
  4. Identifying closed-ended and open-ended questions
  5. Prioritizing questions

Overall, patients valued the PAI as a useful tool for engaging them in the physician-patient relationship. In addition, patients who received the PAI reported increased satisfaction with the healthcare that they received. The study also revealed several factors that influence the question-asking behavior of minority patients including patient attitudes, social factors, and patient’s self-efficacy in question formulation.

Quotes from participants:

I liked the fact that you pulled me to the side to reassure me that I was in charge as much as the doctor was or even more so.

The talk (PAI) gave me an extra push to ask what I need. I don’t feel nervous and intimidated.

I used to just be satisfied with a simple answer or whatever she (the physician) answered but this time I was able to get more information.

Preparing questions helped improve the visit.

Framework for patient question-asking behavior
Click here to read the full article in Patient Education and Counseling.
Click here to read another article on RQI’s work with CCNY.

Deen, D., Lu, W.H., Weintraub, M.R., Maranda, M.J., Elshafey, S., Gold, M.R. (2012).
The impact of different modalities for activating patients in a community health setting. Patient Education and Counseling, 89(1), 178-83.
Read article summary:

This article explores the use of decision aids (DA) and the RQI-developed Patient Activation Intervention (PAI) to improve patient activation. Lower SES populations are “less activated,” or less likely to ask questions, state their preferences, and take charge of their decisions. These groups may be less prepared to benefit from decision aids and may require additional strategies for increased activation. In this study, patients were categorized into control, PAI alone, DA alone, and DA + PAI groups to evaluate the impact of a decision aid video and the Patient Activation Intervention on two measures:

  • Patients’ Level of Activation as measured by the Patient Activation Measure (PAM)
  • Patients’ Decision-Making Confidence as measured by the Decision Self-Efficacy Scale (DSE).

According to the results, the DA alone changed DSE scores while the PAI and DA both changed PAM scores in the least activated patients. These findings show that the DA and PAI methods together are effective ways to increase level of activation and promote question-asking skills in patients who are least activated.

The full article is available for purchase here

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