Dan Rothstein helped create the Right Question Project, as it was then called, in 1990 and is currently co-director of the Right Question Institute’s democracy-building programs. He helps develop RQI’s unique model of democratic education — strengthening the ability of people who are traditionally far from power to advocate for themselves, participate in decisions, and take democratic action.
Currently, Dan is also an adjunct lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he co-teaches the course Building Nimble and Democratic Minds: From Practice to Theory and Back to Practice.
Dan and his colleague, Luz Santana, helped create RQI after working with — and learning from — parents in a drop-out prevention program in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The parents named a significant obstacle that made it difficult for them to participate effectively in their children’s education: They didn’t know what questions to ask.
This insight motivated Dan and Luz to figure out a practical way to teach what is actually a sophisticated skill for thinking, learning, and advocating. After much trial and error, they developed the Question Formulation Technique, a structured process that allows people to produce, improve, and strategize on how to use their own questions.
Today, the Question Formulation Technique, or QFT, has spread to more than 160 countries. It is used in K-12 and higher education, legal empowerment, social services, health care, voter engagement, and other fields.
In addition to the QFT, Dan, along with Luz Santana and Agnes S. Bain, developed the Voices in Decisions Technique and the concept of microdemocracy — the notion that the millions of encounters people have each year with public and publicly funded agencies (welfare offices, schools, health agencies, social service programs, court systems, etc.) are opportunities for people to build and use key democratic skills to advocate for themselves and their families.
Dan is co-author of two books: Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Question, which has has been translated into six languages and is one of the top-selling books in the history of Harvard Education Press, and Partnering with Parents to Ask the Right Questions, which maps an approach to parent engagement that helps improve communication, trust, and partnership between schools and families. He is currently working on a third book about building nimble and democratic minds.
Dan is a co-principal investigator on a National Science Foundation-funded grant, in collaboration with Northeastern University, to develop a rubric for creating socially impactful research questions. This work builds upon previous NSF grants with Brandeis University and Northeastern University to introduce the Question Formulation Technique to higher education. Dan also helped develop RQI’s model for increasing patient activation in health care, work that was funded by a National Institutes of Health research grant.
As a keynote speaker, Dan is known for leading interactive learning experiences. He has spoken at events hosted by the Library of Congress, the National Science Foundation, Google, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard Medical School, and many other organizations. He has talked about RQI’s work in media outlets such as Education Week, The Boston Globe, KQED, and NPR’s Here & Now. In his presentations, Dan emphasizes how much he’s learned from RQI colleagues and people around the world he’s worked with.
Before RQI, Dan served as director of neighborhood planning in the city of Lawrence, Massachusetts. He was a Fulbright Scholar in Israel, where he also worked as a youth worker and community organizer. Dan received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University, and he earned a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he was an editor of the Harvard Educational Review. He was a postdoctoral fellow and lecturer at Ben-Gurion University and a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow.
Before coming to the Boston area for school, Dan graduated from Seneca High School in Louisville, Kentucky, where he organized Kentucky’s first Walk for Hunger. Dan enjoys spending time with his wife Ana Karchmer (who has also contributed to RQI’s creative work over the years), playing with his young grandchildren, and reading. He still has visions of coming off the bench in the fourth quarter for the Boston Celtics, mind you, only to set a screen for Jaylen Brown to hit the winning basket.