People in low-income communities have more than 100 million encounters each year with public and publicly-funded services, including the welfare system, WIC programs, public housing, job training, adult literacy, Medicaid, Head Start, and public education. Many frontline workers in these systems are deeply frustrated by how the services they provide are being cut and, as a consequence, they now face greater challenges in serving their clients and helping clients become more self-sufficient.
We believe frontline workers are a largely untapped and uniquely positioned resource to build the capacity of clients to become more effective advocates for themselves and, eventually, more effective participants in key decisions on all levels of decision-making in the public arena.
The Right Question Institute (RQI) is working to make it easier for frontline social service workers to teach a core set of self-advocacy skills to the people with whom they work. Our initiative will be designed to build stronger partnerships between staff and clients that will help the agency accomplish the goals for which they are accountable. It will also have short and long-term benefits for clients as they become more effective advocates for themselves, their families, and their communities.
The Importance of Two Foundational Skills for Self-Advocacy
We have learned through 25 years of working in low-income communities that there are two skills that make it easier for clients to advocate for themselves and to partner with service providers: 1) the skill of asking one’s own questions and 2) the skill of influencing and participating in decision-making. We have also learned that these are skills that anyone can learn, if they are given the right tools. We have distilled our lessons into what we call the Right Question Strategy: a simple, evidence-based strategy that teaches these critical thinking and advocacy skills.
An Effective Strategy that Teaches the Two Skills
The Right Question Strategy (RQS) has seen success in many fields. In healthcare, NIH-funded and academic studies have shown that the strategy leads to sharp increase in patient activation rates and more effective partnerships with providers. In education, the Question Formulation Technique, the component of the RQS that provides a simple but rigorous process for teaching the skill of question formulation, is transforming teaching and learning practices from primary grades through higher education, and new research is showing a significant and sustained impact on increasing student curiosity. The RQS also offers a Framework for Accountable Decision-Making that allows all people to become more effective participants in decisions that affect them, their families, and their communities. In more than two decades of work with a wide range of frontline social service providers, we have observed both the eagerness of frontline workers to deploy this strategy and the ease with which clients can learn the strategy and apply it immediately.