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Question design is a topic that is of continuous concern to us. We often ask questions on the CrowdInsights platform that are relatively far-reaching: How could climate-friendly mobility be designed in my city or region? Or: What should a sports strategy for our municipality contain? We ask these questions in order to get answers that are as concrete as possible, where citizens report from their individual surroundings.

In a project that we are currently supervising, the question is how a small municipality in a rural area can respond to population shrinkage. The central question is how the municipality can become more attractive to new residents, but also how it can be more attractive for the already residing population to stay. Sub-themes include the relationship of the medieval town centre to the surrounding village communities and the design of attractive housing for all generations. Instead of tackling these questions directly, in the manner of “general question with the aim of concrete answers,” the choice fell on a completely different approach. Instead of the course from general to concrete, the reverse path from the concrete to the general was chosen.

The question is:

How should we use the area and the building of the present volunteer fire brigade in the future?

Background: The fire brigade building and grounds are under discussion because they will have to be reorganised, i.e. streamlined, in the near future. In the course of the streamlining process, the current position will also be abandoned. The point of the chosen question lies in the declared intention of the decision-maker: the answers and ideas not only serve to provide suggestions for the design of the fire station area, but also to develop proposals for further projects and facilities that the citizens would like to see in their town. The concrete example serves as a projection screen for more general wishes and innovative ideas that can be implemented on the fire brigade site that will soon be available for new use – but also somewhere else entirely.

In terms of question design, the approach shows how important it is to think of question and decision together from the very beginning. The scope granted for decision-making (here: the willingness to consider projects beyond the fire brigade site) defines the horizon against which answers to the participation question can be of value.