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ORID – strategic questioning that gets you to a decision

ORID – strategic questioning that gets you to a decision

WE ALL KNOW this scenario: you have been called to a meeting and now you sit there, increasingly bored as the discussion wanders all over the place, becoming sidetracked and dominated by the loud and verbose. When it comes time to make a decision you find that nobody is ready because the wayward discussion has confused, misled and obfuscated the issue and that there is too little information.

Sound familiar? We’ve all been to unfocused, time wasting meetings like this. But — it doesn’t have to be this way.

ORID – a better way

ORIDThe ORID (Objective, Reflective, Interpretive, Decisional) method is a form of a structured conversation led by a facilitator.

The method was developed by the Institute for Cultural Affairs as a means to analyse facts and feelings, to ask about implications and to make decisions intelligently. It is a means of escaping the morass of maniacal meetings.

When done by a facilitator with some experience in the use of the method, participants are often unaware that they are taking part in a structured conversation. It is as if someone has sat down with the group and started an informal discussion.
Essentially a tool for making decisions, ORID can be used by:

  • sustainability educators, to engage an audience in deliberation or to recap what was covered in a previous meeting or class
  • community organisations, businesses, government and by just about any group seeking a decision
  • by educators to explore decisions in class
  • in one-to-one conversations to clarify a path of action for an individual; this provides ORID a potential role in personal problem solving, counseling and community work
  • journalists, who might use ORID to structure in-depth and investigatory interviews although more conventional reporters might see it as delving into problem solving rather than conventional reporting of facts and reactions.

A structured process

A meeting that employs ORID is the antithesis of the rambling, unfocused structure we are all too used to. ORID creates a dynamic forward movement towards a point of decision.

Here’s how to use it…

First, the meeting agrees to make use of ORID and to abide by the process. It appoints a facilitator with experience in using the method. The meeting agrees that the facilitator can call the meeting back to order when participants take the discussion into time wasting asides.

The facilitator takes the group through a series of questions which lead to a decision-making stage. For each of the questions, a scribe writes the main points on a blackboard.

The strategic questions

O — Objective questions

The O questions identify objective facts relevant to the topic. The key question is: what do we know about this?

If it is an event or occurrence that is he subject of the ORID, then the group recalls the event and distills facts from it.

The facilitator will have to be alert to pull people back from discussing what they think about the topic and their feelings about it at this stage — that comes next. All we want now are the facts. Beware of comments starting with ‘I think… ‘, ‘I feel… ‘’It’s my opinion… ‘.

What we want are statement starting with terms like ‘I saw… ‘, ‘I heard… ‘, ‘I know… ‘, ‘There is evidence for… ‘, ‘It’s on the record that… ‘. These are documented but not analysed.

R — Reflective questions

The R questions are about how people feel about the topic. They are about subjective perceptions. The key question is: how do we feel about this?

Feelings might be positive or apprehensive and might be emotional.

The R questions allow participants to express their gut feelings although these might have no objective facts to support them. Nonetheless, they are part of a comprehensive assessment of the topic in question and should not be ignored. Fears and concerns may come to the surface during this phase.

The phase is one of identifying feelings and not of analysing them.

I — Interpretive questions

These questions have to do with meaning. The key question of the interpretive stage is this: what does it mean for me/you/the organisation etc?

Basing discussion on information derived during the objective and reflective questioning, the discussion allows the topic to be put into perspective and for the potential impacts of the topic on the individual or organisation to be explored.

Interpretive questions might include ‘What if…?’ questions as well as ‘What would it mean… ?’, ‘What would that do… ?’ and so on.

This is the analyitical phase.

D — Decisional questions

Based on information coming from the three previous stages of questioning, this is the stage at which a decision is produced. The key question at the decisional stage is: What are we going to do?

The facilitator might set set scene for this critical question by recapping the findings of the previous three stages.

The focus of discussion in the decisional stage focuses on the future. What would be the best course of action? What would be achievable, positive outcomes? What is realistic given the limitation of our resources?

A few needs

In all four sages, the phrasing of the questions and statements by the facilitator are critical to the maintenance of focused discussion.

It is important to set aside sufficient, uninterrupted time for the ORID process. Rushed conversations and frequent interruptions cut off important discussion and are distracting. There is no fixed time over which to run an ORID process. It can be made comparatively short providing there is enough time to adequately cover all of the questions.

Facilitators and educators planning to make use of the ORID technique are advised to practice it with people they know before launching into an important decision making process.

Comments (11)

  • Charles Hicks
    October 30, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    Is there a training manual available.

  • killlashandra
    February 5, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    Thanks! I’m a graduate student and found your page through a search on ORID. Great example!

  • Jo Nelson
    May 2, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    The book The Art of Focused Conversation not only has the theory behind ORID but also 100 sample conversations. Author: Brian Stanfield. Co-published by The Canadian Institute of Cultural Affairs and New Society Publishers, 2000. Available in a number of places, including http://ica-associates,ca An e-book version is imminent.

    ICA Associates, Inc. also trains people in this method, both in face-to-face courses and online. With the course is a manual.

  • Barbara Chappell
    January 8, 2015 at 7:41 am

    Hello Russ, i was searching around for ways that people use to record a focused conversion. I have experimented with a number of ways and seen different ways students have come up with for recording the phases, but I have always felt there must be a way to make the link from one phase to another clearer. It is particularly important when there are a number of quiet or junior people in the room who contribute to the objective phase but seem less confident to engage in the reflective phase. I can draw them into the conversation but I have a strong sense that if I could get the visual on the whiteboard or flipchart clearer it would be helpful for everyone.

  • Jo Nelson
    January 8, 2015 at 6:06 pm

    Barbara, when you are designing your focused conversation, use your rational aim to decide what information is critical to have visible to the group, and just focus on recording that. I rarely record the objective or reflective level of answers, because most of my rational aims are answered at the interpretive and decisional levels. That helps me focus on attentive listening to the answers at the other levels, without the distraction of recording.

    I would like to add to Russ’s description of the Reflective Level. The reflective level is not only feelings. It is all the immediate internal responses to the objective data — memories, associations, images. Very often these are more pertinent than felling to bridge between the data at the objective level and the interpretation of the meaning of the topic. Many of my reflective level questions are similar to “What does this information trigger for you?” or “What does this remind you of in your previous experience?” Then you can build your interpretive questions in such a way that you use these previous experiences as information to inform the interpretation.

  • Constance
    October 8, 2015 at 11:37 am

    Is there an official reference document for the ORID. I would like to include it in a paper and properly reference it. Thank you.

  • Russ Grayson
    October 13, 2015 at 12:09 am

    Hi Constance…
    I know of no official reference document. I learend ORID from Unfolding Futures, a facilitation business in Sydney and have used it to subtley structure conversations on a number of occasions.

  • Jo Nelson
    October 13, 2015 at 12:21 am

    An official reference document is the book mentioned above: The Art of Focused Conversation, by Brian Stanfield. Co-published by The Canadian Institute of Cultural Affairs and New Society Publishers, 2000. Available in a number of places, including http://ica-associates,ca Republished as an ebook, available on New Society’s website at and also, I think, on Amazon.

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