Monday, October 24, 2016

Focus Groups

The tagline on our training manual, Passport to Success, reads, “Data doesn’t change behavior…inspiration does” couldn’t be truer than when conducting focus groups.  We must first connect with our target audience.  Yes, I know…we have been “schooled” on the practices of fidelity when conducting focus groups.  We have also found, through extensive experience, that most people will share freely when feeling validated, respected and feel comfortable.

 Here are some suggestions:

·         First, you must make sure that the focus group participants are a true representative sample.

·         In general, people like to talk about themselves so finding out about them makes them more likely to be more active participants and more willing to share.

·         Ask an interesting question of each participant first!  Then actually listen to the answers.  One example when conducting a focus group of high school students is: “Please tell us something about yourself that most people do not know” and you will get some amazing answers!  Also, most of the answers are so interesting that you will immediately make an association with the people that you remember them and their names.  Additionally, you will be able to make humorous comments during the time spent that helps all to be comfortable.

·         Make sure to ask direct questions that actually lead the participants to the information that you want to find out.  This way, you will leave armed with enough knowledge to begin building a strategy to address the actual issues and not what you and others may have assumed!

·         Validate each person and keep control of all situations so that everyone feels respected.

·         Document conversations.

·         Be aware of attention spans of your audience and keep to an appropriate time schedule. 

·         Time equity is vital!  Never allow a few to dominate the session.  (I will elaborate on some techniques later)

·         Just before you leave, recap and ask if anyone has anything to add that they did not get to share.

There is so much to conducting focus groups even though it might seem simple.  However, through these sessions, we have gained so much trust of those participants and the rewards are great!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Social Norms: Back to the Basics

It seems there is renewed interest in the strategy called Social Norms.  Since we have received recent questions and since many grant funders are allowing this strategy to be implemented, I thought I would go back to writing about the basics.  We have been part of a team where we assisted over 60 schools and communities across 20 states and have learned valuable lessons.  From our experiences, we formulated a comprehensive training manual that has been useful in our trainings. 

What is Social Norms?
·       An evidence-based strategy, universally applied
·       Driven by relevant and current data
·       A way to shine the light on health
·       Strength-based approach
·       A way for students to become the “carriers of the social epidemic”
·       A positive way to engage students and community as agents of change
·       A student implemented-adult facilitated strategy
·       Re-energizing to staff and community
·       Showing positive outcomes
Our approach involves 5 comprehensive phases:
  1. Phase 1:  Planning and Training-this is where we organize and empower
  2. Phase 2:  Data Collection and Information Gathering-Assessment of target audience and target issue
  3. Phase 3: Plan Development-Vital behaviors and action steps
  4. Phase 4: Plan implementation-mobilize
  5. phase 5: Monitor, Review and Evaluate-Is anyone better off?

Friday, October 7, 2016

Slow Learner and/or Incapable Vs. Skill Deficient

Have you ever heard of teachers, coaches, parents or others describe some student with negative words?  Well, working with college athletes in an academic setting, we learned some valuable lessons.  Most, if not all, were merely skill deficient, not unable to learn.  When we drilled down to actually learn the experiences of these Division I and stellar athletes, we learned that those struggling the most had similar stories.  Here are a few examples:
  • I only went to high school classes on Fridays because that was game day.
  • I wanted to take some more advanced classes but my teachers said to take those that I could actually pass so that I could be eligible.
  • I could have been very interested in Art but my teacher said if I moved tables around and kept the classroom in order, she would give me an "A".
  • We moved around from city to city and school to school so that I never got comfortable enough to learn.
  • Sleeping many nights in your car doesn't help you with academics.
So, the judgmental comments we heard did not add up!  Here are just a few vital behaviors and action steps we implemented with each:
  • Build solid, trusting relationships
  • Listen, listen, listen
  • Ask serious questions regarding academic experiences
  • Work together to develop a plan
I must expound on the last bullet point, "Work together to develop a plan".  It is imperative that we build a plan that the person is comfortable with and that they can believe in.  You have read too many times from me that people support what they help build.  The student-athlete knows there is so much riding on eligibility that they really do want (perhaps need?) help in advancing skills.

Finally, we are always aware of and awestruck by the prospect of a young person getting a college degree.  It impacts not only the person, but generations to come. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016


I know, I know…I have already, many times, lamented the fact that change managers often talk about what they want to have happen but seldom give a plan.  Examples might be to increase graduation rates, decrease drug use, get more parent involvement, clean up a neighborhood, etc., etc., etc….  I can NOT help myself but to lament again during this interesting political season.  I hear candidates, news commentators and contributors talking about increasing the minimum wage, decreasing crime, eliminating racism, providing more jobs, making college more affordable, providing healthcare for all and many other promises.  FOLKS, these are all OUTCOMES!!!  We need to hear the steps; the HOW of what they are going to do!!!  Give us the vital behaviors that will be used to achieve the goals and outcomes.  Then, give US, the general population, steps on how we can be part of those solutions.  Now that would be real leadership!

It is no wonder the general voting population, students, parents, communities feel detached and separated from solutions to the issues.  What is NEEDED to connect desired populations to the issues of concern is a JOB and an ACTION PLAN!  Maybe the job of REAL leaders is to provide a blueprint that includes vital behaviors that concerned citizens can get behind.  Maybe we are all tired of talk and want to help take ACTION.  Oh, don’t worry, when people want change, they will devise a way and it may not be to the liking of the leadership. 

No better time to consider Jim’s constant drumbeat: “When a group of people is organized, empowered and mobilized with an authentic voice and message, they can become a formidable influence capable of impacting a culture of success”. 


Monday, September 19, 2016

Perception Does Matter!

We got a call to work in a school where enrollment continued to fall.  We learned that the community perception was that this was the “ghetto” school.  In reality, the scores and other data revealed that the students were actually performing as well as, and many times even better, than the other schools in the district.  Focus group data as well as survey data showed that people had the perception that this was a trashy school and that violence was an issue.  Using one of our techniques of assessment we like to call, “Community Walkabouts”, we saw that the garbage dumpsters were placed in the front of the school.  Of course this made the school look “trashy”.  Additionally, the School Resource Officer parked the squad car in the front parking lot nearest to the main traffic area.  We soon realized that the perception was that the police are always going to that school and that MUST mean violence. 
Sometimes, change can be as simple as “cleaning up” negative appearances.  Perception does matter, so we developed a campaign to clear up the misperceptions and to publicize the health that actually existed at that school.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Is That REALLY the Issue???

Since you are thinking about addressing issues in your school, community, business or organization, let me save you some time, money and grief…NEVER dare to identify an “issue” without first engaging the very people you hope to change!  Our motto is:  When a group of people is organized, empowered and mobilized with an authentic voice and message, they can become a formidable influence capable of impacting a culture of success”.

In Phase I of “The Concierge Approach”, you MUST identify and involve key stakeholders.  Some necessary participants may include: students, faculty, program leaders, coaches, parents, law enforcement, mental health professionals, business leaders, governmental authorities, coalition members, funders, just to name a few.

1.      You might learn that most of the people are concerned about a different issue

2.      There might be underlying causes or precursors to the issue

3.      The very people you  hoped would participate may not want to address the issue you have identified

4.      You could alienate the target audience because they may think you don’t care about their opinions

5.      Etc., Etc., Etc.,

One example of too much assuming and too little listening:

School leadership and community leaders thought the abuse of prescription drugs at the local high school was a huge problem and data showed that that use was a growing problem.  However, the students themselves identified that the underlying cause was STRESS.  We built a campaign around the cause, which in turn addressed the problem.  The students themselves came up with strategies.  They advocated for and got a “no homework day”.  They formed a stress reducing room where, during exams, they could go and listen to relaxing music on their breaks.  They also had funny movies streaming in the commons area during lunch period.  All of these strategies proved to affirm the concerns of the students and the students themselves reported positive results.

So, what do you do?  We use two techniques at the very beginning of a project.  After identifying key stakeholders, we use focus group techniques which provide the opportunity for a group interview.  Focus groups create an interactive medium where participants feel validated and listened to.  We then hold what we call “Key Informant Interviews” which provides the opportunity to learn from individuals who possess historical, political and cultural perspectives that can prove to be invaluable to the project.  The inclusions of key informants may generate allies and champions to the cause and these allies usually wield various levels of influence.

Questions?  Email me at

Thursday, September 8, 2016

What Do You Want to Change in Your School/Community/Organization?

In our continuing discussion on “readiness”, you may be asking, “What behaviors can be changed?”  Many of you have read our book, Untapped Power, and have seen the results of desired change.  (Haven't yet read our book?  Request a copy and I will be happy to mail one. Here is a list of some of the issues we have helped schools, communities and other organizations address:

·         Student Empowerment

·         Graduation rates

·         School attendance

·         Distracted driving

·         Parent interest and involvement

·         Substance abuse prevention/Underage drinking

·         Motivating students in alternative education settings

·         Creating healthy culture and climate within an organization

·         Healthy community values

·         (to name a few)


Some of the branding “tags” used to address issues were:

·         “We Run This”-to increase student leadership and empowerment

·         “Crazy Mammas”-parent involvement

·         “Undefeated”-graduation rates

·         “#DriverFail”-distracted driving

·         “Slow Your Roll”-stress and pharmaceutical abuse

·         “We On That Next-Level Swagga!”-school pride

·         “El Patriota”-overcoming false community perceptions regarding Hispanic students

·         “OWN (Own My Life, Own My Future)”-accepting personal responsibility

·         “Not For Sale”-parent and community values

·         “Solid Gold”-school pride

·         “Manifest Your Own Destiny”-ownership of your future endeavors

As you can see, you can make change and achieve desired outcomes when a proven process is followed, when you have the right people “on the bus” and when the target audience is given important and meaningful work. The issues to be addressed are only limited by the ideas and concerns of the key stakeholders.  Remember, people support what they help create!