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.