Focus Group Guidelines: How to Plan for and Facilitate a Focus Group Sample Focus Group Questions Summarizing Focus Group Results

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1 What will I find in this section of the toolkit? Toolkit Section Introduction to the Toolkit Assessing Local Employer Needs Market Sizing Survey Development Survey Administration Survey Analysis Conducting Focus Groups and Using Focus Group Data Writing your Needs Assessment Report Tools in the Section Why do a Needs Assessment? What might your Needs Assessment Include? Getting Ready: Laying the Groundwork before You Begin the Needs Assessment Assessment of Local Employer and Industry Needs Instructions for Sizing the Market for Plus 50 Workforce Education Programming Market Sizing Tool Survey Development Guidelines Sample Survey Survey Administration Guidelines: How to Administer a Needs Assessment Survey Survey Analysis Guidelines Sample Survey Analysis Plan Focus Group Guidelines: How to Plan for and Facilitate a Focus Group Sample Focus Group Questions Summarizing Focus Group Results Sample Discussion Questions for Group Reflection on your Data Sample Needs Assessment Report Outline Sample Recommendations

2 Focus Group Guidelines: How to Plan for and Facilitate a Focus Group How to Use these Focus Group Guidelines These guidelines are intended to support your effort to collect data for an assessment of plus 50 workforce programming needs for those age 50 and over in your college s service area. These guidelines will help you identify who you want to participate in focus groups, how to plan for and facilitate a focus group, and how to develop appropriate questions. Sample Focus Group Questions are also provided to you as part of the Needs Assessment Tool Kit. Practical Tips for Focus Groups Considerations for planning a focus group: Focus groups are generally composed of 6-12 people. Each focus group should last about an hour. Arrange a time when your population can attend. Consider weekends and evening hours if that is more convenient for participants. Prepare an introduction and questions ahead of time. Designate a facilitator and note-taker ahead of time. Consider offering incentives to participants. Considerations for writing focus group questions: Write about 8-12 questions to ask your group. Questions should not be easily answered by yes or no and should encourage participants to elaborate on answers. Each focus group should include at least one of each of the following types of questions: engagement, exploration, and exit. Considerations for facilitating a focus group: Decide on group agreements, or useful practices. Start with introductions and a question that allows everyone to speak. Be aware of what answers you expect participants to give and when you can consider a question sufficiently answered. Strive for balanced participation from everyone in the group. Purpose of Focus Groups Focus groups are a great tool for collecting deep, rich and detailed information about people s interests and preferences. They are different from surveys in that focus groups collect qualitative information from a small group of people, rather than quantitative information from a large group of people. A focus group is structured around a set of carefully predetermined questions, but the discussion is free flowing. Ideally, participant responses will stimulate conversation and spark additional ideas from others in the room. Focus Group Guidelines: How to Plan for and Facilitate a Focus Group

3 Selecting and Recruiting Focus Group Participants Number of Participants. A focus group usually comprises between six and twelve people that have some background or experience in common. The group needs to be large enough to generate a rich discussion, but not so large that people feel left out of the discussion. You will likely want to hold multiple focus groups to ensure you receive a diversity of responses, and may need three or four focus groups. Another reason to conduct multiple focus groups is that you may want to hear from different types of groups. For example, you may want to conduct a group that includes only people age and a separate one for those age 65 and over. You know you ve conducted enough focus groups when you stop hearing new ideas in the discussion, indicating you ve reached a saturation point. How to Find Participants. For the purposes of your needs assessment, you include people who are age 50 or older and have a possible interest in attending programming at your college. The easiest way to recruit people to participate in your focus groups is to ask current plus 50 members of your college student body. This will yield groups of people who are familiar with the college, but are likely biased because they already utilize community college resources. Note that bias here is not bad. After all, this group can provide unique insights and suggestions because they are familiar with the college. But you may want to move beyond this group to get an understanding of those unfamiliar with the college for example, a group to provide suggestions for how to build awareness among the plus 50 population and attract them to the campus. If you would like to find participants outside of the current student population, you can find volunteers by asking current students to nominate friends who are not currently enrolled in plus 50 programs, asking survey participants if they would be interested in volunteering for a focus group (and then adding a question to the survey where they list their contact information), or visiting churches, senior programs, or community centers to ask for volunteers. Barriers. Finally, consider barriers to attendance for your population such as transportation, interpretation needs, and grandchild care obligations. You may want to provide services such as bus fare or on-site child care to reduce these barriers and encourage a wide range of people to attend. Writing Focus Group Questions Sample focus group questions are included in this tool kit and you should refer to that handout for examples of appropriate questions. Here, we focus on some principles and tips to help you think about how to structure and write those questions. Focus group questions should address the same types of issues you are exploring in your survey: what are the needs of plus 50 learners, and what can your college do to create programming that best meet those needs? Twelve is the maximum number of questions for an hour-long focus group. Ten is better, and eight is ideal. Structure questions so they are not easily answered by yes or no. They should be asked in a way that encourages elaboration and explanation with why and how questions. For example, instead of asking Are there skills you want to learn? ask How could community college programming assist you with skills you want to learn? Questions should be relatively short, unambiguously worded, and focused on one issue each. Remember that participants will not have the opportunity to see the written questions ahead of time. Therefore, the questions should be easily understood the first time they are read out loud. Ask someone else in your office to read over questions to ensure they meet these criteria. There are three main types of questions, and each focus group should include at least one of each type: Focus Group Guidelines: How to Plan for and Facilitate a Focus Group

4 1. Engagement questions: These introduce participants to each other and the topic of discussion. 2. Exploration questions: These are questions that delve into the particular issue at hand. 3. Exit question: This is a final check-in to see if anything was missed in the discussion. Planning for the Focus Group Careful preparation for leading a focus group will ensure that your group will make the most of its time together. Consider offering incentives to participants. Offering small incentives, such as a gift card to a local coffee shop or your college bookstore or your college s promotional materials magnets, pens, etc. can encourage participants to attend focus groups. If you decide to offer incentives, make that clear when you are recruiting volunteers and then distribute the actual incentive when the focus group is complete. Decide who will facilitate the discussion. A good facilitator nurtures discussion in an open format and is able to elicit many different types of ideas and opinions from the people in the room. Ensure that the facilitator has carefully read the focus group questions ahead of time and understands each question and its purpose. This preparation will make it easier to ask follow-up and clarifying questions during the focus group. Schedule a time for the focus group. A typical focus group discussion lasts about 45 to 60 minutes. Choose a time when participants will not be rushed or distracted, and can give their full attention to the discussion. Consider early morning, lunch, or evening times based on the schedules and availability of your participants. Arrange an inviting space for the discussion. You will need a space that is appropriate for the size of the group you are convening, and allows participants to easily see each other. A dry-erase board or chart pads can be available in the space to capture the group s thoughts and ideas, if appropriate. Finally, making water, coffee, tea, and even light snacks available in the room may help participants take care of their needs without needing to leave the discussion. Designate a note-taker or use a recorder. In order to free yourself to focus on facilitating the conversation, ask an assistant to attend the group and be responsible for taking notes about what is discussed and capturing important themes from the group. If you have a reliable recording device, you may also wish to record the conversation so that you can transcribe the discussion verbatim. If you use a recorder, make absolutely sure that it is turned on and working, and test it first to find out if it sufficiently captures voices in all parts of the room. Even if you have a recorder, it is a good idea to have a note-taker as well as a back-up. You should advise the focus group participants that you are recording the session to ensure their ideas and suggestions are being captured. Prepare an introduction to the discussion. When the group first comes together, your introduction will set the tone of the meeting and prepare participants for what they are there to accomplish. Your introduction should include: The purpose of the discussion. Your role. An explanation that you are there to hear about the group s experience and elicit the group s wisdom, and that there are no right answers that you are looking for. The expectation that everyone will fully participate to the best of their ability. Focus Group Guidelines: How to Plan for and Facilitate a Focus Group

5 An opportunity for everyone to ask questions or make concerns known before the discussion begins. Facilitating the Focus Group Discussion Following are some useful practices for facilitating the discussion and ensuring a productive hour for participants and the facilitator. Establish group agreements. These are practices you can ask participants to keep in mind during the discussion, and are sometimes called ground rules or useful practices. These help set the tone for the conversation and provide parameters. Some common group agreements include: Listen to understand: Listen carefully to the other speakers and to your own reactions;. Respect: Accept the validity of another viewpoint even if you disagree; Speak up: Share your views thoroughly and honestly with everyone; Suspend judgment: consider the possibility that others may be right or have an approach that you had not considered. Introductions. It is helpful for participants to know who else is in the room with them. Beginning the focus group with introductions and an easy ice-breaker question will allow everyone to establish their presence, hear from others in the room, and create precedence for full participation before moving on to deeper questions. Name tags are also a good idea so that people can address one another by name. Consciously think, during the discussion, has this question been sufficiently answered? There are no right or wrong answers, but you want to make sure that by the end of the discussion, you have all the information you hoped to get. Groups of people can get excited and pursue tangents. Therefore, it is a good practice to pause briefly and review the question that has just been under discussion, to make sure that the focus group has really addressed it. Balanced participation. Although not everyone has to answer every question in a focus group, you want to hear the full range of perspectives the group has to offer. Notice whether some people are not participating. If some are holding back, you might try directing questions at them specifically, for example, saying: Mary, what do you think about that? If some group members are dominating the conversation, reflect back to them what you hear them saying so that they know they have been understood, and ask them to let others offer their perspectives. Thank the group. Let people know their participation was important and useful, and that you appreciate their time and courage in sharing their thoughts in the group. Restate how the input will be used. If incentives such as promotional materials or gift cards are being used, hand them out at the end of the focus group. Focus Group Guidelines: How to Plan for and Facilitate a Focus Group

6 For More Information There is a lot of information available on the internet about planning for and facilitating focus groups. The following links may provide you with additional helpful information: How to Conduct a Focus Group Information on how to establish a timeline, define your audience, and develop questions. Guidelines for Conducting a Focus Group Information on participant selection, types of questions, and some practical tips. How to Conduct Effective Focus Groups and Surveys Helps you determine when to use a survey and when to use a focus group in your assessment. Focus Group Guidelines: How to Plan for and Facilitate a Focus Group

7 Sample Focus Group Questions How to Use These Sample Focus Group Questions These are sample questions for a focus group that you may conduct as part of your needs assessment for plus- 50 workforce programming. These are only sample questions, and depending on your local area and specific needs, you may ask different questions. Before drafting your own questions, you should read the Focus Group Guidelines, which are also provided as part of the Needs Assessment Tool Kit. Introduction by Facilitator Hello, my name is [facilitator name] with [name of college]. Thank you for taking the time to participate in a focus group on the needs of plus-50 learners. This focus group is part of a larger needs assessment process that [name of college] is conducting to learn about the training and employment services needs in the community and how to best tailor programming to students age 50 and older. Usually community college programming is geared to people in their 20s and 30s we want to understand how we might customize programming to better fits the needs of the plus-50 age group. [If this is a group of people already affiliated with the college] You are a group of people 50 and older who attend college here and have either taken classes for the purpose of advancing your careers, or because you have used career services on campus, or both. We would like to hear from you about the ways in which these classes or services have met your needs, and also the changes you would suggest so that they could better meet your needs. [If this is a group of people not affiliated with the college] You are a group of people 50 and older from the local service area of [name of college] who may have an interest in taking courses or using the career services on campus. We would like to hear from you about how courses and services would best be able to meet your needs for getting back into the workforce, changing careers, or advancing your current career. During this focus group I will ask questions and facilitate a conversation about how [name of college] might be able to help you achieve your career objectives through classes and career services. Please keep in mind that there are no right or wrong answers to any of the questions I will ask. The purpose is to stimulate conversation and hear the opinions of everyone in the room. I hope you will be comfortable speaking honestly and sharing your ideas with us. Please note that this session will be recorded (or [name] will be taking notes during the focus group) to ensure we adequately capture your ideas during the conversation. However, the comments from the focus group will remain confidential and your name will not be attached to any comments you make. Do you have any questions before we begin? Sample Focus Group Questions

8 Focus Group Questions for Those Who have Taken Courses at the College, or Participated in Services Offered on Campus 1. Let s do a quick round of introductions. Can each of you tell the group your name, if you are working or retired, what courses you have taken to advance your career, and what career services you have used on campus? 2. What are your current career goals? a. Probe: Are you looking to re-enter the workforce, change careers, increase your skills in your current profession, or something else? 3. First, we d like to hear about the classes at this college that people take to enhance their marketable skills. a. In what ways were the classes helpful to you? b. In what ways do you feel that the classes fell short in helping you reach your goals? 4. Now imagine that you are part of a committee of people designing courses for people in your age group. These are courses that people like you might take to advance or jump-start a career, or to enter or re-enter the workforce. a. What are the factors that you will make sure your committee considers in designing these courses? What are the things that you are sure would attract people like you to these courses? b. Probe: Remember, these can be in many areas: the curriculum, the course length, the time of day it s offered, the teaching style, the course materials, whether the course is offered online, whether the course promotes intergenerational interaction, or anything else you can think of. c. [If this issue has not already been addressed as the questions above were answered:] What type of course do you think people in your age group are most interested in: those that lead to some sort of certificate or credential, or those that can be taken to gain specific skills? What are the upsides and downsides of each type of course? 5. At this point we d like to hear about the career services testing, career advising, etc. that you have participated in. a. In what ways were the services helpful to you? b. In what ways do you feel that the services fell short in helping you reach your goals? 6. Now imagine that you are part of a committee of people designing career services for people in your age group. a. What are the factors that you will make sure your committee considers in designing these services? What are the things that you are sure would attract people with career needs like yours to these services? b. Probe: Remember, these can be in many areas: the materials provided, the types of career services offered, the skills or approach of the advisors in working with the plus-50 age group, or anything else you can think of. 7. We would like to know how to make our campus more welcoming to the plus-50 student, and want to hear your thoughts on how we could do that. a. What are your suggestions for services the college could offer to make it easier for people in your age group to integrate into campus life? b. Probe: This can be a wide range of services new student orientation, testing, career advising, transportation services, assistance with accessing financial aid, or anything else you can think of. c. What should the service designers keep in mind to make these services very high quality? 8. Is there anything else we haven t discussed yet that you think is important for [name of college] to know about as we consider tailoring programs to plus-50 students? Sample Focus Group Questions

9 Focus Group Questions for Those who have NOT Taken Courses at the College, or Participated in Services Offered on Campus 1. Let s do a quick round of introductions. Can each of you tell the group your name, and if you are working or retired. 2. Imagine that you are part of a committee of people designing courses for people in your age group. These are courses that people like you might take to advance or jump-start a career, or to enter or re-enter the workforce. a. What are the factors that you will make sure your committee considers in designing these courses? What are the things that you are sure would attract people like you to these courses? b. Probe: Remember, these can be in many areas: the curriculum, the course length, the time of day it s offered, the teaching style, the course materials, whether the course is offered online, whether the course promotes intergenerational interaction, or anything else you can think of. c. [If this issue has not already been addressed as the questions above were answered:] What type of course do you think people in your age group are most interested in: those that lead to some sort of certificate or credential, or those that can be taken to gain specific skills? What are the upsides and downsides of each type of course? 3. Now imagine that you are part of a committee of people designing career services for people in your age group. a. What are the factors that you will make sure your committee considers in designing these services? What are the things that you are sure would attract people with career needs like yours to these services? b. Probe: Remember, these can be in many areas: the materials provided, the types of career services offered, the skills or approach of the advisors in working with the plus 50 age group, or anything else you can think of. 4. What are some obstacles or reasons why you might be hesitant to attend classes or programs at [name of college]? 5. What are some things [name of college] could do to help alleviate these obstacles and make you feel comfortable on campus and in classes? a. Probe: This can be a wide range of services new student orientation, advising, transportation services, assistance with accessing financial aid, or anything else you can think of. 6. Is there anything else we haven t discussed yet that you think is important for [name of college] to know about as we consider tailoring programs to plus-50 students? Thank you so much for your time! Sample Focus Group Questions

10 Practical Tips for Summarizing Focus Group Results After you have conducted the focus groups, you will have a set of transcripts which constitute narrative or qualitative data. Analyzing qualitative data consists essentially of elucidating the themes (commonly held viewpoints) and useful insights (viewpoints not necessarily commonly held, but creative ideas that might be useful for program planning). Here are some practical tips for elucidating themes and useful insights from your focus group data. Finding Themes When you have more than one transcript, it can be useful to electronically cut and paste all of the answers to one question in one document. If your groups had different characteristics (e.g. current students and non-students), be sure to note in your document which group the data came from. Read through the focus group transcripts, or the aggregated transcript. It may be easier to print the transcript(s) out for this step. Make notations next to the text that indicate the themes that you are seeing. In qualitative data analysis, these themes are called codes. When you have finished, read over the data again. You may want to re-code into new themes, or re-name of your codes (because when you create themes and categories as you go, earlier coded text did not have the chance to fit into a newer created theme). As you do this, think about the following questions: Are there themes and sub-themes that should go together? Should you merge or split any themes? Identifying Unique Insights As you code your data, it will become obvious which opinions are widespread, and which opinions are held by only one or just a few people. When an opinion is not widely shared, you need to judge whether the opinion is worth including in your findings. Sometimes these unusual opinions are not worth including because they don t tell you anything about your population. However, sometimes individuals come up with very creative ideas, and you may want to share them in your needs assessment because they can provide a unique perspective not seen elsewhere. Using Quotations in Your Report Narrative Hearing the voices of the local population can be very compelling, and they should be used alongside survey result to illuminate the numbers. Here are a few rules to follow to make good use of quotations. Direct quotes from informants often don t parse grammatically, or are not completely clear out of context. It is up to the writer to edit them so that they are perfectly clear. Instead of putting quotes directly into the paragraphs (how they are often used in a newspaper), write up whatever you want to say, and place illustrative pull quotes in a text box. Sometimes it makes the most sense the quote directly in the paragraph if that really is the case, do that, but use this technique sparingly. Practical Tips for Summarizing Focus Group Results

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