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Outcomes-Based Summer Reading: Using Focus Groups
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Outcomes Focus Groups

Guidelines for planning your focus groups

  • The project includes two sets of focus group questions: Set 1 should be used to collect data for outcome one and set 2 should be used with groups targeted for outcome two.
  • In set 1, the word clubhouse is used in question 4 to substitute for the word community in focus groups with children. Our pilot study found that children had difficulty thinking about and discussing the idea of community when the word community was used with them.
  • Focus groups should comprise five to nine participants.
  • Libraries should conduct at least two focus groups for each outcome. If you want your data to be relevant to a specific library, then that library should conduct at least two focus groups.
  • In the case of focus groups for children and teens, the respondents in both focus groups should be of approximately the same age (e.g. seven- and eight-year-olds or thirteen- and fourteen year olds). Do not do one focus group with younger children (or teens) and another with older children (or teens).
  • In the case of focus groups for family summer reading program participants, we recommend you either (a) just include adult family members in the focus groups, or (b) separate focus groups for kids and parents.
  • If you get wildly different responses in the two focus groups, conduct one more. You are looking for patterns of responses that recur in more than one focus group session.
  • Conduct your focus groups towards the end of the summer in a location away from the public area.
  • For tips and guidelines on recruiting people to focus groups and leading focus groups, see our focus group guidelines.
  • Collate your results at the end of the summer, and use them to improve your summer reading program and help tailor it to the needs of your community.

Tips for conducting successful focus groups

  • To recruit people to your focus groups, you could put a notice in the library asking for volunteers.
  • Let volunteers know that refreshments will be available (one library invited patrons for root beer floats) and perhaps offer them other incentives, for example, a book light with the library’s name on it.
  • The focus groups could be framed as a summer reading program activity to encourage people to sign up for them.
  • You don't have to use the words "focus group." You could ask people to come along to chat about the library and the summer reading program.
  • Another strategy would be to sent special invitations to every third, or fifth, or tenth person signed up for summer reading and say that they have been chosen to participate in a focus group (or discussion group if you don’t want to use jargon) to evaluate summer reading. Again, offering some kind of incentive is a good idea.
  • Perhaps your Friends Group or other volunteers could take on the responsibility of gathering an appropriate group.
  • Parents may want to know more about this activity. Tell them that this is an enrichment experience for the child and an opportunity for the child to give feedback to the library. Emphasize that the child will not be identified in any way. If audio or video tapes are made of the session, these will be for the librarian’s use only; they will not show up on YouTube! Give parents a copy of the focus group questions. Another option would be to schedule an activity for parents at the same time as the children’s focus group; perhaps they could be involved in a focus group answering similar questions. (Note: you need not submit their responses to CLA; they would be for your information only.)
  • The person conducting the focus group should concentrate on asking the questions and listening to the responses. Be sure to caution the facilitator to be neutral and nonjudgmental, not to signal the kind of responses he or she wants to hear.
  • It is helpful to have a second person taking notes for the facilitator. You may also make a video or audio tape of the session if it seems appropriate. This is more for the benefit of the child participants than for the purpose of data collection although the children’s librarian who is responsible for the overall evaluation may find it useful to review the tape. It is not necessary to make a written transcript of the session. Good notes are enough.
  • The children’s librarian is not the ideal person to conduct the focus groups for children. Children may not feel they can be completely honest with someone they know and like. Another library staff member or volunteer can be trained to do this.
  • It is acceptable for a librarian whom the teens know to conduct the teen focus groups. Teens are less likely to try to anticipate the “right” answers than young children.
  • Teens may be trained to conduct the focus groups for children if you feel that they are capable of maintaining order.
  • Give the participants paper and drawing materials to doodle with during the focus group. It helps them focus. You could also provide pipe cleaners for people to play with and sculpt.
  • Be sure to provide refreshments!