Planning and Facilitating Focus Groups

Focus groupFocus groups are a great way to collect qualitative research data. They’re excellent for helping gain an insight into the views and perceptions of people, and a really great way of understanding users. They can be used to get feedback on products or services, or to help plan future developments. They’re often used in market research but can be adapted for a number of different purposes. One way we have used focus groups at Evidence Base was to gain a deeper understanding of student’s views on e-books and print books – their preferences, use, and reasons behind these. This was incredibly useful for supporting future purchasing decisions and user support. We’ve facilitated focus groups for a number of different organisations, including many libraries, and if you’d like us to work with you on this, please contact us.

Focus group training workshop

However, we recognised there was a need for training to enable other people to plan and facilitate their own focus groups or improve ones they already do. Following a number of requests for support in this, we spent time designing a training workshop on this topic. This started as a half-day workshop, but it has since expanded into a full day workshop to allow time for the theory, practice and planning.

The aims of the workshop are to help attendees:

  • Understand the value of focus groups and consider when they would be appropriate
  • Plan, organise and facilitate a focus group
  • Prepare activities for different types of focus groups to maximise the information collected
  • Report findings from focus groups to different stakeholders

The workshop includes a presentation to cover the logistics of focus groups, techniques to attract attendees, techniques to improve facilitation, and how to record and share the results of the focus group. It also includes a series of focus groups activities, based around a neutral topic, to experience the different types of activities you could include in focus groups. This then allows participants to consider how these could be adapted for their own focus groups.

We ran the first full day workshop in September 2015, and had very positive feedback. Some comments included:

“Very thorough information and an excellent balance between theory and practical.”

“It has given me a theoretical and practical grounding for ideas and activities I have seen in use and participated in. I now have a clear idea of what sort of activities I would / wouldn’t use in different focus groups, and a good understanding of how people react differently to activities.”

“The activities were really useful to see how to make focus groups more interactive.”

“The handbook and individual exercises were laid out really clearly and will be really useful in future. The presentation was really clear and easy to follow.”

Book your place

Due to the success of the workshop, we’ve scheduled more dates and our latest is now ready to accept bookings – Tuesday 15th March 2016. Booking is now open so you can find out more at http://www.bcu.ac.uk/evidence-base/training-and-events/planning-and-facilitating-focus-groups and book your place at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/focusgroupworkshop.

Hope to see some of you there!

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11th Northumbria International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries and Information Services

Over summer I attended the 11th Northumbria International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries and Information Services. It’s the first time I’ve attended this conference and I was really impressed with the content of the sessions I attended. It was fairly international in terms of attendance, with delegates from USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa… (and that’s just the people I happened to meet during the breaks!). This meant that the conference had a real variety in terms of attendees and speakers, which helped provide a much broader context. Many of the presentations I attended were from academic libraries, though I did also make sure to attend some from different sectors to see what we can learn from them.

One highlight for me included a session I attended on piloting surveys using cognitive interviews (from Ithaka S&R who administer large scale international surveys for academic staff). The techniques discussed were useful for me to consider when we plan our surveys on behalf of Library and Learning Resources, though some of the methods would be difficult given our relatively small sample size.

I also attended a session from University of Manchester who use Tableau software to create a statistics dashboard for library management with an overview of library usage statistics to support data driven decision making.

I found it very interesting to hear about the different types of roles people at the conference have, and in fact one of the poster presentations shared research on this and the training/support needs of those who work in this area. Some attendees have a role which focuses solely on the performance measurement of their library (sometimes even as part of a team), whilst others have some element of performance management for their library alongside another role (such as librarian, marketing officer, or senior manager). The focus of performance measurement for each organisation seemed slightly different, though there were many commonalities in terms of measuring usage of resources, space, and library staff expertise.

From talking to others, it seems there is a perception that all other libraries are ahead of their own! I heard many people (both in their presentations and when talking to them during the networking opportunities) apologise for the less than perfect approach they take to measuring performance. I think as a profession we need to cut ourselves some slack here – very little data collection (if any?!) is ever perfect, but collecting data and using it is infinitely better than not collecting it or not using it.

Many of the people I spoke to agreed that there is a need for more sharing within the profession, both in terms of performance measurement methods and strategies for communicating findings; this could be through events such as the Northumbria Conference and Library Assessment Conference (and their conference proceedings), or via professional networks such as mailing lists and social media.

I came away from the conference inspired and enthused and hope to be able to use some of the methods in our own research, both for BCU Library and Learning Resources, and for our external projects.

Planning and Facilitating Focus Groups

Focus groupFocus groups are a great way to collect qualitative research data. They’re excellent for helping gain an insight into the views and perceptions of people, and a really great way of understanding users. They can be used to get feedback on products or services, or to help plan future developments. They’re often used in market research but can be adapted for a number of different purposes. One way we have used focus groups at Evidence Base was to gain a deeper understanding of student’s views on e-books and print books – their preferences, use, and reasons behind these. This was incredibly useful for supporting future purchasing decisions and user support. We’ve facilitated focus groups for a number of different organisations, including many libraries, and if you’d like us to work with you on this, please contact us.

Focus group training workshop

However, we recognised there was a need for training to enable other people to plan and facilitate their own focus groups or improve ones they already do. Following a number of requests for support in this, we spent time designing a training workshop on this topic. This started as a half-day workshop, but it has since expanded into a full day workshop to allow time for the theory, practice and planning.

The aims of the workshop are to help attendees:

  • Understand the value of focus groups and consider when they would be appropriate
  • Plan, organise and facilitate a focus group
  • Prepare activities for different types of focus groups to maximise the information collected
  • Report findings from focus groups to different stakeholders

The workshop includes a presentation to cover the logistics of focus groups, techniques to attract attendees, techniques to improve facilitation, and how to record and share the results of the focus group. It also includes a series of focus groups activities, based around a neutral topic, to experience the different types of activities you could include in focus groups. This then allows participants to consider how these could be adapted for their own focus groups.

We ran the first full day workshop in September, and had very positive feedback. Some comments included:

“Very thorough information and an excellent balance between theory and practical.”

“It has given me a theoretical and practical grounding for ideas and activities I have seen in use and participated in. I now have a clear idea of what sort of activities I would / wouldn’t use in different focus groups, and a good understanding of how people react differently to activities.”

“The activities were really useful to see how to make focus groups more interactive.”

“The handbook and individual exercises were laid out really clearly and will be really useful in future. The presentation was really clear and easy to follow.”

Book your place

Due to the success of the first workshop, we’ve scheduled another date to repeat it – Tuesday January 13th 2015. Booking is now open so you can find out more at http://www.bcu.ac.uk/evidence-base/training-and-events/planning-and-facilitating-focus-groups and book your place at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/focusgroupworkshop.

Hope to see some of you there!

Planning and facilitating focus groups workshop – booking now open

Focus group

Focus group

Would you like to get feedback from your users? Understand more about their needs? Get their opinion on new developments or services?

Focus groups help you achieve the above and more. They are also an excellent way to feed into future planning and provide evidence to support your commitment to Customer Service Excellence.

Evidence Base are facilitating a one-day workshop to help you learn how to plan and facilitate focus groups. The workshop covers logistics; techniques to attract attendees; activities to engage participants; techniques to improve facilitation; and how to record and share the results of the focus group.

The workshop is interactive in nature, with discussion points throughout, and an opportunity to try focus group activities out for yourself. There will be the opportunity to share your own experiences, and learn from other attendees’ experiences. You will leave the workshop equipped with the knowledge and skills to enable you to plan and facilitate your own focus groups, and will have begun the planning process for your next focus group.

The workshop is 10am-4pm on Monday 15th September in central Birmingham. For further information see the event information page and book your place using the online booking form.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the workshop, attendees will be able to:

  • Understand the value of focus groups and consider when they would be appropriate
  • Plan, organise and facilitate a focus group
  • Prepare activities for different types of focus groups to maximise the information collected
  • Report findings from focus groups to different stakeholders

Feedback from previous workshop attendees:

“Really see the value in doing focus groups now and feel a lot more confident about conducting them”

“Great ideas; great activities; made me plan our first focus group with more vision, we were previously struggling.”

“Really well structured. I feel like I could run a session now and I had no prior knowledge.”

“Loved the use of activities to demonstrate their effectiveness.”

Further information

If you have any questions about the workshop, please contact the workshop facilitator, Jo Alcock.

The Professional Development Cycle

I was recently invited to join ARLG North East for their ‘Professional Development Never Sleeps’ event and was asked to provide a workshop style session to open the event. As I was sketching out the workshop, I knew I wanted to include information about planning professional development activities, participating in them, and reflecting on them. As the planning progressed I realised I wanted to talk about professional development as part of an ongoing process rather than a series of discrete activities. And so The Professional Development Cycle was created:

The Professional Development Cycle

The Professional Development Cycle

The workshop was structured around the five different stages and at each point I shared my own tips from my experiences, and we also had the opportunity to discuss it as a group. The workshop was well received, and there was some great advice shared. You can see a Storify from the event produced by the organisers at: https://storify.com/ARLGNorthEast/professional-development-never-sleeps

I’ve been invited to deliver a similar workshop at the Libraries@Cambridge conference in January and I’m sure that group will also have some great ideas.

G4HE webinar

One of the projects we are currently working on is hosting a free webinar on 22nd October. See the details below to find out if it’s something you may be interested in attending. 

G4HE logo

G4HE logo

Are you a research manager, administrator, or researcher? Wonder who you could be collaborating with? The G4HE project (Gateway for Higher Education) is a Jisc-funded project with the aim of improving access for HEIs to information held by the Research Councils, by giving something useful in return for all the effort that goes into creating, maintaining, and collecting this research information. It uses the BIS-funded RCUK Gateway to Research API to retrieve the data they collect from institutional research management systems like Research Fish and ROS. Using this data, the G4HE tools have been developed to help Higher Education institutions (HEIs) answer questions such as:

  • Which other HEIs did my institution collaborate with last year and how much value did those collaborations bring in?
  • Are there other HEIs working in a similar area that we could collaborate with in future?
  • How does the value of our research compare with other institutions or research groups?

G4HE is hosting a free webinar to introduce you to the tools being developed and consider how these could be used in institutions. The webinar is on 22nd October 2013 from 1pm until 2pm – book your place now at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/event/8548036407.

Mobile technologies in libraries – recent events

Though our m-library community support project has ended, we remain active in the area of mobile technologies in libraries to provide people with information which may help their library/information service, and to continue the conversations as new technologies and developments are introduced. Over the summer we have been involved in two events, as outlined below.

CILIP Umbrella Conference 2013

At the CILIP Umbrella Conference 2013, I collaborated with a colleague within BCU library, Annmarie Lee, to present a paper on ‘Putting research into practice: mobile technologies in libraries’. I have been part of the mobile technologies working group for BCU Library and Learning Resources, and through that have been able to be involved in projects as a researcher to help put what we learnt through the m-library community support project into practice (e.g. using the information in the Pathways to Best Practice Guides). Annmarie and I gave the perspective from a researcher and a practitioner, and highlighted some of the mobile technology projects currently in progress at BCU Library and Learning Resources. We also shared the benefits of a researcher/practitioner collaboration and some tips for both to help each other. You can view our presentation below, and our paper will be available in the conference proceedings which will be published by Facet Publishing.

Annmarie and I also wrote an article on this topic for SCONUL Focus which is due to be published shortly.

Mobile resources library access issues workshop

I helped co-ordinate this workshop hosted by Jisc Collections, and was invited to present a section in the morning session. The idea of the workshop was to get librarians together to discuss the issues currently being experienced in terms of access library content via mobile devices, and see if we could come up with a way to move towards addressing the issues. I presented on some of the approaches libraries are using to record information about access to library resources via mobile devices, and some of approaches publishers and content providers are delivering their content to mobile devices. My slides are below:

I also blogged an overview of the day on the Mobile Technologies in Libraries blog, and Mark Williams from Jisc Collections has published an article in Research Information reporting on the main themes from the day and the next steps.

Birmingham City University Library and Learning Resources, along with many other libraries I’m sure, have been working on mobile development over the summer to support the students when they return in September. If you’re interested in utilising mobile technologies in your library/information service, please check out the Pathways to Best Practice Guides or contact us for further guidance.