Monthly Archives: February 2017

(Repurposing) focus groups as research tool for creativity and innovation

Are you overlooking an important source of ideas and connections with target publics for your PR campaign?

Try revisiting focus groups – they are popular because they can be organised quickly and don’t cost much. Results are also delivered quickly and can be analysed cheaply.

Focus groups can help you get an understanding of new or emerging issues or problems. They are also commonly used for testing: pre-testing messages for appeal and impact and as a starting point for designing broader survey instruments including questionnaires.

As an investigation tool, focus groups can be used with people already interested or knowledgeable on a topic, as a means of quickly generating valuable and insightful information. So you could use them for:

  • Gathering information to understand problems or issues
  • Identifying public needs and concerns
  • Evaluation e.g. campaign pre-test and post-testing
  • Testing new ideas and programs – Testing messages and channels
  • Advanced engagement: two-way symmetric communication

Focus groups have the potential to generate incredibly rich information, insight and creativity. Innovative ideas and insights start to bounce between participants as the dynamics get to work in this kind of group environment.

Working in groups provides a means by which people can pool their knowledge and insight and produce outcomes that are beyond what the individuals can achieve on their own; for example, making better decisions. This is an example of the concept of synergy: the effect of the group as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts (i.e. individuals working separately). People interacting with one another can generate higher levels of creativity, intellectual capability and energy, [a type of] group intelligence.

However, the potential for using focus group methods as a way to deliberately to tap into collective creativity is overlooked. Focus groups can designed specifically to brainstorm ideas for campaign messages and approaches and also applied as a tool for creative problem-solving and generating new ideas and approaches.  Using focus groups in this way is similar to Action Research where the research is directed toward action and change rather than understanding. This novel approach to focus group methodology is too often overlooked and so unfortunately it is very much an undertilised option.

Focus group methods can, and so should be, more widely considered as a research tool for capitalising on potential for synergetic creativity to generate ideas and produce solutions – rather than just remain limited to gathering conventional qualitative insight and information.

Dr Chris Kossen

Evacuation – who does and who doesn’t?

With cyclone season approaching in key-west-81664_960_720the southern hemisphere, emergency managers will be thinking about a big one that might lead to evacuations. And it appears that local information is the key to informed evacuation decisions.

What makes people evacuate or not? And who leaves and who stays?

Newly published research from Texas A&M University and the University of Washington, Seattle, investigates evacuations leading up to Hurricanes Katrina and Ike.  The research gives some clues on factors that affect the evacuation decision making and who does what.

Key points from the research by Huang, Lindell and Prater were:

  • Expected personal impact is the biggest predictor of a person evacuating
  • Older people are more likely to underestimate the speed of the arrival of the storm
  • Women are more sensitive to cues of all types and are more likely to want to evacuate given the right information relating to the risk they face
  • Home ownership does not affect the decision to evacuate, but people with higher incomes and levels of education are more likely to evacuate
  • News media is an important source – and if people accessed any news media, they were likely to have accessed other sources as well
  • Memory of false alarms will discourage evacuations, but if people are assured that this is because of the unpredictability of the storm, and not because information will be withheld or errors made by agencies, they will evacuate
  • Only official warnings, the area people live, expected wind impacts and concerns about obstacles to evacuation will lead directly to an evacuation decision – demographic factors, news media, social and environment cues and hurricane experience all need further mediation to result in an evacuation decision
  • People were preoccupied with wind speed, overlooking the potential for storm and tidal surges into their community, possibly as a result of the focus of official information, which provided scant details on flooding

The biggest take home from this is that the storyline that needs to be built about how the cyclone will affect individuals at a local level.

This puts the spotlight on the importance of local spokespeople who can describe the potential impact in local communities – an approach that contradicts current practice in some areas, particularly in Australia.

A second point is reinforcement of current agency practice  to use as many channels to get information to the community as possible – if people use conventional media and their online forms, they are more likely to tap into other channels and sources.

And who evacuates?

The answer is mostly found in the places people live – their level of risk and the perception of the threat will cause people from some geographic areas and residence types to evacuate. This probably leads to fewer older people evacuating because of their tendency to think they have more time.

People who have access to information from local emergency managers who have local knowledge, and because of this are trusted and credible, are also more likely to evacuate.

So it all comes back to the need for a community-based approach to disaster  management.

Barbara Ryan is a disaster communication researcher at the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba, and teaches crisis and disaster communications in the the Graduate Certificate of Business. She is currently researching how people receive and react to official communications in a bushfire.