Tag Archives: Research

Quirky fringe events could deepen connection to place and increase local community engagement – USQ PR research

Detail of Mary-Kate Khoo’s Bed of Roses from Avant Garden 2007.

Research by our own Andrew Mason and Dr Rebecca Scollen shows that it pays to take a risk by adding innovative fringe events to mainstream festivals to increase engagement and involvement amongst local residents.

Their study of the community’s involvement in the quirky ‘Avant Garden’, part of the mainstream Carnival of Flowers in Toowoomba, Queensland, has shown that innovative ideas at mainstream festivals can deepen community engagement and widen appeal of the main event. This deeper engagement has implications for place-making and perceptions of identity by residents.

Avant Garden was held from 2007 to 2010, when the southern Queensland region, and the Carnival of Flowers, was suffering from the effects of a 10-year drought.

Andrew and Rebecca aimed to investigate the role of a grassroots initiative in engaging local people in an innovative place-making fringe festival to determine if such fringe events could contribute to place-making through marketing and engagement. They found that:

  • Fringe festivals can play an important role in broadening the capacity and appeal of the main festival
  • They can improve the capacity for the local community to build local identity
  • Fringe festivals can trigger longer term innovations to place branding

The important takeaway for regional event managers of this paper is that innovative grass-roots initiatives like Avant Garden can provide authentic, and therefore more effective, methods to get more of the community involved in their local festival, and involved in a deeper way.

The bottom-up approach used by Avant Garden organisers was shown to strengthen the links between place and identity for local people attending the event.  Respondents described Avant Garden as ‘quirky’, a good way of showcasing local talent, and a good way to bolster the drought-affected Carnival of Flowers. Andrew and Rebecca found that Avant Garden provided a connection to local public parks for some people who had come to the Carnival specifically this part of the festival, many of them first time Carnival of Flowers attendees.

The research supports the effect of community-generated innovation in regional events, and along with that innovation, some risk taking.

Andrew and Rebecca used observation and a survey of 504 people (13% of total visitors and three quarters of them local people) to come up with their conclusions.  Their paper has been published in the Journal of Place Management and Development.

(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