Public meetings offer many avenues
for information. They are relatively quick means of accessing
a community "pulse" on an issue providing that you gather
a representative pool of the population at the meeting. There
are two basic types of public meetings: community forums and focus
Community forums are meetings that
are open to the public whereby any community resident (or anyone
for that matter) can raise issues. This "open door"
policy can be a good thing for public relations as it shows that
you would like to include input from a wide range of residents
in your Extension programs and services. However, these type meetings
are not without risk. While there may be others, there are at
least three types of risk associated with open, public forums:
- The people that choose to attend
can have ulterior motives or agendas that are not representative
of the entire community population. While this may be a good
thing, there is a risk that this potential minority can dominate
the meeting and make others reluctant to speak out.
- The public may use it for a gripe
session which has an unplanned negative public relations twist.
- Finally, the public meeting may
heighten expectations beyond what is reasonable. With limited
resources, Extension must prioritize their programming and service
efforts. These meetings may set up an expectation that Extension
personnel are unable to deliver upon.
Focus Group Interviews are a more
structured way to solicit detailed information from a representative
sample of the population. Like the mail or phone survey, participants
are selected to represent the population and are asked a series
of questions. Unlike the mail or phone survey, you are in a setting
where you can ask for more detailed information on their opinions,
attitudes, and feelings. Additionally, you can get in-depth answers
to questions that are highly specific to Extension programming.
someone to relieve a public meeting that went "astray".
Was there Negativity? Tension? Disrepect? Anxiety? Violence?
there are some examples out there of bad scenarios that stemmed
from public meetings, we want to keep our professional image
alive. Public group sessions offer such a valuable avenue
for assessing the community "pulse" about issues
and trends relative to Extension programming. So do we just
not do it? Or is there a way to do it with dignity?
the handout "Focus Group Approach" and review the
steps for planning a focus group interview with the advisory
the group in laying the framework for the upcoming focus group
session. Explain that during the previous lessons we have
addressed some of the prelimiary plannign needs of a focus
- Use information from
the surveys and interviews to make a list of issues
that need further exploration. This information can
quickly translate into your purpose for meeting as
well as your interview questions.
- Identify participants
- check back on your list of population categories
from previous lessons. Look for a representative group
of people who were not interviewed or surveyed on
previous occasions. They will likely be good candidates
for this exercise. Invite them to attend once the
details are in place.
- Find a good candidate
for the facilitator as they are key. Ask for nominations
from within or outside the advisory council to serve
in this crucial role.
the advisory members to help organize and attend the focus
group interview so that they too can gain insight into the
community attitudes and trends. While the facilitator is key
to the discussion, other members may offer questions that
stimulate and guide the interviews for a well-rounded discussion.
play the focus group session with the advisory members to
"iron out" the flow and look for problem areas or
conduct the real focus group session with community representatives
and summarize the findings or discussions for use at the next
advisory council meeting.
University Extension. Needs assessment strategies. Retrieved June
27, 2002, from
the Iowa State University Web site: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/communities/tools/assess/focus.html