How can we make as many young people’s voices heard as possible in our programme? A look at focus groups at Nottingham Contemporary
One of the most meaningful ways in which we have engaged with young people across Nottingham during our Circuit programme has been through conducting focus groups. Though often associated with commonplace brands aiming to expand their customer bases (I’m looking at you, Colgate!) there is clearly lots to be gained from directly asking for opinions.
The idea for running focus groups came from a member of Collabor-8 Collective. Upon discussing ways to reach more young people in our city, and specifically thinking about how to adapt our programme for them, one member of the group said “why can’t we just ask them?” And so that’s what we did!
As simple as it sounds, we did identify a number of potential issues that could arise, and thought about how to prevent them from happening. We decided collectively that it would be far more valuable to talk to groups of young people who were familiar with one another, such as youth groups, as we wanted them to feel as comfortable as possible, and also that the actual act of attending the focus group had a social element, rather than feeling like a chore. This also made identifying young people in areas where we had little previous engagement much more simple. Crucially, we paid each young person involved for their time, to reinforce the fact that we genuinely valued their opinions, and how important their opinions were to the development of our programme and for the gallery. We additionally scheduled focus groups prior to Collabor-8 Collective events, enabling the young people involved to get a taste for the programme once the focus group had ended, which Collabor-8 Collective felt was vital to building relationships with more young people and gaining their engagement.
In total we held six focus groups during programming for Affinity Festival between January and June 2015. The structure of each focus group differed slightly, but followed the below template.
Warm up activity:
-What’s your favourite colour combination? (or another neutral question)
-Members of Collabor-8 Collective explanation of the Circuit youth programme at Nottingham Contemporary and different elements
-What we are going to ask you: feedback and opinions on our programme and marketing
- Have you been to Nottingham Contemporary before? What did you think about the gallery before you came?
- What do you like to do in your spare time? What are your hobbies?
- What is the best event you have been to recently? What was good about it?
- What things influenced you to go to the event?
- [LEAFLET ACTIVITY] Which is your favourite leaflet? What do you like about it?
- Who do you think our leaflets are for?
- What kinds of activities would you like to see/would you come to at Nottingham Contemporary?
The learning from these focus groups was not only enlightening, but it additionally influenced our approach to programming and marketing Affinity Festival. The idea to programme two days with distinctive feeling music-wise came directly from focus group discussion, in addition to the variety of activities we programmed. Working as hard as possible to make the gallery feel like a total space for young people during and after the festival was a point of discussion which arose in numerous focus groups, leading to the idea from Collabor-8 Collective to create a ‘house-party’ vibe during Affinity.
One of the most useful outcomes of running focus groups was the way in which it affected the Collective’s view of their programme. At least two members of Collabor-8 Collective helped to run each focus group, and following this they would feed back to everyone. Through this process, the whole group have become really audience-focused in their approach to programming, and are totally fixated on what young people across Nottingham want, as well as what they would like to see or do with the programme.
Feedback on our marketing materials and Collabor-8 branding shed light on what we needed to do with the festival visual identity, with key points raised in the focus groups directly influencing the branding process for Affinity Festival. I think one of the successes of this process was evident in the diversity of the audience we gained for the festival.
In addition to gaining useful insights and opinions, the focus groups above all facilitated conversations between young people from loads of different walks of life. In our increasingly digital age, it’s a precious think for young people to meet others in person and interact. Running the sessions really shed light on how valuable this is, and the positive impact that voicing their opinions can have on the young people involved.