Outlined below are the three most effective ways we have found to gather information from a community. But hold these loosely and if you have other ideas that would work better for your context then go with them instead:
Arrange focus groups for specific community groups where you can introduce yourself and ask questions. These are great for building relationships and people are more likely to open up and answer honestly if they are with other people like them in an environment they know. Be sure to arrange something on their ‘home turf’ – for example, go to a community centre to speak with mums groups or elderly people, rather than asking people to come to you.
What makes a good question?
Never ask a closed question. Questions that lead to a yes or no answer are too simplistic and won’t uncover hidden issues, thoughts and perspectives. Leave room for opinion and creative thinking by asking open questions. For example, the difference between asking ‘Do you think the community’s public spaces could be improved?’ and asking ‘How do you think the community’s public spaces could be improved?’ will show very different answers.
Questionnaires are great for collecting lots of information and quickly. If you decide you’re going to use them to collect information have a read through our top things to think about:
Know who you are going to be asking to complete the questionnaire, and tailor it to the different specific groups.
- Before giving the questionnaire to someone, explain its purpose and the value of them filling it in, or write this at the top of the questionnaire.
- Ask open questions such as 'what do you think of...? What do you feel about...? What do you consider...? What do you value most about...?' to help get the most out of your questions.
- Unless there is a specific reason for doing so, don’t make it longer than two sides of A4.
- It can work really well at the end of the questionnaire to provide space for drawing a picture of the participant's hopes for the future of the community. This works really well with children, but also adults, giving them a chance to think creatively.
Host an event
Invite members of the community to an event held at the church where you can bring everyone together to ask questions – essentially a focus group on a larger scale. This is a great way of demonstrating the value of the church and willingness to help and giving you chance to open your doors to the community in an informal and welcoming setting.