Community Engagement: Focus Groups

Posted: 7 June 2017

Author: Corrie Rhyasen Erdman, Community Learning Network

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Community engagement is a process that CALPs can use to strengthen the impact of learning in their community. By bringing people together who have a vested interest in adult learning, CALPs can invite input into their strategic direction. When done with careful and thoughtful planning these events help CALPs:

  • identify and connect with new learners, 
  • clarify what CALPs can do to ensure learners have access to relevant learning and meaningful supports, and 
  • facilitate innovative partnerships with service providers, municipalities and businesses to leverage the CALP’s impact in the community.

Of the dozens of community engagement events supported by the CLN through the Culture of Collaboration initiative, common themes and best practices have emerged for hosting these events. Thanks to the CALPs who have shared their resources with the CLN, we can pass on what we have learned from their experiences to help you plan your own unique event. CALP events over the last 5 years have typically taken the form of a focus group targeting one of 4 stakeholder groups: Learners, Community, Businesses and Service Agencies.

If you are considering a community engagement event for your community, take time to carefully consider whom your target audience will be. Based on information collected from CALPs about their events, we have compiled a list of common themes, talking points and resources to get you started for any one of the 4 focus groups.

Learner Focus Group

Topics explored with Learners:

  • Criteria for a good learning experience
  • New skills or learning pathways learners are looking for
  • Communication/marketing preferences
  • Factors that support learning and interfere with learning
  • Suggestions for changes your CALP could make that would enhance learning  

Showcasing your CALP and how you help Learners:

  • Highlight the range of programming and delivery options to choose from
  • Create a safe and welcoming space to give input on their learning needs and to shape their learning experience

CALP Portal resources to help you get started:

Community Focus Group

Topics explored with Community Stakeholders:

  • Local learning opportunities & providers
  • Community needs and challenges
  • Skills needed by residents
  • Barriers to learning
  • Opportunities for working together

Showcasing your CALP and how you help the Community: 

  • Inform the community of your mandate and connection to a larger CALP system focused on improving foundational skills
  • Highlight the range of programs and services you provide to the community
  • Share success stories from learners, tutors, instructors, staff and/or your CALP as an organization
  • Share a community profile with community demographics and local trends

CALP Portal resources to help you get started:

Service Provider Focus Group

Topics explored with Service Providers:

  • Client skills needed to overcome challenges in their daily lives 
  • Ways to work together to reduce barriers and not overburden learners with additional services
  • Local trends and shifts that affect the community and the need for learning

Showcasing your CALP and how you help Service Providers and their clients:

  • Highlight the range of programming options your CALP offers, share successes, and invite participants to explore ways to weave your services together to benefit learners 
  • Educate participants about foundational learning, literacy rates, and your CALP mandate to improve the foundational skills of their clients

CALP Portal resources to help you get started:

Business Focus Group

Topics explored with local Businesses:

  • Skill sets needed in the workplace 
  • Workplace training needs
  • Distinguish which training opportunities are available locally vs. those not accessible in the community 
  • Training preferences – time of day, on-site/off-site, in-person/online, cost (and who pays?)

Showcasing your CALP and how you help Businesses:

  • Inform about your mandate, successes and ways to work together to improve workplace skill sets
  • Share the Canada-Alberta Jobs Grant which pays for 2/3 of the cost of new training: a win-win-win for the business, the learners and your CALP (familiarize yourself with the eligibility and training requirements of this grant before you share it with others) 

CALP Portal resources to help you get started:

There are many more resources and samples from past community engagement events shared on the CALP Portal. Make use of them! They are there for you to build from so change, add or adapt in any way that suits your specific needs. 

If you are interested in hosting your own community engagement dialogue, your RSS will support you. The Regional Support Staff can help you explore design options that might work best for you, tell you about funding that is available through CLN, and help you find a wide range of resources, tools and samples.

Corrie Rhyasen Erdman
CLN Regional Support Staff
West-Central Region


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