Doing Needs Assessments When There is No Researcher: Advice for Media Start-Ups

August 15, 2013

The Community Radio Tree is an easy and nearly free way to capture programming ideas. We carried the same one from event to event for two years.

The Community Radio Tree is an easy and nearly free way to capture programming ideas. We carried the same one from event to event for two years adding more and more “leaves” at each event.

I was asked by Prometheus Radio Project to give a few pointers on doing community needs assessments for LPFM applicants. So here are a few things to chew on based on my experience helping start WGXC Hands-On Radio.

1. Don’t delegate, integrate.

Integrate your team into your research. 

In the future, you might find yourself reaching out to professional researchers or evaluators the way that big established stations do. But you are a start-up. You are making an audience where one doesn’t exist. The more gut-level understanding you have of who’s in your listening area and what they’ll respond to the better. Even if no one on your team has ever done a needs assessment, if you are truly curious, you will go far.  Of course the more people on your team who cultivate this curiosity into a knowledge-seeking habit, the further and faster you’ll go. Especially in the beginning, the more people who are learning about your potential listeners, their needs, their desires, the better. Involve as many of your volunteers and staff as possible in your research efforts.

Integrate research into your tasks. 

Look for ways to integrate research into any task you are doing, big and small. For example, promote a “feedback” email address. What could be easier?  Help your soon-to-be programmers get savvy at developing an audience by asking them questions about how they will do so on your program application. Once you get started, you’ll find a million ways to integrate research into your team’s day-to-day work.

A leaf on the Community Radio Tree suggests a that we air pathogen and pest updates for local farmers.

Every leaf on the community radio tree represents a conversation between us and a community member where we learned what they wanted to hear on the radio.

 2. Always ask. 

Ask your community to envision the station with you. Ask them what’s missing, what they listen to now, how and when they listen. Get out the door early and often. Ask many, many people. Ask them often.  Don’t worry about crafting the perfect question. If you ask a lot of people a lot of questions, you’ll figure out which ones have juice. Make media and get community feedback on it. Try things out. If they don’t work, try again. People love it when you ask their opinion. And if they feel you are listening, you will gain their esteem. Your project will grow.

Go deep. Seek out  the people who are respected by different sectors of your “community of communities.” These folks have a deep perspective on  specific communication needs, desires, and habits in their corner of the world.

Go broad. Show up at events where your community comes out. Get the person in the street perspective. It’s fun, it’s outreach, and you might learn something. If you do it a lot, you’ll definitely learn something.

3. Go beyond opinion, find out why.

In truth, many people in your community may not have thought that deeply about media. If they have, they might not want to share their true thoughts until they get to know you a bit better. So, early on, a lot of the answers you get might be superficial. That’s ok.  To get a more grounded understanding of your community, go beyond asking for just opinions on what people “like” or “don’t like” about media in your area. Ask them why. If they say, “We need more x programming here,” don’t take it at face value. Follow up with a “Why do you think that?” or “Why do you think that’s happening?” Some say that doing this five times in a row will surface a “root cause.” It’s super helpful to understand how your community is thinking about cause and effect in relation to your station.

Evaluation, Media, Methods Madness, Social Impact