Evaluating the needs of your members is a difficult research challenge. Why? Because it’s not easy for any of us to articulate what we need. To succeed, the researcher should avoid the direct approach but instead must gather insights using a circuitous path. Keep the following two principles in mind:
1) Focus on Challenges - Ask members about their challenges, anxieties, fears, frustrations and headaches. Take their answers and apply thought and creativity to come up with programs and services that will address these challenges. This, in our opinion, is the essence of a “needs analysis”.
2) Cast a wide net – Have an open dialogue with your members and listen without judgement to their responses. Who knows what innovative ideas might emerge if we really listen to the challenges that our members are facing.
Recently we had the chance to put theory into practice. In a research brief, the CSAE asked us to “Provide member insights and determine how CSAE can best meet member needs and expectations”.
In response to this brief we proposed a three-step research program that consisted of the following:
1) In-depth calls
2) Online focus groups
3) Online quantitative survey
Phase 1 – In-depth phone / zoom calls
We began the research process by having 14 in-depth conversations with members. These interviews were evenly divided between new members who had joined the CSAE within the past year and more seasoned individuals who had been members for five or more years.
Our conversations included the following topics:
- Challenges and pain points prior to the onset of COVID-19;
- Challenges and pain points over the course of the pandemic;
- Challenges and pain points as we move into a post pandemic world;
- How has (or can) the CSAE help to alleviate these challenges /pain points?
These conversations were typically about 30 minutes in duration. As noted, we did have specific topics that we wanted to cover but we also kept a flexible approach that allowed us to pursue interesting avenues that popped up in the discussion.
Phase 2 – Online Focus Groups
We emerged from Phase 1 with topics that we wanted to pursue in greater depth in the second phase of research. For this stage, we used online focus groups as our methodology. Although these groups can be held in real time we conducted our groups over a three-day period. This extended conversation provides for more thoughtful responses and gives respondents the chance to comment on the discussion as it unfolds. We recruited two separate groups with 16 respondents in each group. Group 1 consisted of members who had joined CSAE within the past year and Group 2 was comprised of more seasoned members.
Each morning, the moderator posted a new set of questions. Respondents visited the site at their convenience and responded to the new questions. Once they had posted their response, they could see other responses and could enter into a discussion with the other members. Throughout the day, the facilitator monitored the site and asked follow up questions directed at specific individuals or to all members of the group.
Here are the topics that we covered during each day of the groups.
• Personal / Professional / Association challenges over the past 14 months?
• CSAE and other resources used?
• What could CSAE have provided?
• Current issues and challenges.
• Focus on remote work / future of events / revenue / retention.
• Resources that CSAE could provide?
• Skills needed for the future? What does success look like? Obstacles standing in your way?
• CSAE’s focus for the future?
• Value of CSAE / Intangible value of membership
Phase 3 – Online Quantitative Survey
By the end of our online focus groups we had generated a long list of member issues, concerns and topics of interest. Now it was time to quantify these challenges. We needed to determine the key issues that CSAE should be addressing and how were these issues were distributed by association type and size.
To answer these questions, we developed an online member survey that was sent to all executive members. This short survey was a blend of open-ended and close-ended questions and asked the respondent to identify the key challenges they faced and to identify issues, concerns, and topics of interest impacting their organization. Our analysis, broke out these challenges and issues by type of organization and size along with other demographic details.
By the end of our needs assessment, we had compiled a detailed list of challenges and concerns facing CSAE members. As well, we knew how these issues were distributed by association type and size. Armed with this information, CSAE was well positioned to develop innovative programs and services designed to address these challenges.