Determining Community Needs

Now that you’ve decided to TakeTIME in your community, the first step is to find out what needs to change in your community. What’s good? What could be better? What types of actions need to be taken? Directly asking parents and caregivers for feedback and ideas is where you’re going to find these answers.

Don’t assume you know what the answers are

When Take TIME Uxbridge began, we thought we knew what the needs were – increasing awareness of amounts of physical activity, where to find activity programs, and educating on what types of food were best. However, when we asked people what their needs were, the responses we received were different from what we had expected!

What We Thought What We Learned
Children aren’t participating in physical activity because caregivers are unaware of the recommended amount of physical activity. Resolve by educating on Daily Physical Activity guidelines Majority of caregivers knew the importance of daily physical activity for their children, but reasonble cost equipment and programming posed as a barrier
Lack of information about activity programs results in less participation. Resolve by increasing information on where to find activity programs Parents and families already knew where activity programs were held in the community, the barrier was in accessing programs due to transportation or scheduling issues
Need to increase knowledge and education on the types of food that are best for children under 8 years of age Healthy foods and snacks were reported as easy to find, the problems associated with healthy food were not about the types of food, but healthy foods at a reasonable cost and access to healthy options when eating out

Possible methods for gathering feedback and information are below. Follow the links for more information on how to approach stakeholder groups in your community:

Talking to community leaders
Find local recreation facilities and ask them about the barriers they face in attracting participants – is it awareness, transportation, cost, limited space or something else? Look up recreation groups and different charities as well, who may have valuable insight.

Talking to caregivers of young children
Reach out to school teachers, local coaches, daycare staff, babysitters and after school programs.

Talking to parents/general community
Get the opinions of general community members. Ask parents for their thoughts, and venture out to find people who are accessing services.

Take TIME Uxbridge used surveys, interviews, and focus groups to gather information – but your community might have different needs, and the methods you use to gather your information may likewise be different.

Topics of discussion to consider:

Who?

Who are we targetting?
The TakeTIME program should focus on children under 8 years of age, but the program you develop may aim to reach different groups of people such as young parents, caregivers, coaches and teachers, or teenage volunteers.

Who in the community makes it easy or difficult for children to be active
What are the barriers that children face, and who can help remove those barriers? Is it transportation, is it access to facilities, or maybe a lack of coaches and volunteers leading to a shortage of recreational programs?

Who are the decision makers?
Talk to local facilities, and local teams and find out who decides how local gymnasium or ice rink times are allocated. Who can initiate recreational projects and awareness campaigns?

Who provides opportunities now?
No matter what the obstacles are, it’s important to get a sense of what things are working, and who is making those opportunities available.

Who could provide new opportunities?
Are there other people in the community who can use their skill sets and assets to bring new opportunities forward? Consider new sources of volunteers, parent-run programs, and teachers.

Who are potential sponsors?
Are there local companies or groups that would fit well with your objectives? Are there sponsors for existing groups in your community that may want to be more involved? Also consider companies that are investing in children’s activities in other communities, such as Tim Horton’s Local Programs, or Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart

Who are potential project partners for organizing and/or delivering Take TIME?
Try and connect with sports organizations, existing charities, schools or other groups that may want to partner with your Take TIME project.

Where?

Where are current opportunities located?
List the programs and facilities that children can already access to engage in active and healthy living.

Where are new opportunities needed?
Think of children or groups that currently don’t have access, or don’t have easy or proper access to programs, activities and information.

Where are facilities suitable for infants/todders/etc. located?
Special facilities may be required for very young children. Are there suitable facilities in your area? Things that make a facility safe for toddlers can include proper cleaning, safe ways to contain wandering children, and suitable changing facilities with change tables.

Where are free/low cost activity opportunities available?
Consider local recreational facilities, as well as parks and trails. Small group programs can also be run in many rental spaces, such as church basements or conference rooms.

Where are potential partner organizations located
While local organizations are closest, you may have to head to neighbouring communities, or even major cities to find the best matches for your project.

Where are transit routes or walking paths or parking available?
It’s important to know how people, and particularly children, can safely get to and from any planned programs or activities.

Where do parents and caregivers go now for information?
Likely sources of information include local recreation centres, websites, television or radio programs, and possibly magazine subscriptions or local brochures listing programs for kids.

Where in the community would be best to advertise the campaign?
Try to come up with a list of advertising spaces that will be likely to reach parents and children.

Where should the events be held?
Locations should be safe, easily accessible, well suited to the activities you’ll perform, and affordable. Make sure any facilities are fully-accessible for all members of the community.

Why?

Why are parents not acting to meet the recommendations they know about?
Parents face many challenges in raising kids, and even if they are aware of healthy living recommendations, they may not have the time, financial resources, or transportation available to let their children fully access the programs available.

Why are recommendations ignored?
Some people may just choose convenience over healthy choices, they may forget about the recommendations, or they find less-healthy alternatives to be more enjoyable then the activities that are currently available (or that they are aware of).

Why are existing opportunities ignored or under-utilized?
Existing opportunities may not be targeting the right audience, may not be offered during the right time of day, or may just not appeal to many people in the community. There may also be issues regarding cost, transportation or other barriers.

Why are existing opportunities successful?
Out of the programs that are finding success, what is unique about them? Do they have well-trained staff? Is the facility easily accessible? Have they gained the community’s trust?

Why are current messages ignored (or not acted upon)?
Community members may not understand the risks, or may not be able to find time in their day to act upon healthy lifestyle messages. Discuss these issues with parents and find out ways to work with their schedules and to stress the importance of raising a child who is active and well-informed.

Why are some sectors of the community more involved than others?
Find out which community groups are involved in recreation, and try and find out why they get involved, and likewise, why other groups aren’t as active in promoting youth recreation or activities.

Why is it impossible for families to act on current opportunities?
Some families simply won’t have the ability to be involved with current programming. Talk to them and find out what prevents them from participating.

Why should we do this over that?
Based on the needs of your community, try and create multiple solutions or ideas for projects. After discussing the possible solutions, create a list of reasons for choosing what you feel is the best course of action.

What?

What is important to parents?
Parents will have many questions and concerns about any program they register their children for. They’ll need to trust those who are running the program, and know that their kids are in good hands. Find out specifically what other concerns parents may have.

What is important to caregivers?
People looking after children will need to know that any events or programs being run are properly staffed, and that staff are adequately trained to handle any emergencies that may arise.  Programs may also need to be adapted to allow for children with special needs to have caregivers present in the class.

What are the needs for different sectors (e.g., at-home vs working parents, infants vs toddlers vs preschool vs school age, higher vs lower income, different neighbourhoods, etc.)?
Identify the different sectors in your community, and create a list of the items that are important to each one. Based on the demographics of your community you should be able to identify some key points to help your programs appeal to a variety of parents.

What should the focus of the campaign be? What needs to be provided? What needs to be changed?
After identifying the needs of your community members, and the issues in the community, you should begin to have a clear idea of what your project will focus on, what changes that will involve, and what the community members can expect from  you.

What in the community makes it easy or difficult for children to be active?
Are there a variety of affordable or complimentary programs for kids in the community? Do the kids need transportation from adults, or can they access the programs directly at school? You’ll want to promote the positive aspects of your community that help kids be active, and address the factors that make it more difficult.

What is the meaning of “healthy, active lifestyles for young children” to the community?
People have different interpretations of what it means to have a healthy, active lifestyle. Asking this question will help you get an understanding of the community. The answers may highlight misunderstandings of healthy living (ie, if people think that minimal or no activity is healthy), or it may help you understand what is valuable to the community, and what people want to aim for.

When?

When should programmes or opportunities be held (time of day, day of week, time or year, weekday/weekend, holiday)?

Programs will only be well attended if they run when community members are available. Ask parents and community members what times would be the most convenient for them.

When are potential facilities available?
Facilities usually charge more during prime hours (often during weekends or early evenings). Ask the facilities around you when they can accommodate your project.

When would be the best time(s) to host potential opportunities/events?
Cost is one issue to consider when hosting any event at a facility, but you may also look into outdoor events, in which case you’ll have to consider the seasonal weather and daylight. Consider elements such as traffic, common work hours and other community events.

When can educational messages be delivered?
It’s important to spread the word about healthy and active living – so can messages be delivered through the school board, or through existing youth programs? Can volunteers go and speak to classrooms or at school functions?You also may be able to reach parents through print or radio advertisements.

What’s our timeline?
It’s important to set a realistic goal to keep you on track, and to keep your team motivated. Four months to a year is probably a good timeline to start seeing some results, but that depends on research time, and how many volunteers you have available.

When’s the best time to advertise?
Whatever platform you choose to use to get your message out there, think about the time of day, and the time of the week/season, when it will be best to try and contact people. Perhaps an ad in the weekend paper could reach parents who are sitting at home with their kids looking for something to do, or a radio ad early in the morning could reach people who’ve just been woken up by their young kids.

When’s the best time to contact people?

When reaching out to people, in person or through the phone, it’s important to take their schedules into consideration. Emails can be sent first thing in the morning. Phone calls should typically take place after common working hours, but not during dinner time and not too late at night.

How?

How can families get to current opportunities?
You should be able to quickly direct an inquiring parent to a place where they can get involved or sign up for your project. This can be a website, a phone number, or a physical location.

How can families involve children of different ages or multiple children?
Are the programs you are running suitable for multiple age groups? Can older children help out, or volunteer to assist some of the young kids?

How do families currently get information they consider reliable and valuable?
Are families finding out about programs through seasonal programming guides? By word-of-mouth? Are there websites or Facebook groups promoting ideas and activities?

How can we get families to seek out our information/opportunities?
Can we incorporate our ideas into an existing platform? Can we find affordable advertising in local papers or on the radio? Can we find local online groups through Facebook or other websites?

How can we get sponsors interested?
What do we have to offer for sponsors? Will they want to be a part of our project because of our reach, or because of signage opportunities (t-shirts, etc)?

How can we generate partnerships and support?
Think of connections to local businesses. We can also look into creating partnerships with national brands like Tim Horton’s, McDonalds, and Canadian Tire who will sponsor local activities. Local branches of the YMCA/YWCA, or other recreational groups and charities, may also help out. Consider groups like the Heart and Stroke Foundation, who goals may merge well with our own.

How can we make opportunities seem irresistable?
Parents need to know they can trust the people running the programs, and kids want to have fun. If you find ways to accomplish those tasks, while making the program accessible and affordable, then it will be a success.
How should we disseminate the information?
You may be able to develop a mailing list, or email contacts all the information they require. Websites are an affordable way to allow people looking for information to find it. You can also post brochures or advertisements at local recreation facilities, or talk to existing programs or schools about sharing information there.