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How to use this manual
What is formative research?
What do you want to know?
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What can your agency handle
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Before beginning with formative research, it is crucial to have a plan and to understand what questions you are looking to answer. Don’t collect data that your agency can’t or won’t use. Your staff will appreciate not being burdened with work that doesn’t seem to have any benefit for them. And your clients will appreciate not being asked to answer another set of questions.

A few guidelines for shaping a formative research plan for an agency:

Involve the higher-ups.   Make sure to keep the executive director of your agency as well as the County Department of Public Health (DPH) apprised of your research plans, to make sure they are invested in the research and benefit from it.

Understand that research needs to be scheduled and staff need to be trained and paid.  Don’t assume that an outreach worker can conduct a focus group to test a brochure and still complete all his or her other duties.

Link with other agencies. The County DPH should support your agency meeting not only with other HIV prevention agencies, but with drug and alcohol treatment agencies, primary care clinics, STD and family planning clinics, and any other agency with whom you can share resources that can help make your job easier. In addition, the local or state Community Planning Group should provide linkages with agencies and assistance in conducting formative research.

Don’t collect what you won’t use.   Remember to simplify surveys, interviews and focus groups. While you want to be sure you allow for new ideas and issues to be brought up, don’t try to address more than your agency has the capacity to address.

Plan for dissemination of findings.   Agency staff, clients, other agencies, the general community, DPH and funders may all be interested in the results of formative research. Make a dissemination plan, no matter how simple, before you begin the research. Agency newsletters, Town Halls, feature articles in a local paper, staff meetings, and progress reports are all ways to disseminate research findings.

Start long-term planning for funding for research, staff training and dissemination.  Start now to include these costs in your upcoming grant proposals. If an agency can describe how formative research has helped their programs, it will be easier to write in costs for research, data analysis, conference attendance and dissemination.

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Good Questions, Better Answers --  1998 California Department of Health Services and Northern California Grantmakers AIDS Task Force  --