Updated: Oct 30, 2020
When I think back to my childhood in San Francisco, growing up in a colorful and musical home on 4th & Irving Street, I remember the bold colored furniture in the living room, and the chilly San Francisco fog that crept in through our windows. But most of all, I remember the wonderful smell of my Malaysian father’s curries and sambars.
He and my Colombian mother loved to host dinner parties for friends and family over the years, featuring their amazing culinary creations. What better way to strengthen relationships than to host those you love in your own home to break bread together? When you’re a host you tend to each guest in a thoughtful and sensitive way. You facilitate introductions and try to foster relationships between people. You also help everyone to feel at ease and to actively engage in conversation.
What then would it look like to take these concepts from hosting and apply them to the communities we work with in evaluation?
The Warm Welcome It can often be intimidating for participants to walk into a large room full of people they don’t know, and then have to share their personal thoughts on a particular topic. Just as you would welcome guests to a dinner party in your home, you can extend this same kindness to complete strangers at a data collection session. Krueger and Casey mention the importance of greeting people as they walk in with a warm handshake, bow, or hug during a Focus Group. This effort can help people feel more at ease, and ultimately lead to richer contributions in a discussion.
Getting Guests Acquainted In the Technology of Participation training, the facilitator sustained that people who say even a few words in the beginning of a meeting are more likely to participate later in the meeting. These participants have presumably overcome their fear of speaking up for the first time, so they’ll be apt to participate later in the conversation. Asking participants a simple “What’s your name and please tell us about a childhood hero/heroine of yours” is a great way to introduce and open people up to the larger discussion. Since you’ve already spoken to guests at the door, you can also channel the information you learned during peoples’ introductions to spark more interest in the lager discussion.
The Importance of Trust The level of comfort and trust you create in a space also has a big impact on the type of information shared during the following discussion. An important issue we've identified is that when evaluating a program or a collaborative, it can be quite challenging for people to share what isn’t working well for them. This is unfortunate because this information is critical to consider to make programs more relevant, workable and useful to the community.
Whether members of the group are close colleagues or complete strangers, people need to feel free and safe in expressing themselves in front of others. It’s worthwhile spending time encouraging participants to get to know each other better, sharing thoughts on what is working well in a program, and then slowly leading to what could be improved. This practice should help in building a sense of positive rapport within the group.
Setting Boundaries As hosts it’s an honor to have people willing to come to a workshop, focus group, or community event. It’s also our responsibility to look out for peoples’ comfort level in the work space and to set healthy boundaries with other group members. Just as you wouldn’t allow a drunken uncle to pester a friend about where she learned "Mexican", you need to speak up or interrupt when you hear and/or see these lines being crossed in a professional setting. If a person or group of individuals are spreading a negative vibe across the room it’s absolutely okay to take a quick pause, call out the behavior, ask what the problem might be, or as a last resort ask them to leave.
Ultimately, whether we're talking about a dinner party of eight or a mid-size focus group, people have chosen to meet with your team and to engage with others. By greeting guests with kindness, helping them get to know each other, fostering trust, and setting boundaries, you can create more meaningful experiences for everyone. These are some ideas that have worked for me. How else do you embrace your inner hostess in data collection or meeting facilitation?