Summary Report of Focus Groups with Gay Men's Outreach Program Volunteers To Discuss Improvements to the Program

A. FOCUS GROUP PURPOSE:

This report is a summary of discussions occurring during two focus groups held with Gay Men’s Outreach program volunteers (including bar, bathhouse and condom stuffing volunteers). The focus groups were held at ACT on August 1st and 2nd 2001. A total of nine participants attended.

The purpose of the focus groups was to attain feedback on the program, as well as to brainstorm on possible improvements. A series of probing questions were forwarded in advance to each participant (Appendix A). However, the focus groups were not strictly guided by these questions. Rather, participants were allowed to raise issues of importance to them. Each participant signed consent forms (Appendix B). The sessions were audiotaped for transcription purposes.


B. SUMMARY OF IDENTIFIED ISSUES:

Outreach Effectiveness

One participant stated the way he felt about the program often depended on how successful he perceived his shift to be. He sometimes felt as if he was simply there to distribute free condoms and lube, and that patrons viewed him only as such. Other participants agreed: they were often viewed as the “condom people”, rather than as “resource people”. Participants believed more efforts should be made to convey who volunteers are, and what type of resources and information they can offer. Only when this particular participant had significant discussions with men, which he felt did not occur often, did he feel he had done a worthwhile shift. As such, he questioned whether his volunteer work with the program was the best use of his volunteer time. Other participants reiterated his sentiments to varying degrees.

Another participant agreed that, in the past year and a half, it seems to have become more challenging to engage men in conversations about their sexual health. Other participants agreed: many men seemed to be less willing to talk about safer sex lately. One participant indicated that only maybe once every 4 or 5 shifts would he have a discussion he felt was significant. One participant believed the lack of exposure of outreach activities within the venues, particularly with bathhouse outreach, plays in the fact that men seemed less engaging than before. Even ID tags, outreach T-shirts, and announcements over the venue’s public announcement system did not seem to impact greatly in raising awareness of outreach presence. Participants agreed they somehow needed to be more visible during their shifts. Some participants believed using campaigns would be an effective way to gain more attention for volunteers, such as T-shirts with themes or promoting a specific campaign, hats, etc. Participants identified Condom Country as a good example of how a campaign helped raised the visibility of volunteers, due to the cowboy hats and T-shirts. Several participants raised the possibility of creating a costume, such as a large condom outfit, to get people’s attention during bar outreach. Other participants also spoke about the possibility of getting involved with educational workshops in the bathhouses to gain visibility.

According to participants, some men are intimidated to speak with them. Some participants believed making outreach activities more fun would make it less intimidating for these men. Within the bathhouses, participants suggested being allowed to station themselves in common lounge areas within the venue might also make them more approachable.

Some participants, particularly the bathhouse volunteers, spoke of the isolation they felt, since they rarely had opportunities to get together with other volunteers.

Suggestions were made to have posters and signage not only for display in the outreach clinic (room) but also in several locations in the bathhouse, prompting patrons to ask questions about specific topics, or notifying them what the volunteer is offering. A sign could also be placed at the entrance, notifying patrons that a volunteer is in the venue at that moment. These signs would be displayed only during the volunteer’s shift.

Participants also identified the importance of bar and bathhouse outreach shifts happening later in the evening. Several participants expressed interest in doing later shifts.


Condom packaging

Participants agreed the condom packaging nights were well organized, and always well attended. However, one common complaint was that condom packs tended to be difficult to prepare since the plastic zip-loc bags were troublesome to open. Similarly, many participants agreed the zip-loc packaging tended to be difficult to open for clients. Further, one participant argued the packaging was not environmentally-friendly. However, another participant liked the zip-loc packaging since it kept the packaging waterproof. Overall, participants agreed the condom packaging should be modified.
Several participants raised the importance of having condom inserts targeting different venue types (such as bars, bathhouses and special events), and thus also recognizing the diversity of men being reached. Participants agreed information on the inserts, however, had to remain brief and clear, since most patrons were not interested in reading too much text. Participants also agreed the packaging could be more exciting, more attention-grabbing. However, some participants raised the importance that the condom packaging be discreet, particularly for those men who may be more shy about accepting a condom package in public. Overall, participants believed a new condom package should be discreet, but also self-explanatory.

Participants agreed many patrons did not realize they carried extra-large, unlubricated, flavoured condoms and additional lube. They also suggested carrying specialized condoms, such as Japanese and polyurethane Avanti condoms, as a way to generate interest. One participant suggested soliciting donations of specialized condoms from condom companies. One participant who began offering lollipops and candies along with condom packs during his outreach shift found this worked well in drawing patrons’ attention. Other participants suggested soliciting for a candy sponsor, such as Chupa Chupps. They also suggested including small prizes or free passes in some of the condom packs, as a way to generate greater interest in the condom packs.

Participants suggested doing a survey of men in the bathhouses to gather their opinions about the condom packages, on whether they read the information in the packages, and how they perceived outreach volunteers.


Outreach T-shirts

Participants agreed the T-shirts should be updated. Having text on both sides was recommended, since the front tends to be more visible for bathhouse outreach, whereas the back was highly visible for bar and special event outreach. Further, the T-shirts needed to be of a brighter and more visible colour, thus providing higher contrast for the text, since most of the venues were dark. Participants also suggested indicating more information on the T-shirts, rather than simply “Outreach Volunteer”, as many patrons do not understand what “Outreach” means. There was disagreement as to whether the ACT logo should be more prominent on the T-shirt.


New Outreach Initiatives

Some participants asked what other outreach projects looked like in other cities, as a way to discover new approaches to outreach.

Another participant suggested distributing condoms and lube directly to gay bars and businesses, so they could do their own distribution.

One participant suggested installing computer terminals in the bars and bathhouses where people could search information about sexual health, or post questions.

Other participants suggested expanding bar outreach into the clubs, such as Fly, 5ive, and the Barn. They agreed, however, that such outreach would need to take a different approach than bar outreach.


Volunteer Support

Although participants agreed regular updated memos were effective ways of providing support, they also spoke of the need for being further updated on information and outreach-related topics so they could better respond to current community needs and concerns. Participants suggested on-going training sessions for outreach volunteers to keep informed on outreach-related topics. Such sessions could occur every 3 or 4 months. Some participants believed such training sessions could also provide an opportunity to get updates on the Outreach program, and about ACT.

Participants suggested updating the bathhouse resource binder, as many felt it contained too much information, thus making it difficult to retrieve information efficiently. Participants also suggested that existing memos update volunteers particularly about issues raised during recent outreach shifts. A suggestion was also made to make available the statistics collected about outreach activities.


C. RECOMMENDATIONS:

I. Improve Outreach Effectiveness

1. Develop new strategies encouraging men to be more engaging about their sexual health;
2. Improve public knowledge and visibility of outreach activities and volunteer roles in the venues as well as in the community at large;
3. Make volunteers more approachable during their shift;
4. Schedule some bar and bathhouse shifts later in the evening;
5. Design new T-shirts for outreach volunteers;
6. Develop new posters and signage to be used during bath outreach.

II. Provide More Support to Volunteers

1. Provide on going in-service trainings for outreach volunteers, which would reduce the sense of isolation of outreach volunteers, as well as provide more regular opportunities for outreach volunteers to get together as a group;
2. Discuss strategies for improving the number of significant contacts during their shift;
3. Collect information about other outreach projects from other cities;
4. Report statistics compiled from outreach back to the volunteers;
5. Improve efficiency of the bathhouse outreach binder.

III. Look into new Potential Outreach Strategies and Initiatives

1. Recruit volunteers interested in planning and delivering workshops in the bathhouses;
2. Seek a candy sponsor;
3. Seek a condom sponsor for specialized condoms;
4. Computer terminals in the bathhouses;
5. Distribute condom packages to various gay businesses;
6. Expand outreach activities into the gay nightclubs;
7. Create costume/outfit for bar outreach to raise visibility;
8. Continue development of safer sex trivia card game to be used by volunteers.

IV. Improve Condom Packaging

1. Develop a more efficient condom package design;
2. Develop more targeted condom insert messages (for specific populations of men and for specific venues);
3. Develop a survey to assess patrons’ opinions on condom packaging.


APPENDIX A:

Focus Group with volunteers from Outreach Program

Date: Wednesday August 1st / Thursday August 2nd 2001
Time: 6:00 - 8:30 PM
Location: ACT, 2nd floor, Room 221
QUESTIONS

Thank you for participating in this discussion with fellow volunteers from the outreach program. The purpose of the discussion is to get some feedback from you since you are the experts about what is working and what isn’t working with the various activities the program currently offers. Your feedback will be essential in informing the future direction of the program.

Although I would like to keep these feedback sessions as informal as possible, I offer the following questions to you, so you have some time to think about them in advance.

FOR ALL VOLUNTEERS:

1. Do you feel the volunteer work you do has an impact in the community?
2. What do you think about the way condom packs are currently being packaged?
3. Can you think of new/innovative ways of engaging men to think and talk about their sexual health?
4. What do you think about the overall direction that the Outreach Program is headed in?

FOR BAR/BATH OUTREACH VOLUNTEERS:

1. Do you feel adequately trained to do the work you are doing?
2. What type of on-going training, if any, do you think would be beneficial?
3. Do you feel you are supported in the work you do? Please explain.
4. Do you think the bathhouse binder can be improved? How? New sections? Useless sections?

FOR CONDOM STUFFERS:

1. How satisfied are you with the way the condom stuffings are organized?
2. What could be improved to make the experience more rewarding or fun?

APPENDIX B:

Focus Group with volunteers from Outreach Program

CONSENT FORM


Thank you for participating in this discussion with fellow volunteers from the outreach program. The purpose of the discussion is to get your feedback about the program since you are the experts about what is and what isn’t working, as well as what improvements can be made. Your feedback will be important in helping shape the future of the program.

The purpose of this activity is to document your views and opinions on a number of issues related to the Gay Men’s Outreach Program. Your views and opinions will be documented in a summary report that will be used to help shape the future of the program. You will have access to this report. Rest assured your identity will not be disclosed in this report.

By agreeing to participate in this activity, I also agree to be audio-taped to ensure accuracy of information.


I have been explained the purpose of this activity.


I agree to participate in the said activity for the said purposes.




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Participant mark/signature Facilitator’s signature


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