Project Profile: WCSAPC and the Value of Focus Groups

We often speak to the importance of focus groups, the impact of including them in your process and utilizing the information that they provide in the work of your coalition.  The following is a story of a project that illustrates that power.

In 2011, the Washington County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition (WCSAPC) contracted Kim Brown of TurnKey KB & Associates (TurnKey) to write and direct, if funded, a grant project, the Virginia Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Initiative, to develop and implement solutions to deal with the issue of alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes in Washington County, Virginia.

And the coalition conducted a comprehensive needs and resources assessment to collect local data on the issue. One aspect of the assessment was administration of a Young Adult Survey. In addition, the coalition employed focus groups to determine the availability of alcohol to the target group, identified as males aged 18-24, and to determine how the group gauged the risk of getting caught drinking and driving.To gain additional insight, they conducted six, 45 minute, focus groups of 5-7 participants: three groups of 18 to 20 year olds and three groups of 21 to 24 year olds. This information was used to identify where the Washington County young adults were drinking and when they were drinking and driving. “We wanted to know their favorite activities, where they spent the most time, where the 21 to 24 year olds went to drink alcohol, and the best way to get the message out to the age group”, says Jordan Widener, WCSAPC project manager. The outcome of the focus group really surprised the coalition.

After, hearing the result of the focus groups, the coalition began brainstorming ideas of methods to deal with the strong alcohol culture that was clearly present in the community. The coalition’s  ideas were relayed to the target population. For example, coalition members wanted to have more non-alcoholic activities for the 21 to 24 year olds, says Widner. But, the target group said no one will come to the event or will just sneak alcohol into the event.”  Kim Brown of TurnKey recalls Linda Midgett of People Inc. exclaiming “We aren’t going to be able to do anything!”

But as it turned out the coalition just needed to put aside what they thought needed to happen and listen to the age group. So, the coalition went back to the target group and held an additional five focus groups where the focus was creating a message and media campaign.The alcohol culture was there to stay, but there was room to do impactful work.  The coalition had an opportunity to speak to the target group about drinking responsibly. The group provided the coalition with the best locations and method of delivering the media campaign. And by being candid in their responses and helping review the three initial concepts that were provided by Coburn Creative, the advertising agency hired by WCSAPC, they played a huge role in the development of the WCSAPC message “Keep the Party Alive, Don’t Drink and Drive”.  See examples of collateral from the campaign below or visit  


The target group was receptive to the message because instead of criticizing or demonizing drinking, it embraced idea of alcohol being a part of their good time, while underscoring the real danger of driving while under the influence.  The coalition was able to understand that the target group did not want to be told not to drink, but rather, to be educated on how to continue to enjoy their lifestyle safely.  

After adapting the media message into posters, bill boards, signage, koozies and more, the coalition utilized partnerships to get the media in front of the target audience.  WCSAPC developed more than 50 Partnerships in Washington County from local restaurants, local convenience stores, marinas, tattoo shops, law enforcement, local colleges, and many more.   

The post-media campaign surveys of the target groups saw an almost 10% increase (2012 vs. 2016) of the respondents that reported to not driving after drinking within one or two hours of consuming two or more alcoholic drinks in the last 30 days.  When asked “Did you see/hear/ receive the message “Keep the Party Alive, Don’t Drink and Drive”?” the goal of 25% was exceeded: 73% in 2014 and 55% in 2016. More than 60% in both 2014 and 2016 responded “not at all Likely” when asked “How likely are you to drink and drive after seeing/hearing/receiving the message?” Finally in 2014, 80% of the target group uses a designated driver when partying with that number decreasing slightly to 70% in 2016.  

This messaging effort was paired with with law enforcement saturation patrols.  The coalition was thrilled to report that as a direct result of the grant efforts Washington County, Virginia saw a 16% reduction in alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes from 2010 to 2013. These are measurable outcomes that the coalition can be proud of and use in future their initiatives.

When asked “What about the focus group was invaluable to the process”, Widener responded, “The data. Getting the target groups input was key!” And she also added, “Some might wonder how you get this age group together and the answer to ask where they like to eat, hold the focus group there and pay for their meal!”

To recap: By utilizing focus groups, coalitions gain the data needed to guide them to the most effective solutions, ensuring that resources and efforts are maximized.  Be prepared for and open to the focus groups’ feedback.  Use the information to make progress toward the best possible solution for the coalition’s mission.  Don’t be afraid to continue to reach out to your target groups with assessments.  That information will give you a basis for measuring success or making adjustments moving forward.

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