This semester for Public Relations Research we are working with Oklahoma Messages Project, a nonprofit that helps connect children with their incarcerated parents. In Oklahoma approximately 96,000 children have a parent in prison. These families sometimes go years without a child seeing his/her parent. The Oklahoma Messages Project uses reading to connect parent to child by supplying books, filming the parent reading the book, and giving the child a DVD of the parent reading. This encourages literacy in both the child and the parent as well as helps preserve the parent/child bond.
It’s a great nonprofit, and a great project for PR students to gather research on, however, it’s also one where it’s difficult to get participants to provide data for. First, we can’t interact with any of the minors in the program. Second, the caregivers of the minors in the program are often hard to locate (some move often, others don’t provide contact information). Third, those caregivers we can locate are hesitant to participate in any research as they are constantly protecting the child in their custody and don’t want to endanger that duty. Fourth, it’s hard to get into prisons to get data from the incarcerated parent.
The PR Research Course and Problems with Participation
Each team member in the PR Research course was assigned to interview one stakeholder individual (volunteer, donor, board member). However, since this nonprofit is very small it has a limited amount of board members. Moreover, the mission of the organization – to connect incarcerated parent to child – is sometimes viewed negatively in the very Republican state of Oklahoma, where many in the public feel it’s in the best interest of the child to stay away from an incarcerated parent. Thus, few volunteers/donors working on the project agreed to interviews.
In addition, the each PR Research team was assigned to conduct focus groups with caregivers of children in the program. Focus groups had to have between 4-12 participants, Unfortunately, when we began contacting the caregivers many did not want to participate in a focus group with other people – and others did not want to participate at all.
Of course, those of you who do qualitative research know this isn’t abnormal. Getting people to take part in studies where they have to sit and give a researcher information face-to-face is difficult – even for seasoned researchers.
Regardless, these sampling issues led me to have to adjust both qualitative methods for the course. Instead of each student conducting an interview, I told teams they had to interview at least three stakeholders (approximately 1/2 of what the assignment called for). In addition, I told them instead of focus groups, they could interview the caregivers (again, they were instructed to interview at least three caregivers). However, even with the adjustments made the students struggled to get three stakeholder interviews and three caregiver interviews.
Earning Points for a Different Project
Some groups were able to get the stakeholder and caregiver participants necessary for the revised assignment. Several groups, however, were unable to. Part of their grade for my PR Research course is getting subjects for the various assignments we have (including surveys). Students were understandably concerned about their grades. My solution was inspired by a video I had seen on Facebook – where a student earned extra credit in a science class by creating a music video about concepts he had learned in the course.
Please check out the PR Research music videos my students created. I’m pretty impressed with their skills and think you will be too.
Crimson & Creativity