Along with assessing the need of your target community, it is important to understand if a food co-op is something people want or would use.
There are various ways of consulting local people, for example informal conversations, a questionnaire, focus groups or participatory appraisals. What you choose will depend on how much time and what funding you have and how many people you wish to consult.
Questionnaires, informal conversations & focus groups
If you want to consult several hundred people, then a questionnaire is likely to be the most feasible option. If you want to talk to only 10 people, then informal conversations or a focus group may work better.
The questions you ask should depend on what you are going to sell and why the food co-op is being set up, but common themes could include asking:
- Where do you buy food now?
- Do you have any problems with getting certain foods?
- Would you be likely to use a food co-op?
- What days and times would you go there?
- What sort of products would you like to buy?
- Would you be interested in volunteering for the food co-op?
Many food co-ops are set up to improve access to fresh fruit and veg, and hence to improve people's health. So you might like to ask about people's current consumption of fruit and vegetables. It may also be useful to ask how much people spend on particular foods per week to give you an idea how much they might spent at the food co-op.
As with a lot of reserach, there will probably be a bias in the responses as those who bother to fill in a survey or turn up to a focus group are more likely to feel positively about the idea of a food co-op. Therefore, be wary of what conclusions you draw from your results. The length of the questionnaire, focus group or conversations is also crucial - make them too long and the response rate could be low.
- It is much better to ask closed questions i.e. with a list of options or tick boxes. It will be much easier to count and compare the answers than if you ask rather 'open' questions, to which different people will respond in very different ways.
- Do you need to translate the questionnaire for areas where English is a second language for many people?
- Can you offer any incentives for completing the questionnaire, such as a free gift or prize, which may increase the response rate?
- Give people the opportunity to provide their contact details so you can contact them again when you're up and running and/or add them to a mailing list. Ensure all requests, use and storage of people's personal details is in line with GDPR requirements.
Greenwich Community Food Co-op advises that an early version of its questionnaires had 34 questions, including sections on personal health and smoking. But only 15% of those approached completed the questionnaire. Learning from this experience, they now use a short questionnaire of just six simple questions, with a much higher response rate.
Participatory Appraisal is a method that some groups use to consult communities, and can be used to help you work with a community to find out if a food co-op would be welcomed. The method uses pictures and plain language and so often works well with people who don't like filling in forms.
This can be great fun and breaks down barriers, and using visual methods is also a more immediate and striking way of, literally, 'seeing' a problem. The methods can help you reach the most socially excluded people who might not otherwise take part in a consultation process.
Participatory Appraisal also enables members of the community to think creatively and suggest the kind of community-run projects they would like to see in their area. Some examples of this approach can be found in a Sustain report Reaching the Parts...Community mapping: Working together to tackle social exclusion and food poverty.
Before starting a Participatory Appraisal, some points to consider are:
- What is likely to happen as a result of your consultation? Be realistic about what can be achieved. You don't want to get people's hopes up, then not fulfil them
- What might be the costs of organising and publicising a public event to bring people together?
- It may be good to ask a trained facilitator to run an event
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